Next week, Tanzania will hold its third presidential and parliamentary elections under the multi-party system adopted in 1992. The polls also mark the end of 10 years of rule by President Benjamin William Mkapa. According to the constitution, he is not eligible to run for a third five-year term.
Michael Okema is a lecturer in political science at the Open University in Dar es Salaam. He told English to Africa reporter William Eagle that President Mkapa will be remembered for taking a “principled stand on constitutionalism”; that is, he never tampered with the document in order to stay in power.
Also, Mr. Okema says the president took the country from a socialist-style economy to more of a free market system with no serious social upheavals. The reforms, he says, have brought the ruling party the support of a growing middle class.
As for his foreign policy, Mr. Okema says President Mkapa was a realist and took an active stand in regional or Pan African issues – such as encouraging the return of refugees to Rwanda – only because they had a direct affect on Tanzania.
President Mkapa has criticized African leaders who extend their stay in power through political manipulation. On the other hand, he supports President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who is accused of ruling through extra-legal means. But Mr.Okema says President Mkapa’s support for the Zimbabwean leader simply reflects the thinking of many other African leaders, who believe Mr. Mugabe is being unfairly attacked for ending what they see as a last vestige of colonial rule – minority white control of farmland.