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Mkapa deepened reforms to build modern economy

  • He had no choice but to privatise loss making parastatal institutions
  • In the circumstances, he had to work with multilateral institutions
  • He loathed personification of governance and development and personality cult

This is the third and final piece in a series of articles based on Ambassador Ferdinand Ruhinda’s public tribute to his friend of more than half a century, the late former president Benjamin William Mkapa. Mzee Ruhinda is a journalist and an editor and a retired public servant. In his public life, he served as Tanzania’s High Commissioner to Canada, Ambassador to China and Deputy Ambassador to Sweden. He is also an excellent political strategist and advisor, who managed both Mkapa and Jakaya Kikwete’s successful presidential campaigns.

BENJAMIN William Mkapa had a set of concrete principles on which he based his conduct of his administration and its governance. He also had a plan - a methodical and philosophical approach – what he wanted to achieve during his ten-year administration, as president. In fact, his mind was thoroughly made on these matters many years before he was elected to the nation’s top leadership position. He knew what he wanted and he had a plan of how to achieve it.

First, he was a keen student and ardent follower of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and his policies.

Second, he believed religiously in his philosophy of openness and truth, and was honest about it.

Third, he believed in building a modern economy, as the fastest and surest way to alleviate poverty.

Fourth, he seriously detested man-by-man-exploitation.

Fifth, he truly believed in the tenets of collective leadership, and sincerely loathed personalisation of governance, of development, and especially building of personality cult.

Finally, he was firm in his belief that governance could only be meaningful and beneficial to people, if guided by reality.

This is how Ambassador Ferdinand Ruhinda, President Mkapa’s closest friend of more than half a century sums up instrumental philosophies which steered his friend’s  leadership.

 “Benjamin Mkapa was a student and a truly ardent follower of Mwalimu Nyerere, just as were all Tanzanians. However, Mwalimu Nyerere was not Mkapa’s school teacher, contrary to the popular perception in our country.

He never taught him at Pugu School. Mkapa was registered at Pugu after Mwalimu Nyerere had resigned, or was resigning his teaching position to concentrate fully in politics for the fight of Tanganyika’s independence. What is true, Mwalimu Nyerere was Mkapa’s teacher in matters related to politics, character and leadership.”

“Ben Mkapa met Mwalimu early on in his life, after completion of his education, and was lucky to have worked under him for many years.

During those long years, Ben became Mwalimu Nyerere’s protégé, believing fully in the Ujamaa policies, and in the path our significant citizen was leading our country,” says Ambassador Ruhinda.

“And as we all know, Mwalimu sought to build Ujamaa commonly known as African Socialism. In reality, however, Ujamaa was significantly different from the scientific socialism, whose principles were based on class struggle.

Now, you guys know that I have personally lived in several countries in the world, and was able to visit others, which were attempting to build socialism such as China, North Korea, Cuba and Sweden.

I lived in Canada, too. My experience is that there is no any evidence of one universal standard of building socialism.”

  “In North Korea, I am not even sure what they are attempting to build. Cuba was, and still, busy fighting its endless battles with the United States. Sweden, is part of Scandinavian countries following a welfare state model, with some socialist elements.

In China, on their part, are building socialism with Chinese characteristics. Now, you can see for yourself, that globally there is no single standard way or model of building Socialism.”

Ambassador Ruhinda explains further: “Mr Mkapa, as I have just mentioned, was an ardent student and follower of Mwalimu Nyerere. Just like Mwalimu, Ben Mkapa strongly detested exploitation of man by man, even if he accepted that there will always be differences between people.

He, however, believe that such differences should not be a result of exploitation. He wished and attempted to build an equal, just and fair society.”

“In other words, Ben Mkapa burdened himself with a responsibility of building ujamaa in Tanzania but under new and totally different conditions our country was going through in the 1990’s.

Just like other above-mentioned countries, Ben Mkapa attempted to build ujamaa based on the existing realities of Tanzania.

His policies and political philosophies sought to reduce exploitation, to build a modern economy, to alleviate poverty and to build a just society. This explains his decision to set up institutions such as TASAF and development Vision 2025.

Mzee Ruhinda explains that the major objective of ujamaa policy of poverty alleviation was amply shared and fully implemented by Ben Mkapa’s administration through policy decisions of building a modern economy.

 “Ben believed the country could not fight and alleviate poverty through sheer ideology and utopia. To him, only actions, based on realities of the country as they existed then, could achieve that.”

“He believed that it was sheer wastage of time attempting to build a modern economy without taking concrete actions, some of which were not popular then.

President Magufuli underscored this point very well with his excellent speech at the Uhuru Stadium in Dar es Salaam, during the national mourning for Ben.  President Kikwete, too, did that with his wonderful articulation of Mkapa’s legacy during burial at Lupaso.

