Speech by the president of the United Republic of Tanzania
H E Benjamin William Mkapa
at the
DOV Festival Ondoa Ukatili
Moshi, Tanzania
7 October 2001

When someone from the laity like me has to speak in front of so many men and women of the cloth, naturally he gets a little worried how his oratory will be judged. I am not an exception; but I was encouraged, if not fortified, by a joke I recently read.

After the church service, a little boy told the pastor: "When I grow up, I’m going to give you some money." "Well, thank you," the pastor replied, "but why?" "Because my daddy says you’re one of the poorest preachers we’ve ever had."

I do not intend to break that preacher’s record!

When the eighth assembly of the World Council of Churches meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, in December 1998 decided to launch the "Decade to Overcome Violence", no one would have then thought man capable of the kind and level of violence we witnessed on 11 September 2001 in New York and Washington. But it has come to pass.

For better, or for worse, the unprecedented advances in information and communication technology we have become capable of, showed the whole world, almost instantly and simultaneously, an unprecedented expression of the violence that human beings have now become capable of, and which technology has facilitated.

We condemn the attack on the World Trade Centre twin towers in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, and the crash of the hijacked plane in Pennsylvania. As the world holds its breath, fearful of the justified reaction, and possibly the unjustified counter-reaction it might trigger, we realise the urgency of the call for the "Decade to Overcome Violence".

This very deep tragedy has evoked equally deep and broad spiritual reflection. A large number of people asked and continued to ask the basic questions of who they are, and what could have possibly driven ostensibly human beings to such levels of destruction and self-destruction.

The hunger and thirst for spiritual guidance, for long suppressed in many hearts, surfaced across the world. According to ABC NEWS, the weekend after the attack, lines to enter some New York synagogues wound round the block, churches were packed with standing-room-only crowds, mosques filled up and Buddhist centres that normally host only small collections of people for quiet meditation were suddenly overwhelmed.

A Gallup poll showed that 47 per cent of respondents said they attended church or synagogue in the few weeks after the tragedy, a level rarely seen since the 1950s. A different poll showed that 82 per cent of Americans prayed or attended religious services the week of the tragedy. Memorial services were held throughout the world.

This upsurge of spirituality will soon ebb, and cannot be counted upon to spare humanity further conflict and violence. It is as if human hearts, having for too long denied themselves the oxygen of God’s guidance, have become so numb that all this shock could produce was only a murmur.

Those of us who still pray, must continue to pray. But in his recent letter to Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary General, Rev. Dr. Konrad Raiser, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, hit the nail right on the head when he said: "The answer to terrorism must be found in redressing these wrongs that breed violence between and within nations. We hope and pray that the response to the terrible tragedies of 11 September will mark a turning point for a global reassessment of our collective responsibility to heal the wounds and offer new perspectives to our world..."

If there is one thing that humanity should derive from the debris and ashes of the World Trade Centre, it should be the collective will for a global reassessment of our shared responsibility to heal wounds, and the collective will to espouse new perspectives to our common future.

The letter inviting me to speak at this august gathering asked me to address the question of The Challenges to Governments in Overcoming Violence: An African Contribution. I could think of no better place to give you my views on new perspectives to our one world, and the governmental challenges in preventing, ameliorating or redressing those wrongs that breed violence between and within nations. The yearning for a better life, for peace and for a life in dignity for present and future generations, is universally shared.

The Wealth Gap

I began with the terrorist violence of 11 September because it is so topical, so current. But violence has many faces, and too many manifestations; it goes far back in history and might be with us for eternity. But there are types of violence we can contain if there is sufficient political will. And that is a big "if". Giles Merritt, the Director of Forum Europe, wrote an article in last Wednesday’s International Herald Tribune with the title, "Wake up to the Perilous Cost of the Wealth Gap." In it she says: "How ready are the United States and its European allies to parallel the war on terrorism with the peace and prosperity strategy capable of defusing the clash of civilizations that we all fear? Not ready at all."

