Former Tanzanian President Ali Hassan Mwinyi dies at 98

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Former Tanzanian President Ali Hassan Mwinyi, who introduced multi-party democracy to the East African nation, died on Thursday at the age of 98, according to the government.

“I’m saddened to announce the death… around 5:30 in the evening,” President Samia Suluhu Hassan said on state television TBC1, adding that he had been receiving treatment for lung cancer.

Mwinyi was hospitalised in London in November of last year before returning to Tanzania’s largest city of Dar es Salaam, according to Hassan.

Tanzania will mark seven days of mourning, with national flags flying at half mast.

Mwinyi was hand-picked by independence hero Julius Nyerere to succeed him, and he inherited a country in the midst of an economic catastrophe after years of unsuccessful socialist experiments.

Tanzania’s founding father Nyerere’s pet project “ujamaa” (“fraternity” in Swahili) aimed to bring people together by supporting a socialist economic vision, but his collectivist experiments left the country in shaky shape.

Mwinyi lifted limitations on private enterprise and alleviated import bottlenecks, giving him the nickname Mzee Rukhsa, a Swahili word that roughly translates to Mr Permission.

Mwinyi was born on May 8, 1925, in Tanganyika, a former British territory. He then proceeded to Zanzibar to study Islam.

His father hoped he would become a spiritual leader, but the young Mwinyi chose to teach instead, eventually entering politics in the 1960s when Tanganyika gained independence.

Following the 1964 merging of independent Tanganyika and Zanzibar to establish Tanzania, he climbed through the ranks to become Ambassador to Egypt and Minister of Health, Home Affairs, and Natural Resources in the 1970s and early 1980s.

He was elected president of Zanzibar in 1984 before being chosen by Nyerere to govern Tanzania.

Corruption Scandals
He was praised for introducing multi-party democracy in 1992 and allowing opposition parties to run in elections three years later, when he stepped down.

However, his time was not without controversy.

He drew criticism for allegedly favouring Muslims when choosing individuals to high-level government positions, allegations he admitted hurt him deeply.

The economic liberalisation he presided over was followed by corruption scandals, which became so common during his administration that several donors halted aid in 1994.

Since his retirement from politics in 1995, the grey-haired leader has kept a modest profile.

President Samia Suluhu Hassan praised him during his book launch in 2021, characterising him as a leader to emulate.

In his memoir, Mwinyi opposed the “ujamaa” scheme, claiming that it deprived small-scale traders of revenue.