Dar es Salaam. Retired President Benjamin Mkapa has for the first time spoke candidly about his administration’s apparent neglect of sports development during most of the 10 years that he was in office.
Mr Mkapa said that when he succeeded Ali Hassan Mwinyi in 1995, he focused his energy mainly on the single goal of hauling the country from economic doldrums.
He admitted that owing to the daunting task ahead of him, he did not attend a single sports event in his entire first five-year term in office.Mr Mkapa was speaking on Friday night during a dinner gala to hour the country’s finest sportsmen and women for the year 2010.
He opened up on the topic that earned him some of the harshest criticisms of his leadership style after the members of the Tanzania sports writers association (Taswa) bestowed him with top honours during the function officiated by the Vice President, Dr Mohamed Gharib Bilal.
“I accept the award although it is clear that during my first phase in leadership, I did not attend any sports activities. It was challenging, but my priorities during the early years in office were to stabilise the economy,” said Mr Mkapa.
He explained that he used the time to reduce the national debt, while creating room for the country to qualify for debt relief from members of the international and donor communities. Mkapa also said that he concentrated on building infrastructure, and enhancing education, health and other critical socio economic services.
“Actually, I set sports aside in order to reach my targets; I made sure that what we earned was well spent in order to avoid continued borrowing and begging, while our people complained of being broke,” he said.
The former President said to some credit the goals were met, allowing him some space later during his final term as president to engage in some aspects of sports development.
“My first project was to build the National Stadium, which is now the pride of the country. It was not an easy decision to make,” he revealed, while paying a glowing tribute to former minister Juma Kapuya, who was then minister responsible for sports, for pushing to have the project initiated.
Mr Mkapa said President Jakaya Kikwete, who succeeded him, also played a key role as his Foreign Affairs minister by holding talks with the Chinese government who finally constructed the stadium.
It was for the accomplishment of the 60,000-seater world class stadium that Taswa was honouring the retired President. They described the stadium as occupying a central part in sports promotion and development in the country. The Award was presented to Mr Mkapa by Dr Bilal during the gala night at Movenpick Hotel.
He thanked Taswa for the gesture, saying: “I call on Taswa to give them (President Kikwete and Prof Kapuya) honours too; they played a major role, and we are now proud of having the stadium.”
He clarified that the stadium was jointly constructed by the Chinese and the government on a 50-50 funding basis. “Let’s all take care of the stadium to make it a catalyst for sports development,” he noted.
Source: Sunday Citizen