Serena peace team: The Mkapa we knew

Monday, July 27th, 2020 00:00 |
Benjamin Mkapa was among the truce brokers after the 2007/8 post-election violence. Photo/PD/FILE

Kenyans joined the world in eulogising former Tanzania President Benjamin William Mkapa who died in Dar es Salaam on Friday. 

President Uhuru Kenyatta led regional and world leaders in mourning the former Tanzania leader who passed away at 81.

Mr Kenyatta described Mkapa as “outstanding East African who worked tirelessly for the integration, peace, and progress of the region.”

Mwai Kibaki, Kenya’s third president, described Mkapa as one of Africa’s most illustrious sons.

“Mkapa is a perfect portrait of public-spiritedness replete with valuable lessons for those who serve or wish to serve in the public space.

A revolutionary at heart whose efforts to deregulate Tanzania’s economy marked the beginning of a new dawn in his country,” Mr Kibaki said in a statement.

“The late Mkapa—a close ally of Tanzania’s founding president Mwalimu Julius Nyerere—distinguished himself as one of the most reputable peace brokers in the region,” Mr Kibaki noted.

“In his retirement, Benjamin Mkapa, at some point or other, mediated peace talks in Kenya, the DRC Congo, Zimbabwe, South Sudan and Burundi. Mkapa most certainly played his role in making Africa a better place. May he rest in eternal peace,” he noted.

Mkapa would be remembered for participating in the 2008 peace talks after the post-election violence that claimed nearly 1,133 people and led to the displacement of thousands of families.

The talks which were brokered by the late former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan resulted in a peace deal that enabled Kibaki and Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga share power under the Grand Coalition government.

Mkapa was a member of the Eminent African Personalities team including former South Africa First Lady Graca Machel. 

Former Deputy Prime minister Musalia Mudavadi, Senators Moses Wetang’ula (Bungoma) and Sam Ongeri (Kisii) who participated in the talks recall their interactions with Mkapa.

While Mudavadi led the Raila team, Wetangula and Ongeri were Kibaki’s voices on the negotiation table. 

Musalia Mudavadi (ANC leader)

“We, in Kenya, owe the former Tanzania President Benjamin Mkapa a debt of gratitude. During our (post-election) meetings at Serena in early 2008, President Mkapa was a very composed and influential interlocutor.

I found him to be a very incisive and down-to-earth person. He had a high sense of humour and yet very solid.

“He was ready and willing to hear out everyone. He tested the level of patriotism of each of the participants.

At times when discussions were not making progress, he could call the meeting to order and firmly tell us: “If you guys go on posturing, remember it is your own country that will burn and you will bear the greatest responsibility for that.

“He was a great arbiter. His effective communication skills were unmistakable. journalistic and diplomatic backgrounds came in to bear during the Serena negotiations.

At a personal level, he was a father figure to all of us. He personalised his relationship with us. He called us by our first names.

Here was a very senior person yet very humble in his undertakings. He displayed a lot of humility.

You felt his presence whenever he entered the room yet he did not have any ‘airs’ or shred of arrogance on him whenever he spoke to us.

“On the East African front, Mkapa pushed hard for political and business reforms in the region.

He moderated our regional discussions in Arusha with a great tinge of civility, responsibility and understanding. 

“Mkapa was a an unapologetic firm pan-africanist. He believed in the African people and the continent of Africa.

He was a strong democrat. He believed in Constitutionalism. He did not want to see violations of the Constitution in the region.

He promoted human rights in his country and the EAC region as a whole. We owe him a lot. 

“Insofar as transition is concerned, he - just like his predecessors and successors - left a legacy in which power is transferred peaceful.

Tanzania has set an example in the region whereby by peaceful transfer of power is the norm unlike in the rest of the countries where violence and hardening of positions characterise elections and transitions.”

Moses Wetang’ula (Bungoma Sen)

“During the Serena talks, President Mkapa stood out for his tenacity, resilience and incisiveness.

I had previously worked with him on the Burundi peace talks and I saw the same sharp qualities I had witnessed before coming out at Serena where he held an admirable position.

“Serena talks were not an easy journey. Mkapa stood firm even when issues became too tough to handle.

There are times when he could switch to Kiswahili because he knew quite well that all of us in the room, apart from his two colleagues (Annan and Gracia) understood Swahili and tell us repeatedly: “Nyinyi msituhaibishe sisi watu wa kanda ya Afrika Mashiriki. Nchi hii ikipasuka sisi wote katika kanda tutaathirika (do not be the ones to let us, the people of East Afrika down, if this country burns the entire region will be affected).

“Kenya shall forever remain grateful to him. He was a great contributing pillar to what we have now.

Though we had problems in 2013 and 2017 elections, there was caution on contestants not to go back to where we were in 2007 as a result what Mkapa and his team did while we were at Serena. We are reaping the fruits of his hard work.

“The lesson Kenyans should take from Mkapa is that Statemenship and humility are the hallmarks of success in leadership.

Mkapa provided a lot of insights on leadership in the region. We have to learn that leadership is about serving the people and not corruption and amassing so much wealth and stealing everything in sight at the expense of the whole country.

Mkapa did not die a rich man but he has left behind a lot of rich experiences for all of us to draw from. “

Kisii Senator Sam Ongeri

“Former President Benjamin Mkapa was an astute and progressive leader, he had a grasp of issues affecting the East Africa community. 

He had deep knowledge of internal politics, making him useful as one of the eminent persons during the 2007/08 negotiations.

“As the negotiating team, when we had very divergent views on certain topics, particularly on the governance structure, he was able to moderate alongside Kofi Annan to bring in a moderate by giving useful input,”

“I had known Mkapa before as a foreign minister, before he became the President.

I remember, I accompanied him to Kericho for some work, he needed to do, I found him very engaging,” he added

“In particular, I remember Mkapa at Serena talks when it became to the issue of governance structure of the coalition, he came out clearly that we could share positions, without creating of mayhem, as long as the end product will be service delivery to the people.”

Martha Karua (Narc Kenya leader)

“My Condolences to our Tanzania neighbours, Africa and humanity on the passing on of a renowned statesman, former Tanzanian president and friend of Kenya Benjamin Mkapa. He has left indelible footprints.” - Reporting by Mukalo Kwayera, Hillary Mageka and Emeka Gekara-Mayaka

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