I truly hope she is wrong in writing off such a possibility of political will.

Erich Stather, the German State Secretary in the Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development stated recently, quite correctly, that development aid could contribute to prevention of crises and conflicts, as well as the prevention of international terrorism. He added that the fight against terrorism should not be limited to military action, but should also take into account the social background to terrorist activities. On his part, the World Bank President, James Wolfensohn, in a recent interview with Reuters said, "I believe that addressing the question of poverty is addressing the question of peace." I could not agree more.

The truth of the matter is that an ever increasing gap in wealth and quality of life between the rich and the poor, within and between nations, carries with it a potent seed for social destabilisation, conflict and violence, even international violence. And, of course, destabilisation, conflict and violence all contribute to exacerbate poverty as investments dry up, production grinds to a halt, and trade withers away. So clearly, poverty is both a cause and a consequence of violence.

The increasing gap between the rich and poor inevitably precipitates a level of desperation that provides fertile ground for desperate actions and reactions. In economics as in politics, the loss of all hope for a better future is a major factor in driving people, especially young people, to crime and violence - the violence of armed robbery, of prostitution, of child abuse and of drug trafficking.

So, for me, as a leader of a poor country, one of my biggest challenges in overcoming violence is to overcome poverty, and to reduce the wealth gap within Tanzania, and between Tanzania and other countries.

Internally, the challenge translates into promulgating policies, creating institutions and processes, and building the social and economic infrastructure that collectively facilitate pro-poor and broad-based growth. It also involves creating a level-playing field in pursuit of a better life for all the people, regardless of race, gender, tribe, religious or political affiliation.

It is a truism, for instance, that quality education is the key to a better life. In the early 1980s Tanzania almost attained universal primary education, but then we slipped back during the years of structural adjustment programmes. Today, we have embarked on an Education Sector Development Programme, within which, with the support of donor countries and institutions, we are implementing, among other things, the Primary Education Development Plan, 2002-2006. The aim is to ensure that as soon as possible we should set each Tanzanian child through education, on the road to a better life.

Other aspects related to the quality of life also receive as much attention as resources and capacities permit. And in education, as it is in health, water, and infrastructure, my government is ever grateful for the co-operation and support of all religious organisations, and member churches of the World Council of Churches. I am also grateful to their counterpart churches in rich industrialised countries for supporting our local churches in these critical areas in the war on poverty, and hence the war on violence.

While on the subject of economic desperation as a driver for violence, let me mention the importance of, and hence the challenge of Africa to retain, our social frameworks for a community approach to problem solving. I say so because in this age of instant communication in a global village, the threat is very real that African culture is slowly giving way to a global culture fashioned along American and European culture. There are also people in Africa who think to be "modern" is to be "westernised" in all aspects, and to distance oneself from anything African. That is wrong, and churches should help our people to understand this.

The extended family in Africa is under severe strain. But it is a very good mechanism and safety net for those that would have become so desperate as to seek martyrdom or violence. No problem is too big to be resolved collectively, in a community. The violent desperation that is so easy to develop in solitude, had no place in an average African community.

But coming back to the question of poverty, there is an important role for rich industrialised countries, which also needs to be addressed. Now that the link between poverty and violence has been established, the challenge facing governments such as mine is to constantly remind rich industrialised countries to complement and support our own policies, initiatives and programmes to fight poverty, and poverty related violence.

I commend the World Council of Churches for standing with us in demanding debt relief and a fairer deal for poor countries in a globalising world. This includes the duty of rich countries to help developing and least developed ones build the domestic capacity to improve lives and benefit from a de-regularised global trade regime. More rich industrialised countries are paying more attention to our specific problems. The challenge now, which we must jointly undertake, is to ensure the rich countries put their money where their mouths are, and to remind them of the adage: A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilisation.

