FORMER Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa has died at the age of 81 in a Dar es Salaam hospital, the government announced on Friday.
He was the country’s third president after independence from Britain in 1962 and ruled for two terms from 1995 to 2005.
‘I’m saddened by the death of the third president of Tanzania and that is a big loss for us as a country. Let’s pray for him and more information will follow later,’ President John Magufuli said in a short televised speech.
He did not disclose the cause of death.
Mkapa was born in 1938 to a poor family in south-eastern Mtwara. He earned a degree in English in Uganda and later worked as a journalist before being appointed the press secretary for the country’s first president, Julius Nyerere.
He held several cabinet posts, such as foreign minister and information minister and also served as ambassador to the US before he was elected president.
His presidency was marked by economic reform, such as the privatisation of state enterprises and liberalisation of the economy. He also secured $3bn in debt relief for the country, and economic growth soared during his tenure while inflation dropped.
In his memoir published in 2019, Mkapa said the shooting to death of about 30 opposition supporters in post-election riots on the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar in 2001 was one of the blackspots’ of his stint in power.
After leaving office he remained active as a former statesman, taking part in mediation talks in Kenya after 2007-2008 election violence.
Mkapa had most recently attempted to mediate between Burundi’s government and opposition groups after a disputed 2015 election plunged the country into crisis. However, the government repeatedly refused to take part and the talks went nowhere.
Burundi’s new president, Evariste Ndayishimiye, said on Twitter that he was ‘deeply saddened’ by Mkapa’s death.
Meanwhile, Kenya’s veteran opposition leader, Raila Odinga, said Africa ‘has lost a giant.’
Tanzania will hold a period of seven days of mourning, during which the national flag will be flown at half-mast.