by Ben Taylor
Al Noor Kassum (known to many as Nick) died on 18 November 2021 in Dar es Salaam, aged 97. Continuously from 1977 until his retirement from Government in 1990 he served Presidents Nyerere and Mwinyi as the Minister for Energy, at different times also having responsibility for Water and Minerals. As is apparent from his fascinating 2007 book, Africa’s Winds of Change: Memoirs of an International Tanzanian, Nick had an illustrious career in both the public and private sectors, at the national and international levels spanning the colonial and Independence eras.
Educated in England and India (from where his family migrated to Tanganyika in 1896), he qualified as a lawyer in London and later established a legal practice in Dar. Before Independence he was a member of the Legislative Assembly, MP for Dodoma and TANU’s Chief Whip. After Independence he held junior Ministerial positions covering Education and Information, and then Industries, Minerals and Power. In the mid-1960s he moved to work with the UN in Paris and New York before the UN Secretary-General U-Thant appointed him Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in 1967. In 1970, he returned to Tanzania as Deputy General Manager of Williamson Diamonds and then from 1972 he served as Minister of Finance in the East Africa Community in Arusha. After 1990 Kassum held several senior University, Foundation and Board positions in Tanzania. He was also The Aga Khan’s Personal Representative in the country.
Having known Nyerere from pre-Independence days, Nick Kassum was the only serving Cabinet Minister to be awarded the ‘Order of Tanzania’ when Mwalimu retired in 1985. Nyerere particularly valued his ability during the acutely difficult economic years of the early 1980s to keep the nation supplied with critical oil imports, an almost impossible task for a country with meagre foreign exchange and burdened with huge outstanding international debts.
Within the Tanzanian Government, Kassum also then led the development of the country’s only known hydrocarbon resource (the gas field at Songo Songo) and spear-headed the considerable petroleum and mineral exploration efforts by the many multinational companies which signed sole-risk agreements with Government. He also oversaw the largest expansion of the national electricity grid that the country had ever witnessed. Effectively, he laid the foundations for Tanzania’s substantial offshore gas discoveries in the 1990s and 2000s, also bequeathing a strengthened TPDC and Ministry staffed with an expanded cadre of excellent Tanzanian professionals. At one Cabinet meeting in the early-1980s, Nyerere told him: “Nick, you are the only optimist among us. One day you will be remembered for all this”.
I worked closely with Nick Kassum in Tanzania during the 1980s and we remained in contact subsequently. It was a privilege to know him, and his wife Yasmin too, whose tragic and untimely death in 2016 was a blow from which he never really recovered. Rightly, many warm tributes have been paid to Nick since his passing – applauding his abilities, humanity and generosity. He features large in my own memoir, to be published in early 2022.
Roger M Nellist
Roger Nellist is a former analyst and advisor to the Tanzanian government on energy and minerals. He also covered the energy and minerals brief for Tanzanian Affairs between 2013 and 2021.
Zacharia Hans Poppe, a prominent figure in the Tanzanian business community, well known particularly for his leadership role at Simba Sports Club, died in September 2021 at the age of 65.
Born in Dar es Salaam to a Greek father and Tanzanian mother, Poppe was brought up in Iringa by his mother. He joined the Tanzania People’s Defence Force (TPDF) shortly after completing his secondary education, and served in the war against Idi Amin’s Uganda. He reached the rank of Captain before being dismissed and sentenced to life in prison in 1983 for his role in an unsuccessful coup plot against President Julius Nyerere.
“Some of us got fed up and decided to look for change. The only viable option to achieve change at that time was through the use of force. We had nothing personal against Nyerere. The only thing was that he was surrounded by hypocrites whose survival depended solely on maintaining the status quo,” he later recounted.
In 1995, the second-term President, Alhaj Ally Hassan Mwinyi released Poppe on a presidential pardon.
While in Butimba Prison, Poppe founded the Prison’s Premier League and formed the Simba Prison team. His love of football, and of Simba in particular, was deep. He became a prominent figure at the club, in the influential role as head of the Player Registration Committee, responsible for signing new players.
Poppe was also a leading figure in the transportation sector, both for his own fuel and truck businesses and as president and founder of the Tanzania Association of Transporters (TAT).
Tanzania Truck Owners Association’s spokesperson Raheem Dosa said: “During his lifetime Hans Poppe was a loud voice when he saw things were not going well. He was honest, open and fearless, a very talented person who had made a significant contribution to the development of the country and the region.”
Professor Reginald Herbold Green who died in Sussex, England in October 2021, was a seasoned “old Africa hand.” Often dishevelled or eccentric in appearance, he was nevertheless hugely respected as a sharp-minded, deeply moral, progressive economist, at least by those on the left of economic debates.
As an American at a time when US involvement in African politics was controversial, people sometimes looked at him with suspicion. But he earned the trust of many African leaders including President Julius Nyerere as well as leaders of liberation movements from Mozambique to Namibia.
From the late 1960s, he worked as advisor in the Tanzanian Treasury, economic advisor to President Nyerere, and taught economic planning in the Master’s degree programme at the University of Dar es Salaam. An ardent supporter of the thrust of President Nyerere’s policies and programmes, he nevertheless steered clear of the sharp ideological debates between “Ujamaa” and Marxism.
He left Tanzania in 1974 to take up a post at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), University of Sussex, where he remained until his retirement in 2000. He remained in touch with Tanzania’s political leaders and academic community [and was a contributor to Tanzanian Affairs].
Professor Green wrote prolifically, including more than 500 published professional articles, papers, book chapters and books. His influential early book, Unity or Poverty: The Economics of Pan Africanism (1968), made the case for African countries to coordinate as a key condition for development. But his most impactful contribution was probably Children on the Front Line (1987), in which he estimated that more than two million children under five in Mozambique and Angola had died as a result of South Africa’s destructive economic and military policies targeted on these countries. The study helped bring a change in western support to the apartheid regime of South Africa.