Reflections on contribution, legacy of Al-Noor Kassum

Reflections on contribution, legacy of Al-Noor Kassum

The Hon Al- Noor Kassum (97) who passed recently on was one of founder President Julius Nyerere’s loyalists who has left imprints in the preand post-independence governance record. A lawyer by training, he did not concentrate on business like other East African Asians.

He served in many capacities as legislator, international civil servant, parastatal executive and minister in key dockets both in the cabinets of Presidents Nyerere and Ali Hassam Mwinyi and in the old East African Community.

Mwalimu identified his nationalist credentials in the pre-independence Legislative Council (Legco) and asked him to move over to TANU, which he did.

As a national of Asian origin and a political moderate this was quite significant. Henceforth he did not look back.

In turn the Party exhibited great confidence in him, so much so that in the more challenging pre-independence multi-party setting he was in 1959 the TANU Chief Whip in the Legco.

After Uhuru in 1961 he served as Parliamentary Secretary (Deputy Minister) in several Ministries including Education and Industries and Power.

The former opened doors for him to work in senior positions at UNESCO in Paris and later at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.

In the later posting he was given his extensive knowledge about Mainland Tanzania affairs instrumental in helping the incoming Minister, a Zanzibari discharge his functions in the Ministry and in the Government of the United Republic in Dar- Es-Salaam following the Tanganyika-Zanzibar Union in 1964.

Following the transition to whole or partial ownership of the “commanding heights” of the economy following the 1967 Arusha Declaration, Al- Noor Kassum or Nick, as he was nicknamed, was appointed Deputy Managing Director of the Mwadui Diamond Mines.

It was a somewhat difficult assignment as the mines were essentially run by the South African mining conglomerate, De Beers based in apartheid South Africa. His performance must have been good for it propelled him to a Ministerial position first in the then Arusha-based East African Community (EAC) and later in the United Republic.

It was when serving as EAC Minister for Finance and Administration that I came to know him through my research and consultancy errands.

A man of the people, I first saw him officiating in the wedding of the Tanzanian EAC Deputy Minister for Communications, Research and Social Services, Hon Saleh Tambwe.

His achievements at the EAC related to his ability to deal with three major challenges. He was appointed an EAC Minister in 1972 when relations with Idi Amin’s Uganda were at their worst.

His appointment coincided both with an unsuccessful attack on Uganda by Tanzaniabased pro-Obote exiles and the expulsion of Ugandan Asians, the majority of whom settled in the UK. The attack on Uganda infuriated Amin, poisoned inter-state relations and in turning cooperation in EAC affairs.

Amin’s appendage of his signature endorsing President Nyerere’s nomination of Hon Kassum, an Asian, was not entirely expected.

It is quite possible Kassum’s prominence as an Ismail Muslim Community leader with close working relations with His Highness The Aga Khan might have influenced Amin.

The former Ugandan leader had worked with or tolerated another senior Tanzanian EAC functionary, Iddi Simba who was then Kampala-based Director General of the East African Development Bank.

President Nyerere, who had ferociously opposed the expulsion of Asians in Uganda, might, in nominating Al-Noor Kassum, have been sending a message that there are Asian nationals in the rest of East Africa. There was a big challenge for Hon Kassum working in, and for Uganda.

It was now a Uganda which had no Asians, local or foreign. His counterpart from Uganda, Captain Hussein Marijani was Amin’s handpicked foot soldier with little knowledge of the technical or even elementary aspects of the workings of the Community.

During meetings of the East African Legislative Assembly, Kassum and his Kenyan counterpart Dr Robert Ouko had to make sure his interventions were not too embarrassing to the Community.

Given his Finance portfolio Kassum played a central role in addressing the interstate transfer of funds problem between the different Community corporations spread in the partner states which had cropped up as countries struggled with acute shortage of foreign exchange due to the astronomical increase in fuel and food import prices in 1973 and 1975 respectively.

Despite these problems, Hon Kassum was able to initiate and construct in Arusha the EAC Headquarters. This project was of great benefit to Tanzania as it increased the number of EAC facilities located in Tanzania.

As noted in his autobiography Africa’s Winds of Change: Memoirs of an International Tanzanian Hon Kassum saw this as one of his achievements given that previous Tanzanian Community Ministers (A Z Nsilo Swai, John Malecela, Dr Wilbert Chagula) had not been able to translate this idea into tangible concrete benefits.

In February 1977, with the Community on the verge of collapse, he was appointed Minister for Energy and Minerals serving for the rest of Mwalimu’s Presidency. Retained by President Mwinyi in the same capacity, he served for a total of 14 years uninterrupted, the longest in this and perhaps any other Ministry.

It was while serving in this Ministry that he welcomed and mentored Jakaya Kikwete when appointed Deputy Minister in 1988.

Two specific assignments he gave Ndugu Kikwete –dealing with artisanal miners and handling Parliamentary Affairs- essentially the Question and Answer sessions can, and did become the best training ground for an upcoming young Minister as President Kikwete testified when he spoke at the launch of Nick’s Memoirs.

After his exit from the Cabinet in the second term of President Mwinyi’s administration, Ndugu Al-Noor Kassum continued to serve the United Republic in different capacities.

He worked for the Aga Khan Network which has a lot of investments in the country from health to education, overseeing massive expansion in these fields.

He also served a Chancellor of the Morogoro-based Sokoine University of Agriculture, overseeing its expansion including the transformation of one of its constituent outfits, the Moshi Cooperative College into a full-fledged Moshi University of Cooperatives and Business Studies (MUCCOBS).

Ndugu Kassum has died at a time when the EAC has been revived albeit less grandiose than the old one; and when energy and particularly minerals are likely to be the spring board of Tanzania’s industrial take-off.

The gracing of his funeral by the great and the mighty (President Kikwete was there, and so was ex-PM Cleopa Msuya) despite the corona pandemic and above all, HE President Samia Suluhu Hassan’s condolences message, is clear testimony of the high regard in which he was held. May his soul rest in eternal peace.

*Prof NGILA MWASE is a student of international affairs and public policy (ngila.mwase@yahoo.com); Tel 0752-427427

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