Prof Mahalu: Ambassador, academician & leader

  • Mkapa influenced him to get into diplomatic stage
  • He is brain behind establishment of HESLB
  • How he spearheaded establishment of private universities

FROM a humble beginning, to an international renowned academician and ambassador, this was not what Professor Costa Mahalu dreamt of. At a younger age, he always yearned to become a mega film star.

However, somewhere along the way, he changed his dream and decided to put more efforts on studies to become a Professor of Law.

Speaking to the Tanzania Standard (Newspapers) Limited (TSN) editorial team, which he hosted for an exclusive interview at his Masaki home in Dar es Salaam recently, Prof Mahalu opened up on the operating realities during his time in office and his experience working with the country’s top leaders.

Prof Mahalu was born 75 years ago (in 1948) at Katunguru Mission village in Sengerema District, Mwanza Region to Mr John Mahalu and Elizabeth Naziwa.

He started his education journey at the age of six years old at Katunguru Primary School. He then went to middle school at Nyankumbo Middle School in Geita Town.

His school journey was disrupted due to lack of fees while in Standard Six at Nyankumbo Middle School. “My father, who was a truck driver, was not able to afford fee payment and there was no choice but to drop out,” he recalls.

To obtain the fees, the Prof says his mother, Ms Naziwa (deceased) told him to find a job.

“In my first attempt to find a job, I met with a businessperson– Jashbai Patel, who owned a shop at Sengerema town. Mr Patel was somewhat shocked when I introduced myself because he happened to know my father very well, because he was a popular driver. He told me to bring my father,” he said.

“The next day my father went to meet Mr Patel, whereby the businessman committed to help pay my school fees so that I could continue with studies. He settled the matter with Nyakabungo School’s Head Teacher and I went back to school. It was a great gesture of generosity,” said Prof Mahalu, who loved playing basketball and stage acting.

Prof Mahalu later on joined Kibaha Secondary School in 1965, this time he was a beneficiary of a fee free education introduced by the then President Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.

From there, he joined Mkwawa High School in Iringa Region for Advanced Level studies between 1969 and 1970, from where he excelled in Geography, History and Kiswahili.

“I was good at stage acting to the extent that most of my friends had great expectations that I will be a mega film actor,” asserted.

However, he said the dream of becoming a movie star started to melt slowly, even after he had secured scholarship to join a university in the United States (US) to pursue film course.

“After completing Form Six, I secured a scholarship to go to the US for further studies, but it was difficult for me to live far from my family, that is why I declined,” he said.

For him, the University of Dar es Salaam (USDM) was the first choice, so immediately after passing through the compulsory National Service at Makutupora Camp, he joined USDM in 1971, as a student of law.

How Warioba inspired him to study law

Prof Mahalu says his admiration in studying law was sparked by former Prime Minister, Judge (rtd) Joseph Warioba. He says while pursuing his secondary studies, his sibling, Prof William Mahalu (deceased) was the best friend of Mr Warioba.

“When my brother William went to Makerere University, he requested Mr Warioba to closely monitor my studies, by that time I was studying at Kibaha Secondary,” he says.

He recalls that during his holidays, he spent some time at Mr Warioba’s family, where he rooted his passion in law as Mr Warioba would give him hints on what it takes to become a lawyer.

“I respect Mr Warioba as my brother. I remember it was him who introduced me to the University of Dar es Salaam, he supervised my admission,” he says.

After he graduated at UDSM with a Bachelor of Law, he underwent an internship course in politics at Kivukoni College and courts as well as the Attorney General’s Office for practical skills and knowledge.

Prof Mahalu recalls in 1975 when he was employed in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, his first employment.

However, he says there were some delays in calling him for the new job at the ministry, but surprisingly the University of Dar es Salaam granted him a post of tutorial assistant.

Stunningly climbing the academic ladder

He was employed at UDSM as a tutorial assistant in 1975, where he decided to pursue a Master Degree in Law, which he obtained after two years while teaching.

Prof Mahalu says after obtaining the degree, he became an assistant lecturer and then a lecturer after some years.

“From 1975, I swiftly climbed up the ladder from a tutorial assistant to a full professor within 15 years. I’m grateful for this remarkable academic excellence,” he says.

Prof Mahalu says in 1979, he secured a scholarship for his Doctorate in Law at the University of Hamburg in Germany (then West Germany), where he graduated in 1983, it was there where he learned to speak the German language.

