Benjamin Mkapa: Negotiator Who Brought Kenya Back from Brink of Destruction

  • Former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa passed on July 24, 2020.
    Former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa passed on July 24, 2020.
    Daily Nation
  • The passing of former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, 81, was announced by the current President John Pombe Magufuli on Friday, July 24.

    President Magufuli stated that Mkapa had died at Dar es Salaam Hospital where he was admitted as he declared a seven-day mourning period during which all flags in the country will be flown at half-mast. 

    The Tanzanian leader who had influence in the African region played key roles in the politicial, economic and social sectors of the continent.

    The ex-president was one of the mediators deployed by the African Union together with the late UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and former South African First Lady Graça Machel, in a Panel of Eminent African Personalities to oversee a peace deal in Kenya in 2008.

    From left: Graca Machel, Koffi Anna, Mwai Kibaki, Raila Odinga and Benjamin Mkapa in 2008.
    From left: Mediators Graca Machel, Koffi Annan with President Mwai Kibaki, ODM leader Raila Odinga and former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa in 2008.
    Daily Nation

    The mediation process began on January 22, 2008, three weeks after post-election violence erupted across Kenya with ODM leader Raila Odinga opposing then PNU leader Mwai Kibaki's election as president.

    In a 2009 report by the International Peace Institute detailing the negotiation process, Mkapa was credited as being one of the essential figures in the power-sharing deal that saw peace restored in the country.

    "With the vital aid of President Mkapa, Kofi Annan would take it upon himself to include the people in the process as much as possible through media transparency," the report read in part.

    The Tanzanian leader took it upon himself to translate all of the press conferences into Swahili. He ensured that the message was heard and understood by the Kenyan people, and delivered by someone they could trust.

    At a point where the negotiations hit a stalemate as the warring parties decided not to yield, Annan called for a private session with Kibaki, Raila and the mediators which Raila revealed had an air of tension lingering.

    Raila in his book The Flame of Freedom recalled that Mkapa and his predessor Jakaya Kikwete were not pleased with how the parties were conducting themselves.

    "Kikwete and Mkapa pointed out that Kibaki was old enough to be my father and I should give him the respect he deserved according to the African traditions," the ODM leader wrote.

    Eventually, the tensions simmered down as Mkapa reminded them that they had worked together before and that common ground should not be so hard to find.

    The meeting proceeded without much disruptions and on February 28, 2008, the National Accord and Reconciliation Act (2008) was signed, paving way for the Grand Coalition Government, bringing to an end the acrimonious post-election chaos.

    While mourning the fallen leader, Raila Odinga desribed the late politician as a great friend of the Kenyan people, a pan-Africanist, a true believer in South-South Cooperation and a global statesman.

    The late UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan (Left), ODM leader Raila Odinga and former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa
    The late UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan (Left), ODM leader Raila Odinga (centre) and former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa (right).
    Twitter

    "Mkapa believed in Regional Integration and championed the revival of the East Africa Community. In his death, Africa has lost a giant. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, President John Pombe Magufuli and the people of the United Republic of Tanzania," he posted on July 24.

    Mkapa who was Tanzania’s Minister for Foreign Affairs from 1977 to 1980 and again from 1984 to 1990 will remain an influential figure in regional matters.

    He was later elected president in 1995 where he introduced a raft of policies that cemented his legacy. During his second five-year term, he privatized state-owned corporations and instituted free-market policies. A move that saw the country gain favour with World Bank and other international lending institutions.

    The former journalist handed over to his successor Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete in 2005 and took on regional roles. Mkapa was awarded the Order Heart of Kenya by President Mwai Kibaki in the same year.

    He was a recipient of several honorary degrees from various Universities in the World including Kenyatta Univeristy where he was awarded a Doctors in Education Degree in 2005. 

    Former President Benjamin Mkapa during a previous press briefing.
    Former President Benjamin Mkapa during a previous press briefing.
    Daily Nation

    Other universities that awarded him were, Sōka University (Japan), Morehouse College (United States), Open University of Tanzania (Tanzania), Univeristy of Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Univeristy of Cape Coasy (Ghana), Newcastle Univeristy (United Kingdom) and Makerere Univeristy (Uganda).

    He was born on November 12, 1938, in Ndanda, Tanzania, and is survived by three children and his spouse Anna Mkapa.