IN addition to serving as the third phase President of Tanzania, Mr Benjamin Mkapa also played a pivotal role in promoting peace, equality and justice in East Africa and the world at large.
Mr Mkapa, who died at a Dar es Salaam hospital early Friday, has been described as a shining example of the best of humanity, a peacemaker, a builder of bridges between peoples, a tireless advocate for equality and justice, and a leader admired across the globe.
During his lifetime, President Mkapa led several peace mediation efforts in Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda where, in addition to hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees, it contributed significantly to the restoration of peace to the respective countries.
Mr Mkapa was appointed the facilitator for the Burundi peace talks by the EAC during the 17th Ordinary Summit of EAC Heads of State in Arusha on March 2, 2016.
This followed deadly violence that erupted in the country after President Nkurunziza announced a controversial run for a third term, which he won in a contested election.
He thereafter convened a number of dialogues and met the warring factions in a bid to end the political and humanitarian crisis in the East African nation.
The former Tanzanian statesman was tasked with finding out the cause of the Burundi crisis as well as bringing the warring factions on the negotiating table.
In one of his talks with the warring factions he urged them to stop spending a lot of time talking about past events and focus instead on ending confusion and produce conditions of an election that will be free, fair and credible.
Early last year, Mr Mkapa presented his report to the 20th EAC Heads of State Summit in Arusha.
The former president will also be honored for leading peace mediation efforts in the region, including taking part in Kenya’s post-election conciliation exercise in 2008.
He was part of the Panel of Eminent African Personalities, led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, which ended the postelection violence after the highly disputed December 27, 2007 elections.
Mr Mkapa later wrote a book where he revealed that locking out William Ruto (now Deputy President) and Martha Karua from the postelections violence mediation team in 2008 helped secure a power-sharing agreement between former president Mwai Kibaki and Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga.
Mr Mkapa recalls that Mr Ruto of ODM, who is now Kenya’s Deputy President in the Jubilee administration, and Ms Karua of PNU, now Narc Kenya leader, “were the most difficult people to deal with.”
In his condolence message, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said that the people of Kenya had lost a close friend and brother, who stood with Kenya during some of their darkest hours.
He said East Africa had lost a founding father of the East African Community, and the continent of Africa had lost a dedicated Pan-Africanist who shaped the destiny of the continent as President and even after leaving Office.
Former Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga described President Mkapa a great friend of the Kenyan people, a pan-Africanist, a true believer in South-South Cooperation and a global statesman.
“In Kenya we retain fond memories of his mediation efforts alongside Dr Koffi Annan and Graca Machel that helped the country return to peace after the 2007-2008 election violence,” he said.
He said Mkapa believed in regional integration and championed the revival of the East African Community.
“In his death, Africa has lost a giant. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, President John Pombe Magufuli and the people of the United Republic of Tanzania,” he said.
Mr Mkapa also took part in Zimbabwe peace talks when he was serving as Foreign Affairs Minister. In his speech at the United Nations conference held in October 1977 he said.
“Tanzania has given and will continue to give whatever assistance we can to the nationalist freedom fighters so that they can effectively wage the struggle,” he said, adding: “Tanzania has always maintained and will continue to maintain that an armed struggle is necessary only if it is a last resort to achieve freedom and independence in any colonial territory.”
Mr Mkapa was also an instrumental in cementing regional economic integration through the East African Community and Southern African Development Community (SADC).
East Africa set its course towards a common market after the region started implementing a Customs Union Protocol in January 2005, and Tanzania has continued to play a key role in the economic integration among SADC member countries.
His administration was also vocal in its advocacy on matters relating to international justice and equity, particularly on the adverse effects of globalisation and unfair terms of trade.
During his tenure, Mkapa was co-chair of the International Commission on Social Impacts of Globalisation, formed by the UN International Labour Organization.
He was also a member of the Commission for Africa formed by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.