Tanzania’s Former President Mourned as “a man of faith, a dedicated Pan-Africanist”

Tanzania’s former President Benjamin William Mkapa who died Friday, July 24.
Credit: Public Domain

Tanzania’s former President Benjamin William Mkapa, a Catholic who was at the forefront of brokering peace deals during conflicts in Africa, is being eulogized as a “man of faith” and “a dedicated Pan-Africanist” following his death in the country’s largest city and former capital, Dar es Salaam.

Tanzania’s President John Pombe Magufuli broke the news of the death of the former Head of State that occurred in the early hours of Friday, July 24. He was 81 and had been President from 1995 to 2005. 

“Our beloved Benjamin William Mkapa, the third president has passed away at a Dar es Salaam hospital where he was admitted,” President Magufuli announced in an address to the nation on July 24 during which he implored Tanzanians “to accept this: that we have received a great tragedy and continue to pray for our retired President Benjamin William Mkapa who has preceded us."

“I am saddened by the death of Benjamin Mkapa, the third President of Tanzania; I will remember him for his dedication to the nation and the growth of the economy,” President Magufuli further said.

The Head of State went on to declare a seven-day mourning period, during which all flags in the East African nation will be flown at half-mast. 

A parishioner of the St. Immaculate Catholic Church, Upanga in Dar es Salaam, the former late President Mkapa has been remembered for his “faith and commitment to his Church.”

“In addition to being the Third President of Tanzania, he was a Christian and has long been a parishioner of the Archdiocese of Dar es Salaam. He was a member of Upanga parish and I dare say that he was a good Parishioner. We will miss him,” the Archbishop of Dar es Salaam Thaddeus Ruwa'ichi said in a video message. 

Archbishop Ruwa'ichi added in reference to the late Benjamin Mkapa, “As someone who participated in the life of the Church of Dar es Salaam, he was steadfast in the faith" and he was "a firm believer who lived everything he believed in."

The Archbishop invited "all of us to pray to God for what He has lost for His discipleship and devotion and grant Him eternal rest." 

The Secretary General of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA), Fr. Anthony Makunde has, in an interview with ACI Africa, described President Mkapa as “a symbol of living an ecumenical life, one who respects other Christian traditions.”

Fr. Anthony, a native of Tanzanian’s Mbeya Diocese, said that he knew the former President and admired his membership at St. Immaculate Parish in the Archdiocese of Dar es Salaam.

"It is not a famous parish in the city of Dar es Salaam but he (Benjamin Mkapa) has maintained to be a parishioner there ever since,” the Nairobi-based Cleric told ACI Africa Friday, July 24. 

Recalling the Mass celebrated to mark the former President’s 77th Birthday, Fr. Anthony said, “He (former President Mkapa) was there; a very humble man acknowledging that God is the creator regardless of his status.” 

“He is a Catholic but married to a Lutheran and he maintained that cordial and peaceful coexistence with his wife. As the head of state, you would expect that maybe his wife would change to Catholicism but Mama Anna Mkapa is still a Lutheran,” Fr. Anthony disclosed. 

He added, “For people who have managed to follow one of his speeches, he has been someone who is convinced of the concept of raising the dignity of an African. He was really a pan-Africanist and he believed that Africa can really liberate itself using the resources and intelligence that we have.” 

For Tanzanian-born Jenifer Mpunza, the late former President kept time for Sunday morning Mass.

“When I was doing my apostolate in Dar es salaam, I was going for mass at St. Immaculate Parish. Every Sunday, President Mkapa was punctually present at mass at 8:30 a.m.,” Jenifer Mpunza, a member of the Focolare Movement told ACI Africa Friday, July 24.

The Nairobi-based Focolarina serving at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA) added in reference to former President Mkapa, “It was amazing to see a politician who managed to harmonize politics and his religious faith. I think his deep relationship with God strengthened him to share with his people that peace which he received from God.”

“The governance of our late former President Benjamin Mkapa was not so laud; but in his ‘silence’ he worked very hard for peace mediation in our region during his presidency and even after,” the native of Tanzania’s Iringa Diocese further said.

She expressed her appreciation “for the great work” the late former President accomplished “not only for your nation but for East African region as well. May God reward and keep you in eternal peace. Amen.”

Meanwhile, various Heads of State have eulogized former President Benjamin Mkapa as a “Pan-Africanist” and “indefatigable peacemaker.” 

In a statement seen by ACI Africa, Kenya’s President Uhuru  Kenyatta hailed the late Mkapa for being “a close friend and brother, who stood with Kenya during some of our darkest hours.”

“In Kenya, we shall forever be grateful for the pivotal role played by the Late President Mkapa in the mediation process that ended the 2007/2008 post-election violence and political impasse that resulted thereafter,” President Kenyatta recalls in his Friday, July 24 statement.

He adds, “Our Nation’s peace, reconciliation and greater unity can be directly linked to the spirited actions, wisdom, mediation and sacrifice of the Late President Mkapa and his colleagues on the Panel of Eminent Persons.” 

“East Africa has lost a founding father of the East African Community, and the Continent of Africa has lost a dedicated Pan-Africanist who shaped the destiny of the Continent as President and even after leaving office,” Kenya’s Head of State says.  

President Kenyatta went on to issue a Presidential Proclamation, announcing that Kenyans will join their neighbors in Tanzania to “observe three days of national mourning.”

“The Kenyan Flag and the Flag of the East African Community shall fly at half-mast” starting Monday, July 27, President Kenyatta declared.

For the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, “The loss of our brother Mkapa is one that will be felt throughout the continent. He was a great Pan-Africanist whose contribution went well beyond Tanzania.”

In another tribute to the late Mkapa, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC), Moussa Faki Mahamat, lauded the former President as a peacemaker known for his transparency in the fight against corruption.

“It is with deep sadness that I learnt of the passing of Mzee Benjamin Mkapa, former President of Tanzania. A statesman particularly remembered as an indefatigable peacemaker in the East African region,” Mahamat said adding, “My thoughts and prayers go out to his family, the people and government of Tanzania.” 

In his native Tanzania, President Mkapa is remembered for his slogan “Ukweli na Uwazi” (Kiswahili expression for Truth and Transparency), which he used in the fight against corruption. He is also the founder of the Anti-Corruption Commission in Tanzania, popularly known as the Warioba Commission. 

The former Head of State is also credited for implementing the privatization policy of Public Entities in Tanzania.

Before ascending to the Presidency, Mkapa served as an ambassador, minister and key official of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party. He also worked as a journalist under Kenyan veteran journalist Phillip Ochieng’.

The late former President Mkapa is expected to be laid to rest on Wednesday, July 29 at his native home of Lupaso in Masasi District, Mtwara Region of Tanzania.


ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]