By Lusajo Mwasaga
In October 2008, I attended the Eleventh Sokoine Memorial Lecture at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro. Sokoine Memorial Lecture is an occasion of commemorating commitment, hard work and the tireless efforts of the late Edward Moringe Sokoine, the former Prime Minister of Tanzania. I attended this lecture with the aim of knowing the work and life of the late Sokoine. I was born a few months after his death but his name is everywhere to be heard across Tanzania. Sokoine wasn’t famous on the world stage during his era, he was overshadowed by the then President of Tanzania, Late Mwalimu Julius Kamabarage Nyerere. Throughout the 1960s and until the 1980s, Nyerere represented Tanzania in global forums. Sokoine was a noble leader and won respect from over 98 percent of all Tanzania. He also won the respect of the then President, the late Mwalimu Nyerere. Sokoine’s name now appears in the names of schools, hospitals, streets and roads across all regions in Tanzania. The leading agriculture university in East Africa, Sokoine University of Agriculture has been named after him too.
Edward Sokoine represented a generation of leaders who rose during the post-independence era. He represented a unique breed of leadership that espoused a clear political vision while at the same time grappled with the operational problems of development. He was the epitome of a people’s leader, embodying the virtues of integrity, simplicity and dedication to the cause of the nation. He was a leader who combined effectiveness and respect for the popular will. He was incorruptible and dynamic, always striving to defend the interests of the Tanzanian people.
Twenty-seven years ago, on April 12, 1984, the nation lost a true son of our soil, the greatest patriot this country has ever produced, a man of great character and a leader dedicated to the development of his people and country. He died in a car accident at Dakawa, a few kilometers from Morogoro town, along the Morogoro Dodoma road. To many Sokoine was a giant of their time, playing an instrumental role in the fight against graft off, which also earned him many enemies. It is saddening to the majority of ordinary Tanzanians to note that April 12 , the day their hero was killed in a road accident on his way from Dodoma to Dar es Salaam, is not accorded its due weight.
Who was Sokoine?
Edward Moringe Sokoine (1938–1984) was Prime Minister of Tanzania from 13 February 1977 to 7 November 1980 and again from 24 February 1983 to 12 April 1984.
Sokoine was born in 1938 in Monduli District, in the Arusha region in northern Tanganyika – which was then a British Mandate and is now known as Tanzania. He began attending Government Primary School in Monduli at the age of 10, and when he completed he went on to Umbwe Government School in the Kilimanjaro region. In 1961 he joined the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU, a political party that led Tanganyika to independence), and one year later he went to the Federal Republic of Germany were he studied administration (1962–1963). On his return to Tanganyika, Sokoine took a position as District Executive Officer of the Masai District (now Monduli, Longido and Simanjiro Districts). In 1965 he was elected to the National Assembly for the Masai Constituency.
In 1967 he became Deputy Minister of Communication, Transportation and Labour. The next step in his career was his 1970 promotion to Minister of State. In 1972 he became the Minister of Defense and National Service of Tanzania and in 1975 he was elected to the National Assembly again, this time for the Monduli constituency. Two years later, he became a member of the Central Committee of the ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM). In the same year (1977) he began his first term in office as Prime Minister of the United Republic of Tanzania. This term lasted till 1981. After a year-long break, he became Prime Minister again in 1983. He remained in office for just one year, until his death in April 1984. Both times Sokoine served as Prime Minister he succeeded Rashid Kawawa.
Sokoine’s strength of character and ethical standard were distinguished, and brought as much hope to some people as they did challenges others. To Tanzanians belonging to the more impoverished economic groups from which he himself derived, his was a story of redemption. But doubts about his suitability to represent the elite classes were rife.
In late 1970s Tanzanian economic growth slipped into the negative due to the impact of the Tanzania-Uganda war and failure of Ujamaa (family hood) policies (African Socialism). During this time the country experienced an acute shortage of basic necessities, with a few greedy individuals deliberately hoarding goods in order to further drive up their prices. Corruption was at its peak, with many ordinary Tanzanians living a miserable life having to bear the brunt of economic saboteurs. To many Tanzanians who lived during this era, Sokoine represented hope.
Sokoine became popular because of his operation against uhujumu uchumi (Economic Sabotage and Racketeers) which he spearheaded a few years before his untimely death. Sokoine also fought hard against ulanguzi (black marketeering and unfair price hiking). In particular, he wanted to fight the economic inequality of a few individuals who were bent on profiteering from the hardship that had been created by the deliberate scarcity of essential goods such as sugar, soap, rice, building materials (cement, roofing material) and clothing. He sought to provide basic goods and services to more citizens at more affordable prices than they were being offered by those who were otherwise accumulating goods and selling them for inflated prices.
Father of the nation Mwalimu Nyerere once described Sokoine as not being a very intelligent person, but he knew how to use his time in office to address matters of national interest. Tanzania will be celebrating its 50 anniversary of independence on 9th December 2011. Since Sokoine’s death, corruption has taken its toll among our leaders and ordinary people are facing economic difficulties. This is what Sokoine fought against. He fought for the marginalized and helped to establish the Economic Saboteurs Act to this end. Like Nyerere, the late Sokoine sacrificed much of his life for the betterment of his country. His down to earth character, modest lifestyle and integrity contribute to his being one Tanzania political figure whose reputation was unmatched on the national level. There is no doubt that his death overshadowed the hopes and dreams of many Tanzanians. But his legacy will be there to stay.
Since he passed away in 1984, Sokoine’s ideas have been sorely missed by those engaged in the fight against corruption and economic inequality in Tanzania. He was not a hypocrite and was always firm on issues he believed in. Sokoine will be remembered as an outstanding leader, but it is an unfortunate act of betrayal that the country has not done more to implement his legacy. To a certain extent Sokoine succeeded in his operations but his life was too short lived. He died at the age and time that Tanzanians needed him the most.
Lusajo Mwasaga is a young Tanzanian, born and raised in East Africa. Through his volunteer work with NGOs within his locality, he has worked with marginalized communities in Tanzania. He currently works for the government of Tanzania and lives in the border town of Namanga (on the border of Tanzania and Kenya).