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  • Writer's pictureStephen Osieyo


Updated: Aug 1, 2020

Question: Who is the First President of Federal Republic of East Africa? Better still who is the first president of the Federal Republic of Africa.

Answer: Benjamin Mkapa

Mkapa was born in Lupaso, near Masasi, Tanganyika on 12 November 1938. He graduated from Makerere University in Uganda in 1962 with a Bachelor of arts degree in English. He went on to study at Colulmbia University in 1963, and earned a master's degree in International Affairs..

Previous posts include being an administrative officer in Dodoma and the Minister for Science, Technology and Higher Education. Dodoma was the town hosting various military training camps to liberate Africa. And rest assured a MSc scholar in International affairs is not posted there to file papers or push pencil as if he was some diplomat in Outer Mongolia. This position was up there with the very best given that the Kenya enabled South Africa used to raid the camps and steal away freedom fighters through Wilson Airport, Nairobi en-route to Pretoria.

Mkapa was the head of the Tanzanian mission to Canada in 1982 and to the US in 1983–84. He was the Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1977 to 1980 and again from 1984 to 1990.

In 1995, Mkapa was elected as president based on a popular anti-corruption campaign and the strong support of former president Julias Nyerere. Mkapa's anti-corruption efforts included creation of an open forum called the Presidential Commission on Corruption (Warioba Commission) and increased support for the Prevention of Corruption Bureau. His second five-year term of office as president ended in December 2005. During this term in office, Mkapa privatized state-owned corporations and instituted free market policies. His supporters argued that attracting foreign investment would promote economic growth. His policies won the support of the World Bank and IMF and resulted in the cancellation of some of Tanzania's foreign loans.

Hon. Mkapa died on 24 July 2020 at the age of 81 at a hospital in Dar es Salaam and was laid to rest in his hometown


Ben Mkapa as he was fondly known took on the docket of Minister for Foreign Affairs in 1977. For those in the know how this is the year when EAC eventually snapped but the goading by the three countries when they started minting their own coins started in 1966. In a way to blame Kenya for the breakup of the community is unfair. Kenya was a shell of nation. It had no brains of its own. It had no conscious. There was nothing clean in Kenya’s hands when it came to East African community. In fact, it was easier to find a clean sheet in a brothel than to find a clean sheet of paper on Kenya’s community affairs. It was worse than a corporation that at least had registration papers. The death of East African Community is only second to the death of Patrice Lumumba. Let me try again.

In colonising Africa, Britain dumped their lower class (especially northerners) in places like India, and any God forsaken colony. The aristocrats mainly from South of England were settled in Kenya and at worst in Rhodesia and a few in South Africa. But Kenya was the place to be for the aristocrats of the South of England. Nairobi and its happy Valley was to be a Las Vegas type of place and all that pertains to such. Everything else was to be stationed in the hinterland around far away from the fertile lands. Independence was to come but negotiated nicely for a nice cosy co-existence. This means that even collateral labour brought to East Africa were very skilled Indians with a lot to offer. The prosperity of Kenya is therefore not a mistake but a consequence of Britain trying to nest feather in advance of permanent settlement.

The Lakeside concentration was not a mistake either. At the turn of the century despite the war and the famine and the Spanish flu Nyanza still remained the most prosperous region in East Africa. Immigrants came as far as Sierra Leone.

Even after independence when Nairobi was little London and Nakuru the farmers’ capital, Kisumu and the Lake side cities became the cosmopolitan archipelago joined together by water ways, airstrips and circuit of road network around the lake. This went on until the East African Community was threatened. This meant that Nyanza workers who were as out spread as far as Kigoma and Zanzibar found themselves with choice to make whether they are Kenyans, Africans or East Africans. In Central Nyanza and North Nyanza Districts revenue remittance were being received from as far as Kigoma, Gulu, Mbeya before the EAC flare up. This all changed when the EAC started breaking up. When the chasm got bigger with Obote’s Common Mans charter we started seeing returnees settling in Kisumu to fight in the shallow markets of Nyanza with very little disposable income. In 1971 when Idi Amin came to power the population inflow was even bigger and this disturbed the welfare of Nyanza greatly.

Tanzania was till calm and it stayed so until the official breakdown when it threatened to escalate but by God’s grace Mkapa was around as Minister for Foreign Affairs. Mkapa’s preaching of East African Federation was not lip service only. I will illustrate.

During his tenure as a Minister in charge of EAC (under Foreign Affairs) TZ was so hospitable to Kenyans that Kenyans and Ugandans in Arusha the Capital of EAC preferred to take their problems to the TZ Minister of EAC instead of their own national EAC ministers. I am not saying anything against our Dr Robert Ouko for reasons only former EAC staff can tell you orally why they all piled at the TZ Ministers office .

