by Ben Taylor

Ali Mufuruki (15 November 1958 to 7 December 2019) was one of the few businessmen of Tanzanian African origin to make it onto the Forbes Rich List, where, in 2011, his assets were estimated at $110m. The figure may have been exaggerated, and he did not appear on the list in subsequent years, but his achievements are not in doubt.

He was born in Bukoba to parents Abdul Hassan Mufuruki and Jalliya Rutaihwa. He was employed by Daimler-Benz and studied in Germany, where in 1986 he achieved a degree-level qualification in Mechanical Design Engineering from the Fachhochschule (or Technical High School) in Reutlingen. He returned to Tanzania to be head of mechanical engineering at the state-owned National Engineering Company. Two years later he created his own company, Infotec Computers Ltd, which installed and maintained computers across Tanzania, supplying both the hardware and software. The timing was perfect: computers were suddenly a key part of the business world. The business expanded rapidly and a few years later the South African based Woolworths Holdings Ltd licensed its interests in Tanzania to the Infotec Investment Group (his holding company). Its first store in Tanzania opened in December 1999, and the franchise was subsequently extended to Uganda. Mufuruki started many other companies; the long list included a franchise of Levi’s, the US-owned maker of jeans, and, with a Norwegian company, a business selling internet-based booking systems to tourist venues. It opened office buildings, locating its headquarters in one of them, a prestigious building in Mikocheni, Dar es Salaam.

But Mufuruki was not just interested in his own businesses. He served as a director or chair of a list of companies and committees far too long to list here (but including the Tanzanian arm of Coca Cola, Vodacom Tanzania, Air Tanzania, Mwananchi Communications Ltd and the Nation Media Group in Kenya). He became involved in the international circuit of business conferences where he spoke, very effectively, about the potential, but also the weaknesses, of businesses in Africa. In 2000, he was a co-founder – and from 2005 chair – of the Chief Executive Officers Roundtable of Tanzania, providing a voice representing business interests across the whole private sector (agriculture and services as well as manufacturing), not controlled or dominated by the government.

But his long-term legacy is likely to be the book which with three friends he published in 2017. [Ali Mufuruki, Rahim Mawji, Moremi Marwa, Gilman Kasiga. Tanzania’s Industrialization Journey, 2015-2056: From an Agrarian to an Industrialised State in 40 Years. Nairobi: Moran Publishers, 2017. Also on the internet at See also the review in Tanzanian Affairs Issue 120, May 2018]. It broke new ground in many ways. It was probably the first book about economic strategy in Tanzania written from within the business community, rather than by academic economists or consultants from overseas. It used the authors’ experiences of their business dealings in the Asian tiger economies, and the work of the Chinese economist Justin Lin and the Korean, Ha-Jung Chang, to demonstrate the benefits of government intervention to steer the process of industrialisation. It was far ahead of its time in much of what it advocated, e.g. that energy policy be based on solar power and not on gas and oil, with as much as possible of the solar hardware fabricated in Tanzania. It presented figures to show that Tanzanian wage rates are below those in China or Bangladesh, so Tanzania can undercut them in the production of labour-intensive products such as garments or the assembly of light electronic products, and export to the whole world, provided the infrastructure is in place and efficient. Its deeper purpose was to give Tanzanians confidence that they can take control of their destinies and make their nation a better place, socially as well as economically. Tanzania has lost another of its leading businessmen, but his ideas will live on in this book, and in his many speeches and presentations on the internet. [Andrew Coulson]

Professor Harold John Cooke, FRGS (1927-2019), was one of the last of the post-war geographers who pursued successful careers in both the Colonial Service and post-Independence African academia.

Born into a working class Manchester family, John entered Manchester University on a scholarship and graduated with a Geography degree in 1948. Following a year’s National Service in the Intelligence Corps in Egypt he was posted to Tanganyika as a District Officer (cadet) in the Colonial Service in 1951. There followed a series of postings, mostly in the districts surrounding Lake Victoria, and culminating in appointment as District Commissioner in the Bukoba District in 1960.

An accomplished mountaineer, he used his free time to climb the mountains of East Africa. He made three ascents of Mt Kilimanjaro, including, in 1957, the first recorded ascent of the Heim Glacier, and the first west-east transect across the entire massif.

In 1956 he married Sylvia Kaufmann, whose family fled from Germany to Tanganyika in 1936, in Tanga. She was to be his constant companion and partner until her death in 2018.