Five months ago, the Third United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (UNLDC III) was convened in Brussels. I was there. Perhaps some of you were there. The Brussels Declaration that came out of the conference concedes, in black and white, as follows:

"(We recognise) that the goals set out at the Second United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (in Paris, 1990) have not been reached and that LDCs as a whole remain marginalised in the world economy and continue to suffer from extreme poverty, (that) LDC progress has been undermined by lack of sufficient human, productive and institutional capacity, indebtedness, low level of domestic and foreign investment, declining trends in ODA flows, severe structural handicaps, falling or volatile commodity prices, HIV/AIDS and for some of them violent conflicts or post-conflict situations..."

The conference then went on to make similar commitments as those made in Paris ten years earlier. The challenge, indeed the pressing question, is whether there is any chance for better performance this time round. Recent trends make me extremely cautious. Let us look at some facts:

The wealth gap between rich industrialised countries and least developed countries is widening, not narrowing, and this is the time when LDCs are asked to open up their economies further for external competition. At the first UN Conference on LDCs in Paris in 1981, there were only 25 LDCs. Today, there are 49 of us in this unenviable club.

ODA, which is essential to building domestic capacity for production and competitiveness, including addressing supply side constraints, is declining, not increasing. In real per capita terms, net ODA to LDCs has dropped by 45 per cent since 1990, and is now back to the levels of the early 1970s.

FDI, which is essential for transfer of technology and equally for building domestic capacity for production and competitiveness, continues to by-pass sub-Saharan Africa where 34 of the 49 LDCs are. The share of net FDI received by LDCs has fallen from 3.6 per cent in the period 1975-1982 to 1.4 per cent in the 1990s.

Promises of deep debt relief, including through the enhanced HIPC Initiative, for most LDCs continue to be promises. Two full years since the enhanced initiative was launched in October 1999, only 3 countries - Bolivia, Uganda and Mozambique - have reached the completion point, which qualifies them to the agreed debt relief.

The terms of trade for the commodities that still dominate our exports continue to decline. Between 1988 and 1993, terms of trade in LDCs on average fell by 12 per cent. When we try to get around the problem of commodities by processing them, including agricultural commodities, the processed products meet all kinds of tariff and non-tariff barriers in the markets of rich countries, even though they frankly pose no significant threat to their national economies. It should be noted that exports from LDCs now account for only 0.5 per cent of world exports; hardly a threat to any industrialised economy.

The sum effect of all the foregoing is that over the last 20 years, for every USD100 that came into Africa by way of aid, investments and loans, Africa paid out to rich countries USD106; 51 on account of poor terms of trade, 25 for servicing foreign debts and repatriation of profits, and 30 in capital flight and other payments. And these are not my statistics, they come from UNCTAD.

All this then continues to marginalise Africa, to widen the wealth gap, to undermine efforts to improve the quality of life for African people, and to nurture feelings of despair and violence.

British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in his speech to the Labour Party conference in Brighton a few days ago rightly said:

"The state of Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world. But if the world as a community focused on it, we could heal it. And if we don’t, it will become deeper and angrier."

Mr. Blair’s assumption, of course, is that the world has a conscience. But the injustices of this world - past, present, and perhaps future as well - make me, as a Christian, truly wonder. Does this world of sin and woe, a world in which the most economically powerful nations on earth claim to be Christian nations, does such a world have a conscience, a moral framework upon which decisions affecting other people and nations are taken? I ask western industrialised countries, especially those that profess the Christian faith, to engage in a little introspection, and consider what other nations must be thinking of them.

We read in the Bible, Isaiah 39:4, that after guests had visited the newly healed King Hezekiah of Judah, God sent Isaiah, the prophet, to ask the King, "What did these people see in your house?" Today, the powerful and blessed Christian nations of the world must accept a similar question. What do others see in their houses? Is it reflective of Christian values and virtues, or is it a mockery of the message of Jesus Christ on earth?

