by Ben Taylor

Bernard Membe

Bernard Membe, the former Foreign Affairs Minister and later opposition party presidential candidate, died in Dar es Salaam in May 2023 at the age of 69, after suffering a pulmonary embolism.

Membe was born in Rondo, Lindi Region on November 9, 1953. He began his career as a security analyst at the Office of the President between 1978 and 1989 before proceeding to study International Relations at John Hopkins University, Washington DC, from 1990 to 1992. He then served at the Tanzanian High Commission in Ottawa, Canada for eight years.

He successfully ran to become the MP for the Mtama constituency in 2000 and represented the constituency for CCM for 15 years. He swiftly rose to prominence and was appointed as a minister shortly after the 2005 elections. The high point of his political career was nine years (2007-2015) as Minister for Foreign Affairs under President Jakaya Kikwete, during which time he became known as a polished communicator – particularly when dealing with the international diplomatic community – and also as someone who was highly adept at navigating party politics.

“I knew him for many years,” said President Kikwete in a tribute. “We came a long way and helped each other in many areas. I knew him as a good diplomat, serious activist, scholar, God-fearing patriot, and hard worker,” he said. “I believed and trusted him in all positions he served in my cabinet.”

Freeman Mbowe, national chair of the opposition party, Chadema, said that although they belonged to different political parties, he still appreciated Membe as a keen leader and that he will always be remembered for his service to the country. “In the history of multiparty democracy in our country, Membe remained one of the senior leaders at the ministerial level who did not have the habit of denigrating the opposition,” said Mbowe.

Membe served also at high levels within the CCM party hierarchy, most notably as a member of the National Executive Committee of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party from 2007.

In January 2013, Membe informed his constituents that he would not be vying for a seat in the next parliamentary elections in 2015 thus giving rise to speculation that he may be considering a run for the presidency. Indeed, the battle to become the CCM presidential candidate in 2015 became a heated struggle between himself and the controversial former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa.

It was a contest that threatened to divide the party into the Membe and Lowassa factions. To avoid this danger, party elders intervened to remove both candidates from the process, which ultimately delivered the relatively unknown John Pombe Magufuli to the nomination as something of a compromise candidate. Magufuli went on to become President of Tanzania.

The relationship between Membe and President Magufuli was never a close one, with Membe widely perceived to be organising resistance within CCM to President Magufuli’s anti-democratic tendencies. In 2020, in February 2020, the CCM central committee expelled Membe from the party after accusing him of “indiscipline and violating the party’s ethics and constitution”. He denied any wrongdoing.

In July 2020 he handed back his CCM membership card, shortly after which he joined the opposition party Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT- Wazalendo) and said he was willing to stand as its candidate in the 2020 General Election. He did indeed run for President, coming third with 0.5% of the vote, in an election that was marred by irregularities.

In 2022, Membe rejoined CCM after writing a letter asking for readmission. By this time, President Magufuli had sadly died and President Samia Suluhu Hassan had taken office.

“I have received with sadness the news of the death of Bernard Membe,” said President Samia in a statement posted on Twitter. “For more than 40 years, Membe was a brilliant public servant, diplomat, Member of Parliament and Minister who served our country professionally,” she wrote.

ACT Wazalendo leader Zitto Kabwe said on his Twitter account: “There are no words that can describe my shock following reports of his death other than thanking God for the life of our elder Bernard Membe. A brilliant politician and a representative of citizens.”

The UK High Commissioner to Tanzania, David Concar, also used his Twitter account to pay tribute to Membe. “Condolences to the government and people of Tanzania over the sad news of the passing of former Foreign Minister Bernard Membe. He was a top diplomat, a voice for international peace, and a supporter of African democracy. We will remember him with respect and fondness. Apumzike kwa amani.”

Prominent business leader and founder of Precision Air, Michael Shirima, has died at the age of 80.

Mr. Shirima’s rise to the top started after he left Air Tanzania in 1979, after becoming disillusioned both with the airline and with the failure of those in office to address the issues he raised with them.
He gave up his dependably salary and had to move his family out of his government-owned house. He survived by running a barbeque business. Later on, he secured a loan and started selling cotton oil, then timber, then exporting coffee.

He decided to invest in the aviation sector, founding Precision Air in 1991. It operated at first as a private charter air transport company, but in November 1993, it began to offer scheduled services to serve the growing tourist market. Based in Arusha, the airline proved successful and grew rapidly, triggering the acquisition of more equipment and the expansion of routes. In 2003, Kenya Airways purchased a 49% stake in the company for $2 million. In 2006, Precision Air became the first Tanzanian airline to pass the IATA Operational Safety Audit.

British diplomat, David Le Breton, has died at the age of 91. Amid a distinguished career in the colonial era Overseas Civil Service and then the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, he spent time in both Zanzibar – a brief spell that coincided with the 1964 revolution – and earlier as an administrator in southern Tanganyika. Around the time of independence, he was based in Dar es Salaam, as private secretary to the governor.

He met his future wife, Patricia Byrne, in 1958, when she had recently arrived in Dar to teach English at a secondary school.

Born and brought up in colonial Kenya, David was a fluent speaker of Swahili and felt a strong affinity for Africa. Through a long career of postings, mostly around Africa, he rose to the position of British High Commissioner in 1981 before retiring in 1987. In 1978 he was appointed CBE for his commitment to service amid difficult circumstances in Anguilla.

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