Mkapa: A Journalist Who laid the Foundation for Tanzania’s Economic Growth


Former Tanzanian Benjamin Mkapa

East Africa woke up to sad news of the passing of Tanzania’s former President Benjamin Mkapa  who served  from 1995 to 2005.

According to a statement by President John Magufuli, Mkapa died in the early hours of Friday morning while receiving treatment at Muhimbili National Hospital in Dar-es-Salaam.

Magufuli declared a seven day mourning period for the country’s third president.

Not much about his childhood is known about Mkapa who was born on November 12, 1938 at Masasi in Southern Tanzania.

Available records show that Mkapa was a student of Makerere University College (present day Makerere University) from where he graduated with  a Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 1962.

After graduating from Makerere, Mkapa enrolled at Columbia University in 1963 and was awarded a Master’s degree in International Affairs.

He worked as an administrative officer in the district of Dodoma and Dar es Salaam, and in August  1962, he was recruited for Exterior Services until 1966 when he became editor of the daily government newspapers, Tanzania Nationalism and Uhuru. He also worked for the Daily News and the Sunday News in 1972.

Benjamin Mkapa
L-R Mwinyi, Benjamin Mkapa, Kikwete and Magufuli

 In July 1974, then president, Julius Nyerere picked him as his press secretary, a position he used two years later to launch the Tanzania News Agency (Shihata).

In 1976, he was sent to Nigeria as High Commissioner until 1977 when Nyerere named him as Foreign Affairs minister, a position he held for three years. In 1982, he was appointed ambassador to Canada and a year later moved to Washington where he served as ambassador till 1984 when he returned to Dar-es-Salaam to take up appointment as Minister of Foreign Affairs.

From the early 1960s, Mkapa was an active member of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) that fought for Tanzania’s independence which later evolved into the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) or State Revolutionary Party.

In 1985, Mkapa joined the Tanzanian Parliament and in 1987 got elected as a member of the central committee of the CCM party.

In November 1995,  Mkapa won the first democratic elections in Tanzania, as a candidate for the CCM replacing Ali Hassan Mwinyi. He was re-elected in 2000 for his second and final term of office that ended in 2005.

During his presidency, Mkapa furthered the economic liberalization programs that had been initiated by his predecessor. He oversaw the privatization of state-owned corporations and instituted free market policies.

After his presidency, Mkapa continued to be very active regionally and internationally, serving on boards of various organisations such as the South Centre, the Investment Climate Facility for Africa, and the Africa Emerging Markets Forum (AEMF).

He was also a member of the board of trustees of the Africa Wildlife Foundation (AWF), a Commissioner on the United Nations Commission on the Legal Empowerment of the Poor (2006-2008), a member of the InterAction Council as well as of the Africa Forum.

Tanzania’s former President Benjamin Mkapa

In 2005, he was a member of the Panel of Eminent Persons appointed by the UNCTAD Secretary-General to review and enhance the role of UNCTAD within the United Nations reforms. In 2006, he served as a member of the High-level panel on UN System-wide Coherence in areas of Development, Humanitarian Assistance and Environment, appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General. President Mkapa was appointed in 2006 to be Patron of the UN committee of 2008 International Year of Planet Earth.

In September 2010, President Mkapa was appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to lead a special panel to monitor the January 2010 referendum in Southern Sudan.

Until his death, Mkapa was the chancellor of Uganda’s Cavendish University.


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