No one has any doubt that Christian nations and peoples benefited - directly or indirectly - from slavery and colonialism. I am glad the World Council of Churches, in its statement at the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban in early September admitted as much. Yet the conference almost collapsed because, among other things, Christian nations that today champion the cause of human rights could not come to terms with their history, and apologise explicitly for that serious crime against humanity, and admit an appropriate level of guilt or remorse. I would have thought that coming to terms with a history of slavery, colonisation, and racism, rather than engaging in pretences of collective amnesia, would be a very good starting point for spreading the Christian faith and the gospel of human rights!

Christian Foundations for Aid and Debt Relief

The challenges of poverty eradication I face, and the support I ask from richer countries are not without spiritual and, indeed, Christian foundations. Let me, layman though I am, dwell on these issues for a while, as I ask Christian nations to engage in introspection.

First, it is clear from the Holy Bible that God created the material world and gave it to human beings for their enjoyment (Gen 1:26), but the Bible is also full of warnings of the danger of misuse of wealth, and the responsibilities of those with wealth towards those that are without wealth. In Ecclesiastes 5:19-20 we read:

"Every man also whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and find enjoyment in his toil - this is the gift of God. For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart."

Jesus Christ was not against wealth, but he warned of the consequences of putting the desire for wealth before devotion to God or concern for others.

Second, wealth is not necessarily a sign of divine reward; just as poverty is not necessarily a sign of divine retribution. Although this is not what God intended, the realities of life are that there will always be poor people in any society, but the inevitability of poverty is no reason for anyone to be indifferent to the poor. Indeed the Bible has clear guidelines on how those with money and possessions are required to help those without them. Generous giving to those in need is a specific duty of Christians (Matt 25:34-40; Luke 14:13)

God decreed laws restricting income-earning activities, in order to provide opportunities for the poor to try and support themselves. He also issued laws to ensure that in legal disputes judges do not favour the rich against the poor. In Exodus 23:3,6 we read:

"Nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his suit(...) You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his suit."

God’s law also provided clear regulations designed to prevent money-lenders from exploiting the poor. A person was not to exploit someone in need, but to show mercy. He was to help with the necessities of life and treat the needy person as an equal. When the debtor failed to pay, the lender was allowed to seize some articles belonging to the debtor, but not to take away items essential to a person’s everyday living. For example, he could not take a millstone, as it would leave a person with no way of grinding flour to make food for his or her family. If he took clothing as a guarantee for a loan, he had to return it by evening, so that the debtor in question would not have to sleep in the cold (Exod 22: 26-27; Deut 24: 6, 10-13). A creditor could give employment to a debtor who wished to repay a debt by working for him, but he could not make the man a permanent slave (Lev. 25: 39-40).

And, there was a law which laid down that, at the end of every seven years, Israelites were to forgive debts owed them by fellow Israelites. They were required to consider themselves one big family, where no one would be driven to poverty or refused a loan in a time of need, even if the year for releasing debtors was approaching.

I ask again of our development partners in Christian nations. What does the rest of the world see in their houses? Do they see a sense of community or violence engendering greed? Do they see true Christian values of charity, of help, of love, and of compassion? The Brussels Declaration begins with a sense of purpose, "...to free our fellow women, men and children from abject and dehumanising conditions of extreme poverty, (and) determined to making progress towards the global goals of poverty eradication, peace and development for the least developed countries and their people..." That sounds in harmony with the Christian faith. But, we shall not wait to see.

Governance Issues

I now want to go back to Prime Minister Tony Blair’s speech, where he spoke of a new partnership between the developing and least developed countries in Africa and the developed world as a whole. He sees the new partnership in the following terms:

"On our side: provide more aid, untied to trade; write off debt; help with good governance and infrastructure; training to the soldiers, with UN blessing, in conflict resolution; encouraging investment; and access to our markets so that we practise the free trade we are so fond of preaching.

