Outpouring of grief as Tanzanians, SADC say goodbye to Mkapa

SANF 20 no 21
Thousands of Tanzanians have thronged the 60,000-seater Uhuru Stadium in Dar es Salaam from 26-28 July to pay their last respects to a man who has earned the respect of his peers and citizens across Africa as an elder statesman and champion of peace.

The former President of the United Republic of Tanzania Benjamin William Mkapa died on 23 July 2020 at a hospital in Dar es Salaam at the age of 81.

President John Magufuli declared a seven-day mourning period in honour of the departed Mkapa, during which the Tanzanian flag would fly at half-mast and Tanzanians would be given the opportunity to pay their last respects.

For three days, from 26-28 July, Tanzanians filed past the casket containing the body of the man they had come to fondly refer to as Mzee Mkapa as his body lay in state at the Uhuru Stadium.

Many of them remember Mkapa as the man who introduced key economic reforms that saw Tanzania transition to a liberal economy.

After the mass funeral services, the body will be flown to his home village of Lupaso in Masasi district in Mtwara region of southern Tanzania for burial on 29 July, according to Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa.

Born on 12 November 1938, Mkapa was Tanzania’s third president and served two five-year terms from 1995 to 2005, when he was succeeded by President Jakaya Kikwete.

The outpouring of grief following the death of Mkapa was not only confined to Tanzania as condolence messages came from far and wide.

Chairperson of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe described Mkapa as “one of the region’s great leaders of Africa’s transformation and a champion for the integration of SADC.”

“Throughout his life, former President H.E. Benjamin William Mkapa, 3rd President of the United Republic of Tanzania and Chairperson of SADC from 2003 to 2004 provided hope and instilled a sense of selfless sacrifice to the people of the United Republic of Tanzania, SADC and Africa, and the legacy he leaves behind shall continue to inspire generations,” Mnangagwa said.

It was during Mkapa’s tenure as chairperson of SADC that the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) was approved in August 2003 and launched in March 2004 in Tanzania.

The RISDP mapped the regional vision and signalled an important step that provided a clear strategic direction with respect to SADC development and integration.

In the same year, 2003, the Strategic Indicative Plan for the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation (SIPO) was approved, and the SADC Mutual Defence Pact was adopted.

Mnangagwa noted that Mkapa assumed the leadership of SADC at a time when the region was grappling with increased cases of HIV and AIDS.

“Under his stewardship, SADC approved the establishment of a regional fund for the implementation of the SADC HIV and AIDS programmes in the SADC region,” he said.

Other instruments that were signed during Mkapa’s tenure as SADC chairperson included the SADC Charter on Fundamental Social Rights, which among other things, calls for creation of a conducive environment to facilitate closer and active consultations among partners and in a spirit conducive to harmonious labour relations.

Mkapa would also be remembered for championing the construction of the SADC Headquarters in Gaborone, Botswana, Mnangagwa said in the message.

He initiated the process by calling upon SADC Member States to contribute towards the construction of the headquarters.

“When he toured the SADC Secretariat in June 2004, His Excellency Mkapa said he was going to push hard for the construction of the new SADC Headquarters, and he made financial contribution on behalf of the United Republic of Tanzania, a gesture that motivated all Member States to contribute instantly, and the SADC Headquarters came to reality.”

The former Tanzanian president’s most recent support towards SADC’s integration was in August 2019 when he delivered a keynote address during a public lecture on “Deepening Integration in SADC: Achievements, Challenges and Opportunities” that was held at the University of Dar es Salaam.

The lecture stimulated discussion on regional integration ahead of the 39th SADC Summit hosted by Tanzania, by highlighting SADC’s key achievements, challenges hindering the deepening of integration, and ways to overcome the bottlenecks.

“SADC will forever cherish his role in championing the SADC integration agenda, and also vividly remember his firm belief in sustainable development, and his immense contribution to socio-economic development, and peace and security, in the SADC region and beyond,” Mnangagwa said.

Similar sentiments were echoed by the South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who described Mkapa as a visionary African leader and “an exceptional peace broker leading several peace mediation processes in Africa.”

“He was a revolutionary at heart and formidable leader championing peace, integration and economic development in East Africa and Southern Africa,” Ramaphosa said.

Ramaphosa recalled the words of former South African President Mandela in his address to Mkapa during his 1998 visit to Tanzania where he said “The struggle for our liberation was one that you made your own, not in any distant way but as freedom fighters sharing the sacrifices and the dangers. You gave us a home away from home when we most needed it.”

Ramaphosa underscored the important role played by Mkapa, particularly how he supported and encouraged sanctions against apartheid South Africa for their occupation of Namibia, at the United Nations and on the international stage.

Namibian President Hage Geingob applauded Mkapa’s “stellar contributions to the Independence of Namibia and strengthening of democratic governance in Africa.”

“A third-wave leader, Mzee Mkapa contributed immensely to the development of Tanzania   and   the   strengthening   of   democratic   governance   in   Africa.

“Namibians, owe him a particular debt of gratitude for his active role in favour of  independence  for  our  country  during  the  time  he  served  as  foreign minister,” Geingob said.

SADC Executive Secretary, Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax said SADC would forever cherish Mkapa’s leadership and his role in championing regional integration, including the construction of SADC Headquarters.

“Africa has lost a visionary, influential & brilliant leader,” she said.

Messages of condolence also came from outside Africa, with the United Nations Secretary General António Guterres saying Mkapa “was a statesman, an experienced diplomat and a respected regional peacemaker and advocate of reconciliation.”

“He was instrumental in facilitating the mediation for the East African Community-led inter-Burundian dialogue, under the leadership of President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, and was part of the African Union’s Panel of Eminent African Personalities that brokered an agreement following the disputed 2007-2008 general elections in Kenya,” Guterres said.

Mkapa was also a member of the Panel of Eminent Persons appointed by the UN Secretary General to review and enhance the role of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees remembered how Mkapa opened Tanzania’s doors for refugees running away from strife in neighbouring countries.

“During his tenure as President between 1995 and 2005, Tanzania became host to the highest number of refugees on the African continent, after more than 700,000 fled to the country from Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi.

“President Mkapa showed the world the generosity of the Tanzanian people by welcoming families forced to flee their homes,” said Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Grandi said Mkapa was “instrumental in peace-building efforts across the region, leading to thousands of refugees being given the chance to safely return home.” sardc.net

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