Tanzanians, after the fitting farewell,  emulate the late Dr Mengi

10May 2019
The Guardian
 Tanzanians, after the fitting farewell,  emulate the late Dr Mengi

TANZANIANS yesterday completed the space of seven days of undeclared nationwide mourning, as the country followed from a distance the final ceremonies and burial of the late Dr Reginald Abraham Mengi, the founder and Executive Chairman of the IPP Group of Companies.

Regional authorities at Moshi altered the preliminary schedule to bring the funeral mass to Moshi Municipality Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT) where residents of the region and nearby regions who could not make it to Karimjee Hall in Dar es Salaam could now pay their last respects. And as if divinity was paying attention, we have had unrelenting rainfall since the sad event took place.

All in all it is unquestionable that so many sectors of Tanzanian society have been touched by the death of Dr Mengi, such that there is a yawning gap at the national level as to whether anyone is ready to step into his shoes, or his numerous associations, roles and responsibilities will now be shared out to a number of individuals.

There are portions of society where the late Dr Mengi was a kind of family member as a father and benefactor, making a huge difference in their expectations both at individual level and often as a community, the specific examples having been well enumerated, often rapidly, by mourners in various locations, using different media.

With the shock of the news of his passing away, followed by waiting for arrival of his body, reception and a funeral mass at the august city centre premises of the Karimjee Hall, and the turnout of large numbers of people often amid outbreaks of rainfall as the cortege moved to Lugalo military hospital, the sense of grief and loss was profound.

The same situation and even greater emotional scenes owing to the presence of people closely related to the bereaved family and ancestral household and compound was to be seen in Moshi as the cortege touched Kilimanjaro International Airport and proceeded to Machame East ward, at Nkuu Sinde-Kisereni.

With fears of some collateral damage to crops of peasants within the vicinity of the burial place, it had to be arranged that residents of Kilimanjaro and nearby regions pay their last respects at the central ELCT parish in Moshi municipality.

Current and retired leaders of the ELCT, whose main offices are in Arusha city and have close association with Moshi, often seen as a twin urban centre to Arusha both in social composition and activities, organized and conducted together the funeral mass at Moshi and later at the village, Kisereni.

It would be difficult to improve on the collective concern, outpouring of grief, sense of loss and solidarity in the process.

While the sad moment and what followed it are getting behind us as a country and colleagues, those who had an opportunity, often a life-long commitment to working with the late Dr Reginald Mengi in his numerous initiatives and spheres of concern, a public question arises as to 'who taught the teacher.'

The late Dr Mengi has been a teacher to innumerable groups in society, from the very top to the down and out, as to who else, here or elsewhere, was at once and at the same time the best friend of the people with disabilities and helped presidents to improve certain parameters of policy thinking and decision making? Are we not on the verge of talking about miracles?

Still as contradiction would have it, to speak in 19th century idiom, the late Dr Reginald Mengi appears to have been a lifelong learner and applicant, in a totally different context of the ideas of founder president Dr Julius Nyerere.

Like the late Mwalimu, he moved a country in its sentiments, aspirations and sense of community not just from what he had in terms of power for Mwalimu and economic ability for the late Dr Mengi but rather from his devotion, sense of example and valuing the poor.

Dr Mengi studied in the United Kingdom in his youth just like Mwalimu, but joined a professional association in accounting and auditing, scarcely philosophy.

Thus while Mwalimu learned his political idiom and sense of position in ethics and ideology from his training at the University of Edinburgh, to complement his early acculturation to view the life of a Catholic priest as one of devotion, so was it with the late Dr Mengi.

Mwalimu did not join the priesthood but served the country more or less as a priest, where his station of work, the State House, was a place he was called to do his duty of working for the people and not using it to make money.

He took it somewhat unkindly when later it appeared that deals could even be stuck in the august premises, and could not hold back his sentiments, though carefully expressed.

The late Dr Mengi was 20 years the junior of Mwalimu in his birthdate, in which case he by and large belonged to a different generation from those whose minds were schooled in the pre-independence bouyancy of selfless service and a welfare state, which Mwalimu largely epitomized.

The late Dr Mengi belonged to the generation of 'miracle achievers' which at the level of international economy was characterised by the rapid transformation of South East Asia (the tiger economies) from poverty to industrialisation within one generation.

It was not the old generation of freedom fighters followed by militants for national liberation as was the case at the University of Dar es Salaam, which was in its first stages when the late Dr Mengi went out to the UK to study, thus avoiding it.

Though the late Dr Mengi was far from approaching 60 years of age in 1989, he retired at that time from his professional home base of Coopers and Lybrand to take up business, and noticeably he was also in a good position to move a step forward from that base.

As it happened in countries like Russia, when the socialist edifice started to crumble it was the changing value of currency that constituted a major factor of changed roles at economic level, as those who were in a position to obtain foreign exchange for instance via salary (say for a person holding the post of chairman and managing partner at Coopers and Lybrand) and use it well, the sky was the limit.

Still not everyone could think of those opportunities but those who were seeking for opportunity.

As it is with other industrial magnates in the country, the shortages atmosphere that was dramatically catching on in the early 1980s led to opportunities like filling the void in availability ball point pens, the starting point of the IPP Group.

At that point it was still a kind of cottage industry, but with promise for bigger things later, which came perhaps earlier than the late Dr Mengi's own best expectations owing to liberalisation, as it started in a gradual manner with imports of second hand clothing and moving to liquidating loss making regional and district economic ventures. 

Privatisation per se came a while later, opening private banks, and bank credit.

That is where the salient ethical and devotional parameters of the late Dr Mengi's preoccupations come up, and since they characterised his adult and post-employment life so intensively, it is plausible to say that it was a deep conviction making up his entire self.

It was not just a decision arrived at one day, 'to start giving' as the famous 1984 American pop composition on the famine in Ethiopia appealed to the world.

For lack of a better point of germination of such concerns, one can point to Mwalimu's invocations in Education for Self Reliance and essays like The Purpose is Man, to see the genesis of late Dr Mengi's philanthropy. He believed all this, totally.

That is why it did not make sense to him that one becomes poor his whole life because he or she has a slight inability on a limb, and indeed even if he or she had impaired eyesight, etc.

Instead of a policy of self reliance for the country in a combative sense of the term, he developed a philosophy of individual self reliance and a sense of duty in enabling others to become self reliant as well, since 'the purpose is man,' not to get rich for its own sake.

He lived by that philosophy more or less as Mwalimu lived by the devotional philosophy at the State House, where the late Dr Mengi made a difference by having the resources to act on his principles, initiatives.

The best epitaph that Tanzanians can give to the late Dr Mengi is to emulate him, rather than just praising him, as there are many people with the resources to make a change in the lives of others, and often it isn’t the level of resources that one has which matters, but the heart.

What can be asserted outright however is that a seed has been planted, the way Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni at one point described his career and struggles as 'planting the mustard seed,' as he definitely has a knack for literature.

For once, it is sufficient to take the title of the late Dr Mengi's autobiography to see the point, that it takes belief to wish to enable others to succeed in life, and spiritually speaking this intention uplifts one's own endeavours as well, as it brings about blessings.

In that case blessings are often earned by deciding to cultivate what is good in us, in sharing, not just the competition.