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Benjamin Mkapa, Tanzania’s third President dies

Author: Daniel Danis | Published: Friday, July 24, 2020

2010: From left: Bhojraj Pokharel (former Chairman Election Commision of Nepal), Panel Chair Benjamin Nkapa (former President of Tanzania) and Antonio Monteiro (former Foreign Minister of Portugal at press conference in Khartoum at conclusion of visit to Sudan.

The third President of the Republic of Tanzania, Benjamin William Mkapa has died.

The death of the former president, aged 81, was announced by the current President John Magufuli on July 24.

Mkapa died at a Dar es Salaam Hospital where he was receiving treatment.

It is not clear what led to his death.

President Mkapa took the reins of power in Tanzania in 1995.

He was a member of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) since the beginning of the 1960s

He assumed the presidency amid devastating inflation caused by permissive business heralded by the previous ruksa regime of his predecessor Alli Hassan Mwinyi.

The government could not afford to pay public servants’ salaries, banks were collapsing and there was so much money in the streets chasing too few goods and services.

The revenue collection was erratic and insufficient.

Tanzania had over the years sunk deep into a rut because of the war to liberate Uganda, surging of the world oil prices and inflation.

In a 320-page autobiography published last year, Mkapa said: “bold decisions had to be made, including dropping some Cabinet ministers and appointment of new Bank of Tanzania governor to rectify the situation.”

He said he needed to increase government revenues as well as decrease unnecessary expenditure.

During his tenure as president, he said to have cultivated an aura of approachability, frankness and bluntness that sometimes put him at loggerheads with some ministers.

“It was important for me to give to my nation a framework with key attributes high-quality livelihood, peace, stability and unity; good governance; well-educated and learning society, and a competitive economy capable of producing sustainable growth and shared benefits,” Mkapa said.

Experts say one of his milestone achievements was external debt relief under the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) run by the World Bank and IMF.

In ten years, Tanzania’s revenue was a healthy $1,796,682 from $612,567.

The foreign exchange reserve covered at only one-and-a-half months grew to cover 5-plus months in 2005.

He established the Prevention of Corruption Bureau of Tanzania to “clean” out malpractices. 

Tanzania Revenue Authority also commenced work in 1996.


Benjamin William Mkapa was born on November 12, 1938, in Lupaso village in the southern Tanganyika to a catechist father William Matwani and mother Stephanie Nambaga.

He attended school in Tanzania and finally studying history, economics and English at Makerere University in Uganda.

Mkapa travelled to London where he worked briefly at the Nationalist Newspaper run by Tanzanians.

His role was to ensure that the newspaper supported the political views of his bosses.

After five months in the United Kingdom, Mr Mkapa was appointed the managing editor (a political appointment) of the newspaper.

 but in 1974, he was unexpectedly appointed by President Mwalimu Julius Nyerere as his Press Secretary. 

“We would be in the shambas [farms] digging in the morning hours and later, and even in between, receiving callers,” he said.

Mkapa would also be given the rare opportunity to join President Nyerere in various meetings in and out of the country.

The government then assigned him with the duty of starting a National News Agency, Shahita known as Shirika la Habari Tanzania.

In the late 1970s and 1980s, he served the political party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM, State Revolutionary Party) in the areas of Foreign Affairs, Information and Culture, Information and Broadcasting as well as Science, Technology, and Higher Education.

Diplomatic roles

In 1976, Benjamin Mkapa was assigned to Nigeria as High Commissioner during the tenure of President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Nyerere appointed then him Foreign Minister—to help shape the liberation of southern African nations.

In 1977, Mkapa was nominated a member of parliament and later, high commissioner to Canada.

And served in the United States between 1983 and 1984.

Under his successor Ali Hassan Mwinyi, he continued as Minister of Foreign Affairs and then as the minister responsible for information and broadcasting, science, technology and higher education.

In November 1995, Mr. Mkapa won the first democratic elections in Tanzania, as a candidate for the CCM. During his first term, he continued the economic liberalization program initiated by his predecessor, Ali Hassan Mwinyi. 

In the 2000 elections, Mkapa was elected for a second term which concluded at the end of 2005. 

He handed over power to Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete.

Role in South Sudan

In his retirement, Benjamin Mkapa, at some point or other, mediated peace talks in Kenya, the DRC Congo, Zimbabwe, South Sudan and Burundi.

On September 21, 2010, the then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed Benjamin Mkapato to lead a panel that would monitor Southern Sudan and Abyei referendum that was due in a year.

The former Tanzanian President was joined on the panel by António Monteiro, former Minister of Foreign Affairs for Portugal, and Bhojraj Pokharel, former Chairman of the Nepalese Election Commission.

He visited Sudan widely to push for timely, credible and peaceful plebiscite.

“We are confident that we should have a very successful referendum in the south. We don’t want the human hand to interfere with the credible outcome” he said while visiting Juba. 


Tanzanian President, John Magufuli has declared a seven-day mourning period. During this time, all flags in the country will be flown at half-mast.

East African and regional leaders sent their condolences describing the late as an “outstanding East African who worked tirelessly for the integration, peace, and progress of the region.”

Former Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki said “Mkapa is a perfect portrait of public-spiritedness replete with valuable lessons for those who serve or wish to serve in the public space. A revolutionary at heart whose efforts to deregulate Tanzania’s economy marked the beginning of a new dawn in his country.”

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