That is not all. The belligerence was at the side of Kenya who had a readiness to attack TZ cheer led by the Attorney General Njonjo. The Foreign Minister Dr Munyua Waiyaki had his work cut out because no matter how hard he worked, a different narrative was seeping through. It was only Mkapa’s dream for a better Africa and Dr Waiyaki’s pleas that kept things working.

For example, when TZ ruling party, TANU changed names to Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM), Kenyans felt jittery and Njonjo had a sly dig, “what are they revolting from”.

When CCM scheduled daily radio propaganda against Capitalism after the assassination of CCM party leader Dr Klerru, Kenya went on a parallel offensive with after news bulletin titled, Hivyo Ndivyo Ilivyo coined after Rock star Elvis Pressley blockbuster musical, ‘That is the Way It Is’. The TZ version was aimed at rolling back capitalist resistance among the Chagga of Mt Kilimanjaro area and the Haya of Bukoba area. Kenya assumed it was the target and went on offensive with such slurs as “Man eat nothing Society” apparently angry at the description of Chagga preferred Capitalism as Mnyama Mkali enye makucha ya hatari. Once more it was left to Mkapa to smooth the rough edges with Dr Munyua Waiyaki.

When Kenya timed the docking of the ship on Lake Victoria that docks on at Kisumu on Mondays with the grounding and seizing of the East African Airways aeroplanes, Mkapa still gave safe passage to Kenyans to come back. Kenyans willing to stay on various services like Railways and harbours under TZ were not hindered. Only the transfer of funds became difficult forcing a move back home.


However, there are two aspects that proves that Ben Mkapa was head above shoulders what Kenyans could offer. And this element is why I have placed Mkapa in the series of Nyanza leaders.

On the North west of TZ there is a sizeable population of Luos. While the Luos in Uganda were made unwelcome by Obote and then threatened by Idi Amin the Luos of TZ knew only peace. While aspirations of Luos in Kenya was checked after 1966 and specifically after the Kisumu riots, the rise of Luos in TZ of Kenyan origin was unfettered. Timothy Apiyo the permanent secretary and Head of civil service in the Office of the president was comfortable in his seat. A position he could only dream off if he was in Kenya. A truly remarkable policy of the TZ governments Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Earlier in 1971 there was a coup attempt in Kenya and coup plotters had approached TZ for support and were promised 39 machine guns. As they were leaving, TZ felt the need to inform Kenya and at the same time alert the Professor Ouma Muga team. It is Ben Mkapa by then just an "admin" who alerted the two that, the Kenya intel is only second to South African and their activities must be well known to Kenyan security. In other words, “seek asylum now instead of going back”. Fatefully they still made their way back and were arrested at the border. The Kenya TZ haters never forgave Mkapa for this act.

The constant jab at TZ was meant to cut through to Ben Mkapa the pacifist especially now that he was the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Still when Jomo Kenyatta passed on it is Mkapa’s Euology that gave us the word Hayati as Kenyans were still using marehemu. Ben Mkapa was still hell bent on rising above Njonjo pettiness to give Jomo Kenyatta the honour he deserves. It is TZ with the Foreign ministry under Ben Mkapa that flew the flag at half the longest (21 days) only bettered by Kenya by 9 days.

It in the speech released from Foreign Affairs Ben Mkapa had these pregnant words to say about Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, “You were a great pan Africanist but became more and more a Kenyan”.

I could have added “you died a Kiambu mafia man” because in the last days of Jomo Kenyatta even Kiambu Kikuyus were left out.

Benga music King, Daniel Owino Misiani whose family stretched across the border could always sprint across the border until matters cooled down after jabs at the Jomo government and TZ had no problem with him.

And this hospitality was not only extended to Luos. An ambitious Kikuyu man wrongly framed in murders of JM Kariuki (Mark Twist) found a listening and sympathetic ear in TZ until he poked his nose in Simba Football Club politics. The Ministry of Foreign affairs policies under Ben Mkapa separated ordinary Kenyans from the ruling Class.

Two years later Njonjo persisted with antagonising TZ. To be very fair it was Nyayo himself who kicked it off by giving an off the cuff speech that ‘he will not experiment with Kenyans lives then later tell them that, “sorry the experiment failed” with Njonjo grinning broadly. This attack was aimed directly at President Nyerere and Ujamaa and any progressive thinking Kenyan like Stan Oburu-Otema Alimadi.

And to which Ben Mkapa scoffed:

“HAWAJIJUI hawa ndugu zetu. Fortunately, we can forgive them, because they who always insult us are not known for any intelligence of their own"

President Moi was cut so deeply that he responded by muzzling Njonjo, VoK and Daily Nation; then sending Dr Ouko to plead “forgiveness”. I recall a reciprocal meeting back in Nairobi with Timothy Apiyo in the entourage. I think Ben Mkapa wanted just to slap back Njonjo clique that we are so civilised that we do not have a tribal issue in TZ unlike you bigots from the cave still climbing down the trees. A Luo can rise to be anything in TZ. I hope it has not escaped your attention that Njonjo had sworn never to shake the hand of a Luo and here he was publicly shaking the hand of Timothy Apiyo. Mkapa eeh! (These snidy little waswahili!)

