105. Tanzanian minister leaves a lasting legacy of peacemaking

Author: Adekeye Adebajo
Date: 18 May 2020
Publication: Business Day
Image courtesy of: AMISOM Public Information

Tanzania’s justice minister, Augustine Mahiga, who died on 1 May at the age of 74 was an eminent Pan-African peacemaker and humanitarianist widely renowned for his intelligence, integrity, and humility. Born in the central Tanzanian town of Iringa with its picturesque cliffs, valleys, and rocks, he did all his early schooling in Tosamaganga. He completed his undergraduate at the University of Dar es Salaam, before earning masters and doctorate degrees in International Relations from Canada’s University of Toronto. Mahiga then worked in the office of founding president, Julius Nyerere, serving as Director-General of Intelligence and Security, while teaching part-time at Dar University.

He switched from spymaster and university don to diplomat when he joined the country’s foreign ministry in 1983, serving in Ottawa and Geneva. He then served with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), enjoying a successful decade-long career in the Great Lakes, Liberia, India, and Italy. In a published 2009 chapter on the UNHCR, Mahiga skilfully traced the history of the 1951 Refugee Convention, the 1967 Status of Refugees protocol, and the 1969 Organisation of African Unity refugee convention, showing how refugee flows driven by conflicts, have forced innovation in refugee protection. Ever the discreet diplomat, Mahiga pulled his punches in not criticising the pernicious roles of France, the US, and Belgium during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The politically astute Tanzanian then served as his country’s Permanent Representative to the UN between 2003 and 2010. He sat on the UN Security Council in 2005/2006; was actively involved in the UN reform process of Ghanaian UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, after which he served on the inaugural UN Peacebuilding Commission; and was active in pushing refugee issues and the protection of civilians in the UN Economic and Social Council.

Mahiga then served as UN Special Representative in Somalia between 2010 and 2013, spending weeks reading up on the country’s complex clan structures before assuming the post. In a fractious conflict-ridden system of squabbling politicians and warlords, he courageously moved the UN office from Nairobi to Mogadishu, braving attacks from al-Shabaab militants. In a 2018 book chapter, Mahiga described how he was able to establish the first functioning government inside Somalia in 20 years in 2011, though the situation in the country still remains unstable. Instrumental to his peacemaking efforts was his long-standing friendship – forged at Dar University – with Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, who acted as a regional mediator and contributed the bulk of troops to the 22,000-strong AU mission in Somalia, alongside Ethiopia, Kenya, Burundi, and Djibouti.

Mahiga praised the role of Somali civil society and traditional elders in peacemaking efforts, while providing a cogent critique of liberal peacebuilding in Somalia, with its one-size-fits-all model. He argued that the approach failed to ensure the political participation of marginalised

groups (especially women), and noted that the insistence on elections was no panacea, as these polls often deepened divisions. Mahiga thus called for a greater focus on social needs and social justice He, however, again held back from criticising the role of the US in Somalia in exacerbating an already complicated situation through military operations, drone strikes, and “targeted” assassinations, which sometimes resulted in the deaths of innocent civilians.

After leaving the UN, Mahiga unsuccessfully ran for president of Tanzania in 2015, before being appointed foreign minister by the eventual victor, John Magufuli. His tenure was noted for restoring Tanzania’s central role in the East African Community, even as he remained active in SADC.

Exhausted from the international travel he had endured all his adult life, Mahiga was switched to justice minister in 2019, and occupied this post until his death. He was buried in his ancestral home of Tosamaganga between the graves of his parents which he had visited two weeks earlier, thus fulfilling his final wish.

Professor Adekeye Adebajo is Director of the University of Johannesburg’s Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation.