by Ben Taylor
Former British High Commissioner to Tanzania, John Sankey, died in November 2021 at the age of 91.
He was appointed to the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (CMG) in 1983, while serving as High Commissioner in Tanzania.
Born in 1930 in London, in a Catholic family, John attended Cardinal Vaughan School before winning a scholarship to Peterhouse at Cambridge University, where he studied classics and graduated with first class honours.
He did national service with the Royal Artillery, seeing active service Malaya in 1952, before joining the Colonial Office a year later. In 1961 he was posted to the United Nations in New York, then in 1964 he transferred to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He served in Guyana, Singapore, Malta and the Netherlands, before returning to London in 1979 to become the first head of the newly formed Central African Department.
Between 1982 and 1985, John served as British High Commissioner in Tanzania, a posting that overlapped with the handover of power from President Julius Nyerere to President Ali Hassan Mwinyi. While in the role, John fought hard to ensure British aid spending was maintained despite the political and economic differences between Tanzania and the British Conservative government under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – most notably by ensuring the British-funded road from Makambako to Songea was not simply abandoned halfway, as had been proposed.
In 1985, John took up a new post as UK Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, his final position before retiring in 1990.
“Retirement” however, for John, merely meant the start of a new career. He took up historical research, having become fascinated by the life and work of Sir Thomas Brock, sculptor of the Queen Victoria Memorial outside Buckingham Palace. He earned a PhD from the University of Leeds, and then published a book, Thomas Brock, Forgotten Sculptor of the Victoria Memorial (2012). In 1990, John was appointed secretary general of the Society of London Art Dealers and later became a director of the Art Loss Register.
In retirement, John was also an active member of the Britain-Tanzania Society, including contributing to the publication of Tanzanian Affairs. He finally stepped down as proof-reader in 2013.
John is survived by his wife of 54 years, Gwen, their four children and eight grandchildren.
Dr Mwele Ntuli Malecela
Highly respected Tanzanian scientist, Dr Mwele Ntuli Malecela, died in Geneva in February at the age of 58. She had revealed in 2019 that she had been diagnosed with cancer. Dr Mwele was serving as the World Health Organisation’s director of the Department of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs).
Born in 1963, daughter of the future Prime Minister John Malecela, she graduated in Zoology at the University of Dar es Salaam, and went on to join the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) in 1987, where she worked at the Amani Centre to conduct research on lymphatic filariasis. Between 1990 and 1995 she pursued further studies in London where she attained a masters and PhD at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
She held numerous leadership roles in Tanzania, including as Director of Research Coordination and Promotion (DRCP) at NIMR from 1998 and then the Director of the Lymphatic Filariasis program from 2000. She further climbed the leadership ladder and in 2010 was appointed NIMR’s Director General – the first woman to hold this prominent position.
In 2016 in this role, she found herself in conflict with President Magufuli. She reported the presence of the Zika virus in Morogoro, at a time when the virus was causing alarm in Brazil and elsewhere. The President fired her immediately, explaining much later that “The imperialists had sent her to announce we have the disease so that tourists would not come to our country. Then they gave her a job [at the WHO].”
Dr Malecela’s unceremonious exit from NIMR was seen by researchers as an attack on science, and it was something talked about each time her name came up. Some also argued that the dispute stemmed from her unsuccessful attempt to become the CCM Presidential candidate in 2015, running against the future President Magufuli.
Shortly after this incident, in 2017, Dr Malecela joined WHO’s Regional Office for Africa as Director in the Office of the Regional Director. 18 months later, she was appointed by WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, to her defining role as Director of the Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases, based at WHO headquarters in Geneva.
In 2021, she was awarded an honorary degree as Doctor of Science by the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. On the occasion, Professor Mark Taylor described Dr Mwele as “a truly inspirational figure in the fight against Neglected Tropical Diseases, and a proud daughter of Tanzania.”
The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine posted a statement, describing Dr Malecela as “an eloquent and passionate speaker, her approach was characterised also by strict adherence to honesty and integrity on behalf of the people and causes in which she believed. She preferred the truth over seeking to please and this earned her widespread respect.”
The statement also spoke of Dr Malecela’s position as an African woman in the predominantly male field of science. “She consistently broke through glass ceilings and remained conscious of the role she had to play in empowering and mentoring the generations of women who will follow her. Always generous with her time, her energy and her wisdom, she encouraged and inspired younger people from around the world to see science, in the service of global health, as viable and vital avenues for their talents.”
A WHO statement said that “Dr Malecela will be remembered as an inspirational figure, a dedicated leader and a committed listener. She deployed her many qualities in the service of ideals, all of which were firmly rooted in community service and in the intrinsic value of people’s lives. Her death will be felt deeply and personally by many across the globe, and her inspiration, enthusiasm and unstinting engagement will continue to serve as a guide to all those who knew her.”
President Samia Suluhu Hassan called upon Tanzanians to emulate Dr Mwele Malecela’s efforts as demonstrated both within and outside the country. “She is a great role model for public servants and Tanzanians in general as she worked for many years, held various positions and her ability to work found her rising to become one of the Tanzanians who have worked abroad holding high positions,” said the President.
She added that Dr Mwele’s death “has caused a great loss to nation, and surely she was an important and hardworking woman.”