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Outgoing Tanzanian President Urges African Nations to Nurture Democracy

Outgoing Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa has urged African leaders to nurture the gains from the democratization process taking place on the continent. The Tanzanian leader, who is set to hand over the leadership of the East African nation after elections at the end of October, made the plea while on a farewell visit to Kenya.

Benjamin Mkapa is on a two-day visit to Kenya to mark the end of his 10 years as president of the Republic of Tanzania. During a state banquet in Nairobi, President Mkapa urged African leaders to nurture the gains achieved by the democratization process in the Africa.

"As developing countries we are all faced with challenges of political, social and economic nature in constructing a modernizing nations," he said. "We have together witnessed the democratization process sweeping the African continent. Our two countries are not exempt from this process. The on-going debate on the constitution of the republic of Kenya, we Tanzanians take as a manifestation of a healthy democracy.

Our current multi-party campaign process is not devoid of controversy or litigation," Mr. Mkapa added. " Against the prophets of doom and the prophets of failed states, let us affirm the integrity of our nations vision that our peoples unity is paramount and that our political sovereignty is dynamic."

President Mkapa praised the Kenyan people for achieving high economic growth and for nurturing a sound democratic political system. Kenyans are debating a draft constitution whose fate will be decided in a national referendum next month.

Tanzanians go to the polls to elect a successor to Mr. Mkapa at the end of October, after which Mr. Mkapa will join former president Ali Hassan Mwinyi in retirement.

Mr. Mkapa is credited with turning around Tanzania's economy during his 10 years as president. Having served as press secretary to the late former socialist president Julius Nyerere, Mr. Mkapa has transformed the country from a socialist state to a free market economy.

The East African nation has a stable four percent inflation rate, a gross domestic product growth rate of six percent and an annual gross domestic product of about $23 billion.

Peter Wanyande is a lecturer at the University of Nairobi. He says President Mkapa's visit to Kenya conveys a significant lesson about the need to respect constitutional term limits by African presidents.

"My view is that he is telling the East African leaders and the people of the region that yes it is possible for us and it is perhaps desirable for us to adhere to constitutional provisions regarding term of office of a president and that it is something that is good for our leaders because it gives citizens hope and confidence in the constitution," said Mr. Wanyande. "You need to understand this in the context that for a long time African leaders did not want to leave office."

Mr. Wanyande says President Mkapa's tenure was marked by political moderation and tolerance and a high level of political maturity among the citizens.

President Mkapa has made a similar trip to Uganda where incumbent President Yoweri Museveni is determined to seek re-election, despite pressure on him to relinquish power after 19 years at the helm. During the visit to Kenya the Tanzanian president was conferred with an honorary degree by a local university.