That was the last ever insult from Kenya government thrown at TZ post EAC collapse. I hope it has not escaped your mind that President moi was a standard 8 chap and how Njonjo became a lawyer is a secret known by one Nyakach black Briton by the name GK Omolo or if you like George King Omolo. GK was an educationist.


Very many Ugandans settled in Kenya during the Idi Amin misrule. However, there was always a risk of being hijacked and driven across the border. The only place they found peace and protection was in TZ like any African.

It was at such a meeting when Ugandan Foreign Minister Wanume Kibedi kept on insisting that certain Uganda political exiles be sent back to Uganda to face trials that Ben Mkapa wagged the legendary swahili tongue and warning to Kibedi, “Take it easy my brother, you are soon to find yourself in these hot waters”. Prophetically Wanume Kibedi was dismissed for Princess Bagaya who also did not stay long. As usual the charges were so tramped up Kibedi ran away at night through TZ with the help of who? Yes, you guessed it right, Ben Mkapa!

Still Kenya had issues with Mkapa that when he came to Nairobi on his capital to capital shuttle diplomacy to explain the war with Uganda, the Daily Nation sent half-baked reporters to interview him. At the end it turned to Mkapa interviewing the Nation reporter to jog his memory. Such was the readiness of Kenya to vilify even a TZ minister to prove some supremacy over TZ. But this did not stop Kenyans seeking degrees in Dar University.


TZ was the last post for Pan African politics and Ben Mkapa headed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs when TZ was at the height of this operation. Benjamin Mkapa by his position became the head of all those liberation movements operating from Dar es salaam.

In other words, Ben Mkapa became pseudo federal president of Uganda, Zaire, Azania, Angola, Mozambique, Sudanese, Eritrean, Southern Rhodesia, South West Africa. If you add in the fact that the Mulungushi federation fell under ministry of Foreign Affairs then you must add, Zambia to that lot.

One other aspect is that every Pan African intellectual running away from persecution headed to Dar Es Salaam be it James Orengo, Ayi Kwei Armah or US Black Panther members like Angela Davis running away from harm. And Ben Mkapa made it easier for them to be protected. This is in contrast with Kenya where Assegai Shaka Zulu, the African American returnee was habitually being dragged on the court corridors like a common criminal when he only wanted to live normally in Kenya like Italian mafia hiding in Malindi.


When African friendly US President Jimmy Carter lost in a landslide defeat to Ronald Reagan, it was Ben Mkapa who spoke for the 'Africas' and for the down trodden world when he expressed uncontrollable sense of loss for a true friend of the world.

Ben Mkapa was practically presiding undesignated post for undesignated countries. And you may not believe that the man was truly a pacifist. There was a time a middle east zealot used to do weekly editorials in the Kenyan papers lambasting Israel. Then someone in the Daily Nation started lambasting PLO. Ben Mkapa made it a point to come to Nairobi and warn them to desist from rattling the PLO because East Africa could easily turn into a playground for middle east war. “This is East Africa. Do not turn it to Jerusalem or Saigon”.

To be fair to Kiambu Mafia, they listened and called the Editor to listen to Mkapa’s explanation. When the Editor refused to come. Ben Gethi ordered him be brought in handcuffs. And Ben Mkapa explanation was again propounded how international wars are escalated by those who want to sell arms but once again re told the Ben Mkapa words, “your paymaster is not your friend”. Prophetically six months later the Aga Khan sacked the Editor.

And guess what a Maltese staying very near the Nation offices, at the Norfolk hotel left Kenya a small reminder. Ben Mkapa was right again. That was the first terrorist attack on Kenyan soil and it could have been worse had it not been for the timely intervention of Ben Mkapa.

Then there is the case of Sharon Sharon, the war mongering politician of of Israel when Jimmy Carter had appointed an African American, Andrew Young as US permanent secretary to the UN. Israel was incensed that a Martin Luther King Aide and a mere black could shape their destiny at the UN. Week in week out Israel were pummelling the black race with racist hysteria. In one of those jibes, while criticising the US under President Jimmy Carter, Sharon Sharon claimed that the US Military has been weakened because it has increased the number of African Americans in the military. Sharon Sharon unashamedly in live and print media reiterated that this is true because “Black people have a low Iq”.!

Of all the presidents and foreign ministers in Africa it is only Ben Mkapa who took issue and protested this repeatedly in the strongest terms possible. Even the US was shocked that Israel of all people could say that.

Therefore, it is only fair to say that Benjamin Mkapa has fully earned the right to describe some people as “Hawa hawajijui!”


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