With Tanzanian Independence in 1961 John resigned as DC and moved to the coast where he taught secondary level geography at Tanga and then Karimjee secondary schools. In 1969 he completed a PhD on the Karst of the Tanga limestone, awarded by the University College of Dar-es-Salaam.
Later that same year, John and Sylvia moved back to the UK where John took up a job as a geography teacher, before taking the opportunity two years later to establish the Department of Environmental Science at the new Botswana campus of the University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. In 1991 they moved to rural Wales for a quiet retirement. [Philippa John-Cooke]

Sultan Qaboos bin Said (1940-2020) of Oman was the world’s longest ruling King, and a much-loved friend of Tanzania. Though an absolute monarch, who served for almost 50 years, he was both relatively benevolent and popular, including in Tanzania, where historic bonds between Zanzibar and the Omani Kingdom remain powerful.

He came to power in a bloodless coup that overthrew his father, Sultan Said bin Taimur, in 1970, and went on to turn the country from a back­ward and isolated country into a prosperous, modern state, engaged in the wider Arab region. Less impressive was the lack of political change; Qaboos retained personal control of all the main government posts and refused to delegate any real power even to other members of the royal family that has ruled Oman continuously since 1749.

The sultans of Oman ruled over much of the East African coast from 1689 to 1856, maintaining extensive trade routes. In either 1832 or 1840, the sultans moved their capital from Muscat to Zanzibar.

In December 1963, Zanzibar had a brief moment of independence when the British, who had shared power with the sultans as a protectorate (1890-1963), left the islands as a constitutional monarchy back under Omani rule. On January 12, 1964, a violent revolution in Zanzibar overthrew the sultanate, ending over two centuries of power in the region.

Mwalimu Nyerere with Sultan Qaboos bin Said

And yet, the ousting of the Omanis from Zanzibar in 1964 left many Zanzibaris with have strong familial and historical ties to Oman. To this day, many East Africans share a special connection with Oman, and many Omanis speak fluent Swahili.

Sultan Qaboos made quiet but a concerted effort to maintain these ties of family and friendship, particularly after Tanzania began, in the 1980s, to open her doors to tourism and trade. This included various charitable and diplomatic initiatives, the establishment of direct flights between Oman and Zanzibar in 2011, funding the construction of a new Grand Mosque of Zanzibar and the restoration of the Beit el-Ajaib (House of Wonders), and a delegation that visited Zanzibar in 2017 to strengthen cooperation along the coast.

The Sultan’s death was mourned on Zanzibar and in wider Tanzania. Even before he died, residents of Stone Town gathered at Jaws Corner to pray for his health after news circulated that he was ill.

Sultan Qaboos never married and had no children. However, he left a letter nominating his chosen successor and a meeting of the royal family agreed to support his choice: his cousin, Haitham bin Tariq Al Said, the Minister of Culture.

James Mapalala, veteran politician and one of the leading pioneers of pluralism in Tanzania, died in Dar es Salaam in October, aged 83.

Mr Mapalala is probably best known for being the first prominent Tanzanian politician to publicly demand the reinstatement of the multiparty democracy. He did so in 1986, something that angered the government at the time. Accused of forming a political party contrary to the then constitution, he was jailed for two years in Lindi and later taken to detention in the Mafia Island before being released in 1989.

He officially formed the Chama cha Wananchi (CCW) in 1991, one of the two parties (along with Kamahuru, in Zanzibar) that merged in 1993 to form the Civic United Front (CUF). He was elected to be the first CUF national chairman, the position he served until 1994, when his tenure ended following a political wrangle that erupted in the party.

To many young Tanzanians, Ambassador Paul Ndobho (1938-2019) isn’t a familiar name. But to the older generation Ndobho is revered as a strong politician, who had guts to stand even against Father of the Nation Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.

In 1968, Ndobho opposed a bill, which was orchestrated by Mwalimu Nyerere, which sought to provide gratuity allowances to MPs and ministers. His main argument was that Tanzania was still too poor to afford such kind of expenditure. Standing up to President Nyerere at that time was seen as political suicide, but Mr Ndobho’s motion sailed through with only one legislator opposing it.

Ndobho became a legislator at the young age of 27 after he won the Musoma North parliamentary seat in 1965 through Tanzania African National Unity (TANU). The constituency included the home village of Mwalimu Nyerere.

He was appointed to various positions under President Nyerere’s administration, including: Kigoma regional secretary (1975) and Tanzania ambassador to Russia (1976). After the reintroduction of multi-party politics in the early 1990s, Ndobho defected to the then main opposition NCCR-Mageuzi, winning both the endorsement of former President Nyerere and the Musoma Rural seat in parliament.

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