The World Council of Churches (WCC) is mourning the loss of the former president of Tanzania, Benjamin Mkapa. He was also an advocate for ecumenical work, and publicly spoke in support of the WCC Decade to Overcome Violence and other initiatives for justice.
From the Roman Catholic faith tradition, Mkapa consistently attended and spoke about unity at activities with the Christian Council of Tanzania and Tanzania Episcopal Conference. He was also founder of the Mkapa Foundation in 2006, with the mission of “bringing hope to the underserved.” The foundation’s work helped augment visibility of the WCC Ecumenical HIV and AIDS Advocacy and Initiatives programme, as well as faith-based hospitals and programmes related to health and healing.
Mkapa became Tanzania’s president following the country’s first multiparty election in 1995 and went on to lead the country until 2005. He is credited for boosting tax collections, instituting austerity measures to curb wasteful expenditure and opening doors to foreign investors. His reforms were welcomed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and partly resulted in the cancellation of Tanzania’s foreign debts.
As president of Tanzania, Mkapa played an instrumental role in returning institutions to churches, such as St John’s University of Tanzania, which was returned to the Anglican Church of Tanzania in 2005; and Amon Nsekela College in Iringa (now Ruaha University) to the Catholic Church.
He helped to develop infrastructure—such as roads—that enabled people to attend church. He also introduced a system of physicians and nurses to work in church hospitals while being paid by the government.
From farms to water projects to schools, Mkapa was known for reaching those most in need, and for mediating conflict while always attempting to keep open the path to peace.
“We mourn the passing and commemorate the life of Benjamin Mkapa, who employed his passion and talent to work for unity and justice among churches and within Tanzania’s government,” said Rev. Prof. Dr Ioan Sauca, WCC interim general secretary. “We have lost a civil servant who was also a willing and passionate servant of Christ.”
A service was held on 29 July in Masasi in the southern part of Tanzania.