But it’s a deal: on the African side: true democracy, no more excuses for dictatorship, abuse of human rights; no tolerance of bad governance, from the endemic corruption of some states, to the activities of Mr. Mugabe’s henchmen in Zimbabwe. Proper commercial, legal and financial systems."

I have quoted this part of his speech extensively because it correctly reflects the discussion that a few of us, the Presidents of Tanzania, Botswana, Nigeria, Senegal, Mozambique and Ghana, had with Prime Minister Blair at Chequers, London, on 18 September, 2001.

It is true Africa’s leaders must take up the challenge to put in place sustainable institutions, policies, strategies and processes for good governance. Their absence can hold back development, and worse, can create a fertile environment for violence. And this can be violence on the part of the citizens, but it can also be violence on the part of the government. For, violence is always the last refuge of an incompetent government.

Such a government would be well advised to heed the words of the ancient Roman philosopher and statesman, Seneca the Younger, when he said:

"To be feared is to fear; no one has been able to strike terror into others and at the same time enjoy peace of mind himself."

One of the most important challenges in Africa is to promote and entrench participatory constitutional governance. Governments must be in power, and be removed from power, at, and only at, the express wish of the citizens, given through regular free and fair elections, under universal adult suffrage. In a multi-party political context, this also implies all parties agreeing to be bound by the constitution, by the laws and by the rules under which such elections are held. There should be no resort to violence or other breaches of the law. If one is unhappy with existing laws, one does not ignore them unilaterally, for then those who swore to defend the constitution, and those charged with the enforcement of the law will rightly act swiftly; instead, resort should be to laws and the courts through established channels and procedures.

No constitution on its part should ever be so rigid as not to be amenable to change or improvement. Increasingly, even young democracies like ours must seek to develop constitutions that do not give room for arbitrariness, and which create a good environment for inclusiveness. Bad constitutions are a recipe for violence, even civil war, especially where no possibility to improve them exists.

It is noteworthy that finally in Africa, we have resolved to eschew any leader who will come to power through unconstitutional means, military coups in particular.

And, where independent statehood had to come about through armed struggle, in addition to good constitutions, one also needs new frameworks and processes to prevent the recurrence of violence. Such instances require processes for reconciliation, and to create the spirit of oneness and a sense of nationhood. Two good examples of such success are South Africa and Mozambique. We hope something similar can emerge in post-conflict situations such as Rwanda and, in future, Burundi, DRC, Angola, and Sierra Leone.

In 1964, African leaders agreed to respect colonial borders, ridiculous sometimes as they were, for the sake of peace. Yet we have had open and latent conflicts on account of border disputes, the recent and most violent being the Ethiopia-Eritrea war. In the 1980s, a war occurred between Chad and Libya over the disputed "Aozou strip."

These are legacies of colonialism, and the way to minimise them is to increase the pace of regional co-operation and integration, both economic as well as political. This is another challenge in overcoming violence. For the more we trade, and the more our economies integrate and depend on one another, the less likely that any one of us may risk so much by fighting with a neighbour. This also helps to make borders less contentious, and reduces their role as symbols or expressions of sovereignty and hotbeds of violence.

Africa can ensure an environment less conducive to violence by creating systems of governance that guarantee equality of opportunity, and equality before the law and the administration; systems that provide for justice not corruption; democratic systems that guarantee peaceful change of governments. And for Africa, the concept of term limits, in my view, is a very good way to entrench democratic governance, and bury the temptation or drive to remove someone from power by undemocratic means. And, it does not matter how popular the incumbent is. As Mwalimu Nyerere said, term limits were invented precisely to bring change when the incumbent is very popular. For, in a democracy, the unpopular leaders are removed easily through the ballot. Term limits are a device to prevent the emergence of popular elected monarchs.

The challenge of governance is to ensure inclusiveness and national cohesion. All citizens must identify with the nation state, and feel part of a larger enterprise in which they too have a stake, and stand to benefit. We do not have to be socialists to understand that, or implement it. It is just common sense. A sense of belonging, of having a stake, is the sure way to prevent violence, both within and between nations.

