(The textual material for this piece has been compiled from numerous sources – Ed.)
“For five years, I served on the Aga Khan University’s Board of Trustees. I saw the passion of His Highness the Aga Khan and my fellow Board members for improving quality of life in Africa and Asia. When they say the four pillars of AKU are quality, impact, access, and relevance, they mean it. When they say they are committed to educating leaders who make a difference in the lives of others, they mean it. Furthermore, the expansion of the Aga Khan Hospital demonstrates just how committed His Highness the Aga Khan is to investing in Tanzania and its people” — Benjamin Mkapa, President of Tanzania (1995-2005) speaking at the 15th convocation of Aga Khan University, Tanzania, held in Dar es Salaam February 5, 2020.
President Banjamin Mkapa, who died on July 24, 2020 at the age of 81, served as Tanzania’s president for just over 10 years from November 1995 until December 2005. He became the country’s third President after winning the 1995 election based on a popular anti-corruption campaign. Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s first President, was singularly important in the life of President Mkapa as was noted by him in his speech of February 2020 at the Aga Khan University’s graduation ceremony held in Dar es Salaam: “As I look back on my career, I can see many turning points. Today, I will single out just one: the moment when Mwalimu called me to his home early in my career. I remember being in awe of him, wondering what business he could possibly have with me. To my great surprise, he asked me to become editor of the party newspaper [The Nationalist]. I knew next to nothing about running a newspaper. But I realised it was a challenge I could not refuse. I said yes. In many ways, that decision that shaped the rest of my life.”
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Born in Lupaso, near Masasi, on November 12, 1938, Benjamin Mkapa studied at Makerere University in Uganda where he graduated in 1962 with a Bachelor of Arts in English. He then attended Columbia University in the US, where he was awarded a master’s degree in international affairs. Before he became president of Tanzania for a first term in 1995, he held positions as the Minister for Science, Technology and Higher Education. Early in his diplomatic career, he led the Tanzanian mission to Canada in 1982, and to the US from 1983-84. In the late 1970s, he served as the Tanzanian Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Mkapa was described as a seasoned journalist, accomplished diplomat, renowned politician, democrat, peace maker, human rights advocate, promoter of good governance, statesman and role model as well as a fighter against poverty.
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“Thank you…President Mkapa, for honouring us with your presence. Yours has been an exemplary leadership for your people’s fight against poverty, and their commitment to peace and harmony at home and within the region” — His Highness the Aga Khan, Die Quadriga Award 2005
Above serving as the president of Tanzania between 1995 to 2005, Mkapa’s portfolio and impact followed him beyond his time in office. As one of the continent’s most celebrated thought-leaders, he was actively engaged in various leadership forums, boards and mediation talks. He became the longest board serving member at African Wildlife Foundation (AWF). His deep understanding of conservation’s importance, across multiple sectors, helped focus policy as he championed the need for the conservation of wildlife and wild lands in a developing Africa.
Even in the months leading to his death and in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, he worked closely with AWF leadership in various forums such as The First Virtual African Protected Areas Directors Conference where he emphasized, “Nature is an investment that should be prioritized as it is our insurance policy against zoonotic diseases. Africa can rise only if we do it right.”
That Benjamin Mkapa was strongly committed to the conservation of nature and wildlife was also noted by His Highness the Aga Khan during the opening of the Zanzibar Serena Inn in 1997, when the 49th Ismaili Imam observed:
“It is with very great pleasure that I welcome you today to the opening of the Zanzibar Serena Inn. Let me express my sincere gratitude to His Excellency The President of the United Republic of Tanzania Mr. Benjamin Mkapa for having honoured us by accepting to perform today’s ceremony. Only nine months ago His Excellency performed similar ceremonies at three new Serena lodges at Ngorongoro, Serengeti and Lake Manyara. There he made a remarkable speech about Tanzania’s commitment to the development of tourism and the strategies that his Government intended to follow to optimise the return on this activity to Tanzania’s economy without jeopardising the sensitive, ecological balance of the nation’s exceptional game parks.”
Nurturing young leaders is one legacy for which Benjamin Mkapa will be remembered and through which his work on behalf of conservation will continue to thrive. In 2014, he conceptualized the African Leadership Forum in collaboration with The Uongozi Institute. The forum was conceived of as a space for Africa’s eminent elders to interact with current and future leaders around strategic challenges facing the continent and help develop sustainable solutions.
President Makapa died on July 24, 2020. Thousands of Tanzanians gathered on July 28, 2020 at Dar es Salaam’s Uhuru Stadium to say a final goodbye to the country’s third president at a state funeral. In a national address for the funeral, Tanzanian President John Magufuli said Mkapa’s death was a loss for Tanzania, Africa and the world at large. “Mkapa was a global citizen. He was a dynamic leader, a seasoned diplomat, a mediator and a peacemaker.” President Mkapa was buried in his native village of Lupaso in Masasi district in Mtwara region.
This post along with our special selection of photographs is a tribute to the Tanzanian president who was much loved by his countrymen, and who showed a sincere willingness to assist with His Highness the Aga Khan’s initiatives for Tanzania’s development.
“Many of you are aware that His Excellency has previously served as a Trustee of the Aga Khan University, guiding us to develop quality education and health services in Tanzania. We have benefitted greatly from his insight, wisdom, and counsel. Your Excellency, your presence at the ceremony today is a source of great inspiration and happiness to our graduands and their parents” — AKU President Firoz Rasul, February 2020
Date posted: November 28, 2020.
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