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Former president Mkapa in the eyes of his speech writer

Former president Mkapa in the eyes of his speech writer

FORMER President Benjamin Mkapa was renowed for his excellent command of English language which was often reflected in his speeches to the public or in his active participation in international politics.

Ambassador Ombeni Sefue, is one of the minds behind President Mkapa speeches. As his speech writer and a close aide during his decade as president from 1995 to 2005 he played an important role in making sure the president’s message hits home with the masses.

When President Mkapa took over as the third-phase president, he chose to retain Amb Sefue at the State House as his speech writer. Before that, Amb Sefue was personal assistant to second-president Ali Hassan Mwinyi.

He reflects on his experience in working close to former president Mkapa ahead of a high-level panel discussion in Dar es Salaam today on his contribution to the development of the nation and his legacy for the benefit of the current and future generations.

Three months before the end of his term he appointed him as High Commissioner to Canada but asked him to go there and present his credentials to the Governor-General and then come back to continue assisting him.

“I was at the same time High Commissioner to Canada and his Personal Assistant until after the elections when I went back to Canada,” he says.

As personal assistant and speechwriter he spent a lot of quality time with the late Mkapa and learnt much from him. Amb Sefue admits that it was very difficult to pick one, noting that he has many memorable experiences with Mkapa.

“Speech writing is not an easy job; it entails a lot of hard work and long hours. But its rewards are truly handsome... To do the job well you have to understand him, and always put yourself in his position, knowing what he would like to say in each particular occasion, and how,” he explains.

He says writing speech for the President Mkapa one has to read a lot, and know a lot about all kinds of subjects. You have to know the government and what is going on, nationally, regionally and globally.

“President Mkapa had a very high command of both Kiswahili and English; he was a great writer; it was not easy always to meet his standards,” Amb Sefue admits.

Amb Sefue underlines the way the late Mkapa had placed high the bar of the country’s diplomacy regionally and globally. This was due to the fact that Mzee Mkapa was a career diplomat and communicator with tremendous command of language and oratory. He had a capacity to listen attentively and weigh carefully what one was saying.

“So, that made him earn trust and confidence of many of those he engaged with. If he doesn’t agree with what you are saying he will tell you, and tell you why. He didn’t just brush off people,” he insists. President Mkapa liked to consult.

These were some of his diplomatic and leadership skills; always very kind and compassionate with a high level of intelligence and commitment to work.

Mkapa had peace-making skills leading several regional peace mediation initiatives while seeking reconciliation in Burundi, Kenya and DRC Congo. He did not want to see any kind of conflict in Africa.

It disturbed him greatly to see Africans killing each other. So, he undertook several peace-making and reconciliation initiatives. President Mkapa was a peacemaker, always passionate about issues of conflict and conflict resolution.

“As a career diplomat I have always, and will always, believe in dialogue. There is a joke among diplomats that says ‘A good diplomat is someone who can tell you to go to hell in a manner that you actually look forward to it.’

So diplomacy is all about tactful dialogue. And on this, I consider myself fortunate to have learnt much from the master himself, President Mkapa.”

Amb Sefue insists that there is much to learn from Mkapa and his legacy as a person and as a leader. Another thing that people can learn from him is commitment to work and to serve others with diligence and integrity.

The former president focused on strengthening institutions of governance. He fought corruption with vigour and focussed on issues of transparency and integrity.

That is why one of his first actions as President was to appoint the Warioba Commission on Corruption and he took the Commission’s report very seriously. The other lesson to learn from him is collective leadership, so issues around consultation, transparency and engagement.

As President Mr Mkapa made the final decisions, but he always wanted to hear what others thought before deciding. Another of his legacies is hard work and discipline.

He always kept time, and he always lived up to his commitments. An example is how he managed to deliver his end of month addresses to the public, even when in hospital.

Another thing was his concern for the welfare of all people. It disturbed him greatly to see ordinary people not benefitting well enough from the economic reforms he made and the growth generated.

The economy was picking up and he wanted ordinary people to participate in the economy and benefit from its growth.

That is why during his last five years he introduced initiatives such as TASAF, which is one of the greatest legacies of his leadership targeting the poorest of the poor in every region, every district.

He wanted to give them something with which they can start on their own to develop. Like he did to Amb Sefue, President Mkapa trusted the people he put in various positions and gave them the benefit of doubt, until they prove unworthy of his trust.

Again, he was very consultative, a very good listener; and when it came to decisionmaking, he was very firm. He had no qualms about owning up to a wrong decision either. He was always open about such matters.

“He treated people fairly, to my knowledge he never victimized anyone,” Amb Sefue adds. On national economy, Amb Sefue argues that the late Mkapa took decision to privatise non performing state-owned enterprises and built the right macro-economic fundamentals. He created a good investment climate; and promoted good governance.

He reached out to both local and foreign investors, creating forums for dialogue with them. This enabled him to explain about the opportunities for investment in the country and the readiness of his government to create a conducive environment for investment and commerce.

These were also forums for the existing or potential investors to explain issues that were hampering their activities and what they wanted the government to do about them.

The dialogues with international mining companies enabled him to open 4 large scale gold mines in his last 4 years in power – one such mine each year.

He also initiated the Tanzania Mini-Tiger 2020 Plan, intended to raise the rate of economic growth from around 6-7 percent to at least 10 percent along the lines of what happened in South-East Asia through Special Economic Zones, Export Processing Zones and Industrial Parks.

“I am glad that the current government is picking up this initiative,” he says. Amb Sefue recommends that people, especially the young ones, should take trouble to learn from past leaders.

That is why upon retirement he decided to work with previous Presidents to produce their memoires so that they can record history from their own hands and mouths, instead of leaving it to others in future to write as they think fit. Two memoires are already out, those of President Mkapa and President Mwinyi.

“But writing and publishing memoires is the first step. Next our young people and current leaders must take time to read and internalise what is being written. It will help and guide them,” he emphasizes.

He further points out that the current and future generations of leaders must also embrace issues of ethics and integrity so that citizens do not lose faith in government. The young leaders must resist the temptation to get rich by shortest route.


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