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Former Tanzanian president Mkapa dies aged 81

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Former Tanzanian president Mkapa dies aged 81

(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 23, 2010 Benjamin Mkapa, former president of Tanzania and current head of the United Nations Monitor group for Southern Sudan, speaks during a press conference in Khartoum, as the nation gears up for the January referendum on the south’s potential full independence. – Mkapa has died age 81 in a Dar es Salaam hospital, the government announced on July 24, 2020. (Photo by EBRAHIM HAMID / AFP)
Former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa has died age 81 in a Dar es Salaam hospital, the government announced Friday.

He was the country’s third president after independence from Britain in 1962 and ruled for two terms from 1995 to 2005.

“I’m saddened by the death of the third president of Tanzania and that is a big loss for us as a country. Let’s pray for him and more information will follow later,” President John Magufuli said in a short televised speech.

He did not reveal the cause of death.

Mkapa was born in 1938 to a poor family in south-eastern Mtwara.

He earned a degree in English in Uganda and later worked as a journalist before being appointed the press secretary for the country’s first president Julius Nyerere.

He held several cabinet posts, such as foreign minister and information minister and also served as ambassador to the United States before he was elected president.

His presidency was marked by economic reform, such as the privatisation of state enterprises and liberalisation of the economy.

He also secured $3 billion (2,5 billion euro) in debt relief for the country, and economic growth soared during his tenure while inflation dropped.

In his memoir published last year, Mkapa said the shooting to death of some 30 opposition supporters in post-election riots on the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar in 2001 was one of the “black spots” of his stint in power.

After leaving office he remained active as a former statesman, taking part in mediation talks in Kenya after 2007-2008 election violence.

Mkapa had most recently attempted to mediate between Burundi’s government and opposition groups after a disputed 2015 election plunged the country into crisis. However the government repeatedly refused to take part and the talks went nowhere.

Burundi’s new President Evariste Ndayishimiye on Twitter said he was “deeply saddened” by Mkapa’s death.

Meanwhile Kenya’s veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga said Africa “has lost a giant”.

Tanzania will hold a period of seven days of mourning, during which the national flag will be flown at half mast.

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