The memoirs by the former President of the United Republic of Tanzania, H.E. Benjamin William Mkapa, titled “My Life, My Purpose: A Tanzanian President Remembers”, were released on Tuesday 12 November 2019 at Julius Nyerere International Convention Centre, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The release coincided with his 81st birthday.
The memoirs, published by Mkuki na Nyota with support of UONGOZI Institute, contain H.E. Mkapa’s personal account of his unique memories. They range from his childhood, time as president, and his continuing post-retirement involvement at the domestic and international stages.
The launching ceremony was officiated by the President of the United Republic of Tanzania, H.E. Dr. John Pombe Joseph Magufuli. The President of Zanzibar, H.E. Dr. Ali Mohamed Shein; Prime Minister of the United Republic of Tanzania, Hon. Kassim Majaliwa Majaliwa (MP); Speaker of the National Assembly of Tanzania, Hon. Job Yustino Ndugai (MP); and two former Tanzanian Presidents; H.E. Ali Hassan Mwinyi and H.E. Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete; were in attendance. The event also included current and former high-level government officials; heads of regional organisations; business leaders; development partners; academia; representatives from book stores, libraries, civil society, and youth.
Speaking during the event, the Chief Executive Officer of UONGOZI Institute, Prof. Joseph Semboja, highlighted the link between the Institute’s mission and leadership memoirs project.
“Since inception in 2010, our mission as an institute has been to inspire and equip Tanzanian as well as African leaders to deliver inclusive and sustainable solutions,” said Prof. Semboja.
He added, “We believe that sound leadership is the foundation and prerequisite for sustainable development. In fact, this is a continuation of our founding father Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere’s thoughts on development. He said that to develop, we need people, land, clean politics and good leadership.”
Prof. Semboja went on to state that many leaders from developed countries, particularly the western countries, have written about their personal and leadership lives. He, however, noted that the story changes when it comes to Africa, where only a few books have been written by senior African leaders.
“As a result, leaders and students of development, political science and diplomacy draw lessons from the publications of leaders from developed countries, which consider a non-African context,” he stated.
“We therefore believe that memoirs of senior African leaders contribute to Africa’s political, economic, social and cultural history. The history we are celebrating here today is not H.E. Mkapa’s but Tanzania’s,” said Prof. Semboja, adding that the book is the best birthday gift by H.E. Mkapa to the country.
According to Prof. Semboja, the process of producing H.E. Mkapa’s memoirs was initiated in 2016, and among others, it involved research, meetings with various individuals and institutions, as well as data and information verification. He added that the project costs totalled TZS 230,000,000 (EUR 88,061). According to him, the project would not have been a success without the support of the Government of Finland.
“I would like to thank the Government of Finland for its contribution to the implementation of our programmes. Since inception, our Institute has been receiving both financial and technical support from the Finnish Government. Without their support, today’s event would not have become a reality or if it had, it would have been at high costs,” he stated.
In her remarks, the Ambassador of Finland to Tanzania, Riita Swan, expressed how honoured she was to take part in the launching ceremony of H.E. Mkapa’s memoirs. She went on to highlight the good relations between Tanzania and Finland, which are based on long-term cooperation conducted in a variety of fields ranging from projects at a high political level to grassroots-level.
“For about ten years now, as part of operations between the Governments of Finland and Tanzania, we have been supporting UONGOZI Institute and its work on leadership for sustainable development,” said Amb. Swan.
She further noted that a few months ago at the African Leadership Forum, organised by UONGOZI Institute in Dar es Salaam, H.E. Mkapa spoke on how forests can offer opportunities for socio-economic development in the country. She said that these opportunities are needed to address the growing population, particularly youth and women, and that H.E. Mkapa’s way of addressing the issue shows how a leader has actually assimilated the concept of sustainable development.