The towering Mahalu is fluent in Kiswahili, English and German as well as his mother tongue, Kisukuma.

While at the University of Hamburg, Prof Mahalu emerged as the first African to obtain First Class (Magna Cum Laude in Germany), which branded UDSM and Tanzania at large by opening doors for other generation that followed to pursue their studies at the same university.

After graduating, he returned to UDSM and was appointed to serve as a Dean of Faculty of Law, where he used his close relations with Germany to help students, including Professor Palamagamba Kabudi, Dr Harrison Mwakyembe and Dr Asha-Rose Migiro to also acquire education in Germany.

“I was appointed to be a dean in 1985 by the then University Chancellor Mwalimu Nyerere. Later on, in 1986, Mwalimu promoted me to be an Associate Professor and in 1990, I was a full Professor,” he said.

Certainly, his promotion was catalysed by stunning academic excellence, coupled with diverse publications he wrote, winning him recognition both locally and internationally.

Prof Mahalu notes that currently there is a problem for some African academicians to be recognised abroad due to among others, academic performance as well as quality and quantity of publications they produce. He, therefore, called upon academicians to step up efforts and embark on producing quality publications on international journals to win local and international recognition.

He went back to Germany in 1989 to teach at the University of Hamburg. He carried research titled Public International Law in an African Perspective of which he is currently working on to publish a book.

Later on, he returned into the country and re-joined UDSM. However, the then Vice-Chancellor Professor Mathew Luhanga told him that he has been directed by the government to release him.

“Prof Luhanga told me that I was transferred to the then Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education to serve in the post of Director of High Education,” he recalls.

He assumed the post from 1992 to 1996, where he co-pioneered the key different ideas that have significantly transformed the country’s education. It includes his proposal on establishing loans to university students that laid foundation to the formation of Higher Education Students’ Loans Board (HESLB).

Furthermore, Prof Mahalu says it was during his reign as the Director of Higher Education when the policy that allowed establishment of private universities was formulated.

“Being a technocrat, I advised the then Minister for Science, Technology and Higher Education, Mr Benjamin Mkapa to consider allowing private universities to operate in the country, an advice which he accepted… and today we are all enjoying the benefits,” he says.

His diplomatic journey

He says later on in 1996, President Benjamin Mkapa influenced him to get into the diplomatic stage by appointing him to serve as a Minister Plenipotentiary of the country’s Ambassador to Germany, the post he served for three years.

Minister Plenipotentiary is a diplomatic agent ranking below an ambassador but possessing full power and authority.

He says he was then appointed as the country’s Ambassador to Italy, where he was also a representative to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Prof Mahalu said in recognition of his outstanding performance as the Ambassador, the Republic of Italy awarded him an Order of Star of Italian Solidarity in recognition of strengthening diplomatic ties with Tanzania, adding that he was the sixth person to receive an award of that kind from Africa.

Prof Mahalu ties with Tanzania Episcopal Conference (TEC).

He says in 2014, TEC recommended him to the then President, Dr Jakaya Kikwete to represent the Catholic body as a member of the Constituent Assembly that was tasked to draft a new constitution.

“This was a great honour in my life,” he says.

He said from that recognition by TEC, he was appointed by President Dr Kikwete to serve as a Member of the Constituent Assembly.

Prof Mahalu said the assembly appointed him to chair the committee that created the standing orders, rules and regulations that guided drafting of the new constitution.

“The Vice-Chairperson of the Constituent Assembly was Ms Samia Suluhu Hassan (now the president), while the Chairperson was the Former Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr Samuel Sitta,” he recalls.

Prof Mahalu said in the Constituent Assembly he was appointed as a Member of the Legal Committee that drafted the Proposed Constitution of 2014.

He said the committee had competent lawyers from both ruling and opposition parties whom together they spent over three weeks, “We did that task carefully and joyfully” he says.

Prof Mahalu is currently serving as a Vice-Chancellor at the Saint Augustine University of Tanzania (SAUT) and he is a lecturer of law to Master and Doctor of Philosophy students (PhD).

Prof Mahalu and his wife, Ms Vulfrida Grace Mahalu have been blessed with two children, Costa Ricky Emanuel and Deogratius Isack. Coincidentally, both his two children and his wife are advocates.

Above all, he attributes his life success to the Almighty God and good upbringing from his parents. He also reserved special gratitude to Mr Patel who supported his studies and the late Mr Mkapa who was a good friend. He described him as a transformative and visionary leader.

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