Benjamin Mkapa: Tanzania’s former president dies aged 81

Tanzania’s former president Benjamin Mkapa, who worked to end conflict in East Africa during and after his decade in power from 1995, died on Friday while being treated for an undisclosed illness, the presidency said.

“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.

Mkapa, who was 81, won the country’s first multi-party elections in 1995 and was re-elected for a second five-year term in 2000. He led several regional peace mediation initiatives and afterwards continued to seek reconciliation in Burundi, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Great Lakes region.

Mkapa’s successor, former president Jakaya Kikwete, told reporters that he had visited him in hospital on Thursday and they had a long chat although Mkapa was in pain.

Born in southern Tanzania, Mkapa was an English graduate of the University of Makerere in Uganda and studied international affairs at Columbia University in New York.

His re-election in 2000 was followed by post-election clashes in the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar, in which at least 22 people were killed. He described the incident as a “black spot” of his presidency.

He is credited for boosting tax collections, instituting austerity measures to curb wasteful expenditure and opening doors to foreign investors.

He also secured $3 billion (2.5 billion euros) in debt relief and economic growth soared during his tenure while inflation dropped

After leaving office he remained active, taking part in mediation talks in Kenya after 2007-2008 election violence. “The people of Kenya have lost a close friend and brother, who stood with Kenya during some of our darkest hours,” said President Uhuru Kenyatta, announcing a three-day period of mourning in the neighbouring country.

Tanzanian President John Magufuli declared a seven-day mourning period, during which flags will be flown at half-mast.

A funeral ceremony will take place on 29 July, according to Prime Minister Kassim Majaaliwa.

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