To begin, H.E. Mkapa warmly thanked President Magufuli and all present for accepting the invitation to come and take part in the launching ceremony of his memoirs. He further thanked those who counselled and encouraged him to write the book but were unable to attend the event; H.E. Joaquim Chissano, former President of the Republic of Mozambique and H.E. Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
H.E. Mkapa recalled what his father said to him when he had entered secondary school: “I want any one of these futures for you: first as a priest. If this is impossible, I hope that you will become a doctor, but if those two are impossible, then at least become a teacher.”
He said, “As you all know, I instead became the third President of the United Republic of Tanzania, serving two five-year terms. This is something that my father had never dreamt of, and unfortunately, did not live long enough to witness.”
The Former President further recalled that it was not easy for him to accept writing about his life. He said that the book arose due to encouragement from Prof. Semboja.
“I was hesitant at the beginning, not that I did not want to share on my leadership journey and challenges I encountered along the way but rather I never thought that there is anything remarkable to learn from it,” H.E. Mkapa recalled.
Eventually, H.E. Mkapa agreed to write his memoirs and according to him, there were three reasons behind his decision.
First, he wanted to share his experience with those who aspire to serve in the position that he and his predecessors and successors have served in nearly 58 years. His hope was that they would not only learn from the mistakes and achievements but also be inspired to pursue similar leadership roles.
Second, he wanted to pay tribute to those who in one way or another contributed to his personal growth, as well as leadership life.
Third, he wanted to provide his perspective on various issues concerning the liberation of African states and leadership in Africa. Most importantly, he wanted to share his perspective of Mwalimu Nyerere, as a person and as a leader.
H.E. Mkapa stated, “I have written: A future leader could be born with natural leadership traits; yet even divinely bestowed qualities of leadership need nurturing and enhancement to make them relevant to contemporary challenges.”
He further highlighted the importance of mentorship.
“I benefitted from having Mwalimu as a mentor and many of you will have benefited from a mentor at some stage in your life. I urge you all to make a conscious effort to mentor those you see exhibiting the potential to become a leader or those who could reach higher in their leadership goals,” said the former President.
To conclude, H.E. Mkapa revisited the words that conclude his book, a quote from a prominent American rabbi and popular author, Harold Kushner:
“Our souls are not hungry for fame, comfort, wealth, or power. Those rewards create almost as many problems as they solve. Our souls are hungry for meaning, for the sense that we have figured out how to live so that our lives matter, so the world will at least be a little bit different for our having passed through it.”
He stated that these words have been, and still are the purpose in his life; a purpose that God, his family, friends and loyal colleagues have helped him to achieve.
To open his address, President Magufuli congratulated H.E. Mkapa for writing memoirs that will enrich the history of Tanzania and extended special appreciation to him for the invitation. He was gratified with the presence of two other former Tanzanian Presidents. He said their presence demonstrates how peaceful and unified the country is.
President Magufuli told the audience on how H.E. Mkapa contributed to his political career growth.
He said, “During the 1995 elections, when I was running for a seat in the parliament for the first time, through CCM, at the Biharamulo Constituency (now Chato Constituency), Mzee Mkapa, who was running for president at that time came to Biharamulo. I remember that day Mzee Mkapa held my hand and told the crowd in front of us, “Vote for this young gentleman.” Personally, I think his statement was enough to get me elected.”
“When I was Deputy Minister for Works, Transport and Communications, I learned a lot about being confident and bold from Mzee Mkapa,” said President Magufuli.
Speaking about lessons he picked from H.E. Mkapa, President Magufuli said, “Mzee Mkapa was fair to all his appointees. What mattered to him was people who could deliver. Also, when he agrees to take your advice, no matter what, he will stand with you until the end.”
Towards the end of his speech, President Magufuli congratulated UONGOZI Institute for coordinating the publication process of H.E. Mkapa’s memoirs and directed that the book be translated to Swahili.
Lastly, President Magufuli urged other former senior leaders to write memoirs to inform and inspire a new generation of leaders.
The launching ceremony also featured a review by Prof. Rwekaza Mukandala, Mwalimu Nyerere Chair in Pan-African Studies.