It is also the challenge of respecting human rights, within nations and between nations. For, we may be different, but we are all human beings, created by the same God. But we do have different historical experiences and cultural outlooks. The concept of human rights must be conscious of such difference; its definition must be sensitive to these differences, within broad and universally acknowledged parameters.

These concepts apply on the home front; they must also apply in international relations. They call for global frameworks for trade, for development, and for governance that show concern for others, that breed a sense of inclusion rather than exclusion or marginalisation. The global village must not be an empty phrase, but a loaded concept of community at a global level, and practical and demonstrable expressions of a common and shared humanity. Poor and young as some African nations may be, they still deserve respect, justice and fairness.

"The Clash of Civilisations"

My last point on the challenges we face in overcoming violence is to avoid a "clash of civilisations", and not necessarily in the terms presented by Samuel Huntington in his much-maligned book, The Clash of Civilisations.

It is amazing how much conflict and violence in our world is influenced by notions of superiority, by haughtiness, egotism and bigotry. I believe if you were today to ask a white South African, he or she would wonder what it really was that drove them to engage in, and provoke so much violence, for the sake of apartheid.

Violence has no colour, it has no race, it has no religion, and no tribe either. It is misguided concepts of the superiority of one religion over another that is at the heart of so much pain, suffering and violence in the world. Responsibility for violence must be directed to the perpetrator, not to his religion, not to his tribe and not to his race.

It is for this reason that many people, quite correctly, denounced any effort to link the events of 11 September to Islam. We have a large Muslim population in Tanzania and I know that their faith does not condone that kind of violence. To blame all Muslims for the crime of a few Muslims would be no different from blaming all Christians for the holocaust.

One of the major challenges of governments is to promote greater understanding between people of different faiths, and different social and cultural backgrounds. There is too much ignorance about other people, and other faiths, and little willingness to learn. We need inter-faith dialogue; then we will realise that there is more that is common to all religions and sects than there are differences. Muslims, Jews and Christians are children of Abraham, and believe me not everyone knows or believes that.

I am reminded here of the message to one of the panels of the Durban Racism Conference of His Highness Prince El Hassan Bin Talal of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in which he suggested that the Conference’s objectives included: "...discerning in our diversity the potential for mutual enrichment, and realising that it is the interchange between great traditions of human spirituality that offers the best prospect for the persistence of the human spirit itself." He added, "The Holy Qur’an says: ‘We have made you nations and tribes that you may know one another, not that you may despise one another’".

A contributing factor to reducing tribalism in Tanzania is Kiswahili, the lingua franca, which enables dialogue and uninhibited discourse between people of different tribes. We must, therefore, conquer our prejudices and be open-minded as we seek to understand those we find different from us. Only then can we sustainably avoid any "clash of civilisations." For, as the Prince said, "The fight against intolerance can only be intensified if the diversity of humankind in all its aspects including spiritual, is appreciated. It is at the spiritual level that we often find the common ground."


The Christian mission is to bring people together, not apart. It is only by coming together, focusing on common issues and ignoring our differences, that we can build communities in which violence would find no place; communities at the national and global level that create a sense of shared values, duties and responsibilities, shared destiny; communities in which no member would ever feel so marginalised and threatened as to be driven to fearful desperation; communities in which all members have a joint stake in peace, and shared pain in conflict.

Speaking to you, I am convinced these are views we share, as I ask you to carry and spread this message with you when you travel back to your countries.

My programme shows that my address will be followed by a lunch. I have spoken for so long your stomachs must be grumbling. Nevertheless I ask that as you free yourself from hunger this afternoon you invoke this pertinent toast:

"May the tree of liberty flourish around the globe, and every human being partake of its fruits!"

Shalom! Asalaam Aleikum! God be with you!

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