A clean politician, with his thoughts always on the plight of the poor, he was not a materialist; he cared little about amassing wealth.
Long before his retirement from active politics he led a commoner’s life with his rural compatriots.
He graduated with a university degree as the country attained its independence and served as Headmaster in various secondary schools, teaching those who have or are now retiring.
A strong disciplinarian, he used to explain how he would check dormitories at night to ensure that students were present and doing their evening work.
I first saw him when he was Arusha Regional Education officer, at his temporary office in Moshi in 1968, after he vacated his old one to give space to the East African Community as it shifted to Arusha from Nairobi early that year.
He was later in the same year appointed Principal of the famous Kivukoni Party Ideological College. Only those in whom TANU and Mwalimu Nyerere had full confidence were entrusted with leadership of the Party Ideological College.
I worked with him in 1970 while studying that year’s presidential and General Election when he stood and was elected Member of Parliament for Hai in October of the same year.
We noted that in his election personalities took credence to issues. It was published in 1974 in a book entitled, Socialism and Participation: A Study of the 1970 Presidential and General Elections. Perhaps due to his emergence as an important local leader, President Nyerere brought him into his Cabinet in November 1970 as the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.
His brief tenure at Foreign Affairs was dominated by the issue of decolonisation and the consequences of the January 1971 Idi Amin coup in Uganda. The liberation movements were passing through difficult times at this time. FRELIMO of Mozambique was emerging from the scars of the 1969 assassination of its first President, Dr Eduardo Mondlane.
The African National Congress (ANC) of South Africa had internal difficulties which resulted in expulsions of some dissidents at its 1969 Congress in Morogoro, Tanzania. Partly because of the difficulties in the liberation movements, that had stalled the struggle, the frontline states were opening conversation lines with internal leaders in the colonised countries.
In this regard, Hon Elinawinga received in Tanzania one of the Bantustan leaders, Chief Gatsha (later Mangusuthu) Buthelezi of the Zulu nation in South Africa, to the annoyance of the liberation leaders.
Buthelezi’s visit might have woken the freedom fighters up to the occasion and expedited the armed liberation struggle instead of political squabbles.
The situation was worsened by a new Conservative government in the UK, led by Premier Edward Heath who had in 1970 decided to sell arms to apartheid South Africa. This was the central focus of the African group at the Commonwealth Heads of State and Governments Meeting (CHOGM) in Singapore in January 1971.
When I had the occasion to discuss with Elinewinga his take on the Singapore CHOGM, although he was content with Premier Ted Heath’s policy shift at Singapore on the sale of arms to Pretoria, he did not expect much from the UK as long as Heath was at the helm.
It was while Ugandan President Milton Obote was attending this Summit that the Idi Amin coup took place. Elinewinga who had been with President Nyerere at the CHOGM in Singapore was dispatched by the President to confer with key African leaders, including His Imperial Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and Nigerian military leader General Yakubu Gowan, pleading with them not to recognise Amin’s military junta.
He led Tanzania’s delegation to the February 1972 Organization of African Unity (OAU) Ministerial Council meeting where an Oboteist delegation led by his (exiled) Foreign Minister Sam Odaka challenged the credentials of Idi Amin’s delegation. Elinewinga lost out when Amin’s delegation was allowed to take Uganda’s seat.
Amin’s Foreign Minister Wanume Kibedi had warned that if his delegation was kept out Kampala would have to decide whether it was Uganda which needed the OAU or the other way round. The Ugandan coup was viewed as a way of shifting Tanzania’s attention from the freedom struggle in Southern Africa.
Elinewinga’s stint at Foreign Affairs was short-lived. In a major Cabinet reshuffle in February 1972, he was promoted to full Minister for Water Development and Power. Given his rural background he gave greater credence to initial thoughts on rural electrification.
It is also at this time that the rural-urban migration started making water shortage a major Dar problem. Following his retention of the Hai parliamentary seat, following the October 1975 elections, he was shifted to the key Ministry of Education, where his career had started.
Addressing Tanzanian students in London in November 1975, I saw that he was very much at home in this sector. He is credited with having influenced, behind the scenes, the party and its government to water down the 1974 Musoma Resolution and finally to put it aside altogether on the demand that university entry be based on mature age students or those ex-Form 6 students who had spent time in industry and had a clean record at the local party branch.
Elinewinga argued that sending girls to shop floors before university education interfered with their marriage plans; and for science students their physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics were not helped by the attachments in work places.
While it could help arts students, it did not advance the knowledge of science students; who might forget what they had learned. However, on a negative note, he seemed to water down strict academic standing as a yardstick for progression in school. On one occasion he okayed a student performing well in “ngoma” and traditional dances for a place in secondary school.
It was clear the population was not impressed by this, notwithstanding the importance accorded to ngomas etc at schools.
In a February 1977 Cabinet reshuffle, he was dropped. Owning no house in Dar-Es-Salaam, he immediately packed his bags and relocated to his rural constituency, where he lived an ordinary man’s life with his constituents. Other than a stint in Morogoro as Tobacco Board chairman, he was always at his home in rural Hai district.
An attempt to go for the post of chairmanship of the party in his region ended in failure. Another attempt to vie for a seat in the Party National Executive Committee also ended in failure. With this, a curtain fell on his political career.
He remained a loyal party member, and did not try to cross over to the Opposition, however strong it appeared in his area on at least two occasions. When he had an Opposition MP in his area, he worked closely with the legislator offering his advice on how to bring development to Hai.
A very clean politician, he was very depressed by rising corruption in the country. He made one of the most remarkable statements about this when he said, “ Tanzania inajengwa na wenye moyo, inaliwa na wenye meno” ( Tanzania’s wealth is created by patriots but it is eaten by the greedy ones). He died when President John Magufuli had started to address this problematic issue.
Although he took a very low profile, both the ruling party and the government via the Education Minister, Prof Joyce Ndalichako, were at hand to grace his funeral as were church elders. May His Soul Rest in peace.
• Professor Ngila Mwase worked with the Hon Isael Elinewinga, especially in the 1970 elections. He is a regular contributor to The Guardian. He can be reached at [email protected]; Cell: 0752-427427