Critics dont think former president helped Tanzanian journalism MkapaFormer Tanzanian President Benjamin William Mkapa is a former respected journalist, which is why he was invited as one of the speakers at Nation Media Groups 50th anniversary Africa media conference in Nairobi in March. But his record at home in terms of supporting local journalism is questioned by critics. Mkapa came to power in 1995, making him the third Tanzanian president since independence in 1961. He is well remembered for disregarding the local media and instead praising foreign ones. During his tenure, many journalists hoped in vain that he would create a favourable environment for the Tanzanian media to develop. They thought he was in a better position to do so given his background in the profession. He would have, for instance, encouraged press freedom by enacting media-friendly laws and supporting media stakeholders to improve the media environment. University of Dar es Salaam lecturer Dr Sengondo Mvungi says Mkapa was one of the most difficult leaders to deal with. Although he was a journalist, he did too little to help the profession. To say that local journalists were incapable of handling their job was in essence insulting, noted Mvungi, a lawyer who is also trained in journalism and worked with the CCM-owned Uhuru Newspaper. Mvungi said if Mkapa saw foreign media as better, it was because leaders in those countries provided better conditions, which he failed to do in his ten-year tenure. But a senior lecture at the Institute of Journalism and Mass Communication, a constituent college of the University of Dar es Salaam, Ayoub Ryoba, says this is not the right time to wage a war of words with ex-President Mkapa. Rather it is the time for journalists to prove him wrong by the kind of the reportage they do. I personally take this as challenge to our profession, and it is a time to show Mkapa that we can do better than what he thinks. This is not news anymore, because Mkapa has been repeating these words, he noted. Generally, Mkapa was often too negative about local journalists and praised the western media for responsible and balanced reporting. He would say the local journalists were unable to analyse and discuss issues and dwelt too much on trivial issues. He was once quoted as saying he would not talk to local journalists because they were uneducated. Local journalists felt the president demeaned them, yet he had ascended to power partly because of their support. Speaking at the conference in Nairobi, Mkapa boastfully said: It was a condition during my tenure that the people who came to my news conferences must be well versed on the issues we were going to talk about. They must be prepared and must have done their research. That is why I have a reputation of talking to the foreign media rather than local media. Stressing the role of the media in Africa, he noted that it should not only criticise but also advocate for positive change on the continent. Dr. Sengondo MvungiOn October 29 last year, Mkapa used similar words when delivering a speech at the launch of Change/Mudança magazine at the Southern Africa Trust Offices, Midrand, South Africa. Southern Africa still has a problem of lack of information flow, especially on regional issues. We are an information starved region but need citizens who are well informed and engaged on issues affecting them, if we are to successfully overcome poverty. There is disjuncture between the reality of our region and what citizens know through their national media. The mainstream media concentrate their coverage on the governors and not the governed. To make Change magazine a real force for change, I therefore suggest that the stories covered should put the people at the centre of development instead of the governors only. Although Mkapa is commended for making economic reforms and boosting the economic growth, he has nevertheless been criticized for abetting grand corruption. Critics say many of todays corruption scandals have their roots in his presidency. He was associated with a Kiwira Mine privatisation deal in 2005, where both he and ex-Energy and Minerals Minister Daniel Yona have been accused of abuse of public office and being interested parties in the deal. The issue of formerly state-owned Kiwira Coal Mine in Mbeya Region was brought to parliament in February and the government was expected to give a satisfactory explanation over the controversial deal. But the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB) stated categorically that it could and would not investigate Mkapa because of his immunity from such investigation and possible prosecution as outlined in the Constitution. That raised public debate on whether parliament should vote to strip Mkapa of the immunity to enable official investigations into serious allegations against him. Reports show that Kiwira Mine deal started in 1999 when Mkapa and his wife Anna registered a private business company, Anbem Limited, with themselves as sole directors. Anbem Ltd listed State House as its official address and operated from there, which led many critics to conclude that it clearly constituted abuse of public office. In 2004, while still president Mkapa allegedly teamed up with Yona, along with various members of their respective families, to form a joint private firm, Tanpower Resources Limited. Among other things, Tanpower Resources was licensed to deal with coal mining to generate electricity for consumption and sale. Mysteriously, the mine was eventually sold to Tanpower Resources for US$7 million, far less than the US$50 million incurred by the government to build the mine in the 1980s. It has also been said that throughout the privatisation process, neither Mkapa nor Yona ever publicly declared their interest in Tanpower Resources. Born in 1938 in Masasi, Mtwara Region, Mkapa received his primary and secondary education in Tanzania before proceeding to Makerere University College in Uganda where he obtained a BA (Hons) Degree in English in 1962. He was appointed district officer and became a foreign service officer later that year. In 1966, Mkapa embarked on a long career in journalism, rising to become Managing Editor of Uhuru and The Daily News newspapers. In 1974, he was appointed Press Secretary to then President Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, and served for two years. In 1976, he became the founding editor of the Tanzania News Agency. He was appointed Minister for Information and Culture in 1980-82 and again Minister for Information and Broadcasting in 1990-92. President Mkapas equally long diplomatic career included a number of high postings. In 1995 he was elected President and the Chairman of Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) the following year. He was re-elected in 2000 for another 5 year-term after which he retired. He is married to Anna and they have two sons. He owns a lot of property.