In the course of attempting to build a modern economy, as I explained previously, Mkapa had to embark on such very unpopular policies then such as the privatisation programme,” says Mzee Ruhinda, adding:

“There are many excellent achievements of Mwalimu Nyerere. We all know them. Our Nation knows them.

The list of his achievements is endless, and his legacy, historical. There can never be any way of doubting that, and history will forever remember him, and the wonderful gifts he bestowed on our country and our people.

However, there are some policies which are generally agreed that, because of our society’s existing conditions then, they were failures. 

The policy to privatise large commercial farms and factories, and set up large numbers of parastatal institutions, all at the tax payer’s expense, was disastrous. In order to build a modern economy, this had to change.”

 “Ben was also mercilessly roasted by the political class and the media in the same measure, for working and cooperating with major multilateral institutions, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

I, personally, believe that in the current global conditions, it is almost impossible to build a modern economy without such international cooperation. Still, cooperation with multilateral institutions cannot impede the building of Ujamaa. You cannot argue that China and Russia are not building Socialism today because they are cooperating with the WB and IMF.”

Ambassador Ruhinda turns his attention to another principle that guided his administration and his approach to governance. “True, Ben Mkapa built the foundation for a modern economy. This was a major achievement of his presidency.

However, Benjamin Mkapa did not achieve this alone. It was Ben Mkapa working with others – his Ministers and entire cabinet, his Party, the Central Bank of Tanzania, and other many people and advisors.

Vision 2025, for example, I do not know where we stand on this now and how much has been achieved…was a brain child of Mr Mkapa and others. My point here, is all these achievements were not Mkapa’s alone. He sincerely and firmly believed in the tenets of collective leadership.”

“Our country has a major challenge, the challenge of personification of governance, of development, of everything. We are building a personality cult. This has been there for some time and it is going on now, but it is a very dangerous trend to personify everything. We need a leader yes, but a leader is not everything. He, alone will struggle... we need institutions and processes.”

“We have recently been singing praises on the achievement of middle income economy status, for example. We are personalising that too.

I have not had time to read much about this achievement. But, I am informed, that the upgrade of our economy has been confirmed by the World Bank.

Yes, this is some achievement, but it is still a small one. We have just started. We have just opened the door into middle income economy. Let us not overdo our praises. The battle to alleviate poverty is still long and will remain difficult…”

Ambassador Ruhinda addresses issues related to Benjamin Mkapa, as a journalist and editor, which has also raised some debate recently. “When I first joined The Nationalist, and you guys know this better as you have all worked in newsrooms, we had a postmortem every morning to review our work and product of the previous day.

Ben was the chairperson of these meetings. I liked his leadership during these meetings. We discussed freely, independently…we had friendly debates.  We agreed on some issues, and differed on others.  Ben Mkapa would allow full freedom of debate and flow of ideas.

But, as the editor, he would make a final decision on the position of the paper. In my view, that is the job of the Editor – to guide the final direction of a media organisation. In that respects, yes, an editor is a controller or gatekeeper of his media product and outlet, and Ben was not any different.”

Adds Ambassador Ruhinda: “But, to claim that Benjamin Mkapa was an impediment to free flow of ideas, and prevented debates, and that he intervened in thought processes, by directing thinking of his newsrooms…no, that is not true.

I remember our time at the Nationalist, we had reporters and journalists from Ghana and Biafra, and everybody was free to express his or her thoughts and ideas. However, the final decision on the direction of his paper remained his, as an editor. That is how media outlets operate globally, and decision making is finally the core responsibility of the editor.”

Mzee Ruhinda also explains that Ben Mkapa was fully qualified as a journalist and as an editor before his appointment to edit the Nationalist Newspaper. “Mkapa was trained as a journalist, before he was appointed to lead the Nationalist.

He was attached for training to The Daily Mirror Newspaper, one of Britain’s leading and influential publications, and worked there for some time, acquiring experience as a reporter and editor. But even before this attachment, Mkapa was a very able and excellent writer, very comfortable in both working languages of English and Kiswahili. He was also a proficient and excellent speaker of both languages.” In my view, Mkapa was a very able journalist and an efficient editor.”

“Allow me to conclude, just as I started, by repeating what I said at the beginning of this interview. I was attracted to Ben Mkapa, as a friend, because of his wonderful human attributes. He was an excellent human being. 

As I said, Ben had all the good human qualities a human can possible have. He had a willing heart. He was guided and directed by good intentions, and he meant well, throughout his life. Rest in Peace, Benjamin William Mkapa, my friend, my brother.”

  •  Contributors to this article are local senior writers. Currently, Salva Rweyemamu and Saidi Nguba are Directors at the Dar es Salaam-based Pioneer Communications Limited, and Tido Mhando is Managing Director of Azam Media Group.


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Author: Salva Rweyemamu, Saidi Nguba and Tido Mhando

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