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Weather or engine? Mkapa funeral riddle as delegation detours

By Eric Wainaina
Wednesday, July 29th, 2020
Personnel of the Tanzania People’s Defence Force salute the coffin of late former President Benjamin Mkapa. Photo/AFP
In summary
    • Plane carrying the delegation, led by Senate Majority leader Samuel Poghisio, failed to land and returned to Nairobi.
    • Foreign Affairs minister Prof Palamagamba Kabudi told mourners including President John Magufuli the aircraft hurriedly reverted.

The explanations given for the premature return of a delegation sent by President Uhuru Kenyatta to represent him at the national farewell service of former Tanzanian President Benjamin William Mkapa on Tuesday have raised eyebrows.

The plane carrying the delegation, led by Senate Majority leader Samuel Poghisio, failed to land and returned to Nairobi.

On the one hand, Nairobi said the “official aircraft…developed a technical issue prior to exiting Kenyan airspace for Tanzania and returned to Nairobi safely”.

On the other hand, Dar es Salaam said the plane failed to land owing to “bad weather”.

The former Tanzania President is set to be buried today at his Masasi district home in Mtwara, southern Tanzania. The Tanzanian statesman died of a heart attack on July 24.

The plane carrying the Kenyan delegation was forced to return mid-air because the pilot could not navigate the unfavourable weather, according to Dar es Salaam. 

The Kenya Air Force 306 plane, according to sources, departed Nairobi at around 8am only for it to land back shortly afterwards.

Failed trip

Tanzanian Foreign affairs and East African Cooperation Minister Prof Palamagamba Kabudi broke the news about the failed trip during the funeral service where he told mourners including President John Magufuli that the aircraft hurriedly reverted shortly after it entered their airspace in Monduli, which is in northern Tanzania.

“We were expected to have with us the special envoy representing President Uhuru Kenyatta, Senator Samuel Losuron Poghisio, Majority Leader of the Kenyan Senate, but we have received information that the plane was forced to turn mid-air in Monduli,” said Professor Kabudi.

Due to the hitch, the Kenya High Commissioner to Tanzania Dan Kazungu represented President Uhuru a farewell service of a man who played a key role in brokering peace in it in 2008 following the post-election violence.  

Prof Kabudi told mourners that Zimbabwe’s Vice-President Kembo Mohadi delayed his arrival to Dar es Salaam also due to “bad weather condition.”

 The contradictory statements set tongues wagging, fuelling speculation that it could be as a result of a diplomatic tiff between the two neighbours.

The two-paragraph statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted “Kenyan High Commission to the Republic of Tanzania Dan Kazungu represented the government and the people of Kenya at the State Funeral”.

Whether it was the weather or whether it was a technical issue no official wanted to clarify. And where was the plane before it turned around?

Was it in the Kenyan airspace or in Monduli in the Arusha region? Tis too no one wanted to clarify. Efforts to get a comment from Foreign Affairs PS Ambassador Macharia Kamau and CAS Ababu Namwamba were futile while Kenya Civil Aviation Authority Director General Captain Gilbert Kibe said he was in a meeting.

Poghisio, too, did not respond to our calls, although he was held up the entire afternoon at the Senate during a debate on the controversial revenue sharing formula.

Due to the Covid-19 crisis, Uhuru has been sending government officials and elected leaders to represent him on foreign trips.

For instance, on July 6, he dispatched Baringo Senator Gideon Moi alongside Namwamba, Kanu Secretary General Nick Salat to represent him at the inauguration of the newly-elected Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera.

Former president 

The late Mkapa, a close ally of Tanzania’s founding president Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, ruled Tanzania from 1995 to 2005.

Mkapa last visited Nairobi on February 11, 2020 during the memorial service of late retired President Daniel arap Moi at Nyayo Stadium, in the company of his successor Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete. The two were sent by President John Magufuli.

Mkapa would be remembered for participating in the 2008 peace talks.

Post elections violence

Negotiations were necessitated by the 2007/8 post-election violence that claimed nearly 1,133 people and led to the displacement of thousands of families.

 The talks, which were brokered by the late former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, resulted in a peace deal that enabled retired President Mwai Kibaki and Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga share power under the Grand Coalition government.

Mkapa was a member of the Eminent African Personalities team including former South Africa First Lady Graca Machel. 

Other Kenyans leaders who participated in the talks were Deputy President William Ruto who was a senior member of ODM, former Deputy Prime Ministers Musalia Mudavadi, Senators Moses Wetang’ula (Bungoma) and Sam Ongeri (Kisii) and Narc- Kenya leader Martha Karua.