THE passing away, on the wee hours of Friday, May 1, 2020 in Dodoma of Minister for Constitutional and Legal Affairs, Dr Augustine Phillip Mahiga (74), did not only shock Tanzanians, but also many people outside the country who had known him for many years, and in particular, in the last two decades.
It was in the last two decades that Dr Mahiga worked in New York as Tanzania’s Permanent Representatives at the United Nations from 2003 to 2010. After that he served the international community through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
I have known Dr Mahiga since I was a schoolboy at Tosamaganga Primary School in 1964 at a time when he was completing his high school at Tosamaganga Secondary School.
But I personally got acquainted with him in 1985 after my colleague with 'Daily News', Charles Kizigha, told me the then university don and spymaster had wanted to see me at a newly built, prefabricated Embassy Hotel which is lodged between the New Post Office, opposite to the Pamba House building in Dar es Salaam.
I had over an hour-meeting with Dr Mahiga who had just joined the UNHCR after serving as Director General of the Tanzania Intelligence and Security Services. From then on, I met and spoke with Dr Mahiga several times. In 2015, I worked for him as his Communications Manager when he was vying for the Union presidency in the general election.
Many students who were taught by Dr Mahiga at the University of Dar es Salaam have always hailed him as an outstanding lecturer while others have gone on to say if you did not understand Dr Mahiga during his lectures then you had a serious problem that needed special attention.
But I have personally known him as a very religious, intelligent and a man of high integrity whose oratory, both in English and Kiswahili was second to none. As a scholar, it was easy for one to think he was one of those people who could not converse in his mother tongue, Kihehe. But Dr Mahiga was a different man.
He was so good in Kihehe you would think he had never spent most of his years outside his Lupalama Village. Two years ago, during President Magufuli’s visit to Iringa, Dr Mahiga surprised Iringa residents with his mastery of Kihehe when he was asked by the President to interpret his speech at Samora Machel Memorial Stadium.
They could not believe that a person who had spent almost a half century outside Iringa could speak Kihehe the way he had spoken. Dr Mahiga was a don who was not only as good as any career diplomat in the world, but also could communicate in Kiswahili or Kihehe with the villager who had never been out of his or her village!
I had the opportunity of talking to Dr Mahiga many times, and whenever you were through with him, you had learnt tonnes of knowledge. When you inquired something from him, he had this trait of giving you an answer that always satisfied you.
He had the ability of furnishing you with the information the veracity of which you never doubted. But if he did not know anything, he would tell you so without beating about the bush. If he did not believe in what you were saying, he would simply tell you straight into your face.
Simply put, Dr Mahiga was an accomplished communicator. Dr Mahiga’s last service for the international community was between 2010 and 2013 when he was appointed by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as the UN Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Political Office for Somalia, a post he served up to 2013.
His job was, among others, to midwife Somalia from a stateless state it had been for years after the overthrow of General Siad Barre to a country that had a semblance of leadership which could be recognised and supported by the international community.
By the time his tour of duty in Somalia was over in 2013, he had successfully completed the mission he had been entrusted with by the UN Secretary General. Dr Mahiga escaped death twice, once in Liberia when he met, face to face, with Charles Taylor, who had vowed to finish him off with his own handgun.
But when the two men met finally and talked, Taylor would later admit that it was unfortunate that he had not known Dr Mahiga! But thanks to his sleek, diplomatic tongue. It had saved him from the jaw of the shark.
The second attempt on his life was in Mogadishu, in Somalia, when Al Shabaab attacked his office-cum-bunker which was being heavily guarded by Ugandan troops. They almost got in, but thanks to the valiant Ugandan troops.
“They had fought back like possessed men,” Dr Mahiga recalled in 2015 before he joined the race for the Union presidency.
fter getting the UN job for Somalia, Dr Mahiga spent hours on end studying Khaliphate, the establishment of which is one of the things that drives mad Al Shaabab in their terrorism.
He could spend hours, talking, explaining to you the emergency of the inter-clan war which had replaced warlords in Somalia before the emergency, later, of the deadly Al Shaabab with their senseless wars. He said their operation against him in Mogadishu failed, but they left behind massive destruction.
But he would not tell me how many Ugandans died. However, he admitted that he was personally devastated. Dr Mahiga’s office was actually supposed to be in the comfort and safety of Nairobi in Kenya. “But I decided that I would live inside Somalia, in Mogadishu,” said Dr Mahiga.
He said he moved to Somalia to get the really feel of the problem they were trying to solve in order to bring the country to sanity. For those who may not know or have a problem in understanding Dr Mahiga, consider the following.
It was under Dr Mahiga as Director General of the Intelligence and Security that the 1983 abortive coup against Mwalimu Julius Nyerere was foiled. That abortive coup would have been a fait accompli, had 'Daily News' Editor, Reginald Mhango (who has since passed on) not cautioned Abdallah Mhando for not reporting to the authorities what he had heard from his passenger.
When he said he did not know whom he could report to, Mhango linked him with Charles Kizigha who was close to Dr Mahiga and from their own, it was taken over by the Intelligence. The alleged coup leaders were rounded up and later arraigned and after a two-year trial under Principal Judge, Nassoro Mzavas some of the alleged coup plotters were discharged and others were convicted.
When the then South Korean Foreign Minister, Ban Ki-moon wanted to vie for the top UN job, one of the countries his government approached for assistance was the United Republic of Tanzania which had for many years been known for its lobbying expertise both at the UN General Assembly and at the African Union, where the United Republic of Tanzania was chair at that time.
By then, Dr Mahiga had just completed his diplomatic tour of duty at the UN where his record could only be compared to that of the doyen of global diplomacy, Dr Salim Ahmed Salim. The fourth phase President, Dr Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete picked Dr Mahiga to campaign for Ban Ki-moon in Africa.
Dr Mahiga visited every capital in Africa, selling the former South Korean foreign minister for the United Nation’s top job. But as they say, the rest is history.
Ban Ki-moon would go on to be elected UN general Secretary. But no sooner had the former South Korean occupied the UN job, than he decided to offer one of his position under his prerogative to Tanzania in appreciation of what it had done to his country.
He told Ambassador Mahiga to tell his government to provide him with the name of a qualified woman for the job of the UN Under Secretary General.
Dr Mahiga who was then in Geneva, phoned President Kikwete and the latter gave him the name of the then Foreign Minister during the time, Dr Asha-Rose Migiro and that is how Tanzania had made history of having a Tanzanian woman gracing one of the highest UN posts.
After the end of the 2015 General Election in which Dr John Pombe Joseph Magufuli was elected as the fifth President of the United Republic of Tanzania. President Magufuli went on to nominate Dr Mahiga as a Member of Parliament and appointed him Minister for Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation.
Dr Mahiga held the foreign portfolio until 2019 when he was replaced by the then Minister for Constitutional and Legal Affairs, Prof Palamagamba Kabudi and Dr Mahiga was moved to the portfolio.
Dr Mahiga appeared to have professed his own death, two weeks ago when he visited his home place at Tosamaganga Mission where he was accompanied by his Private Secretary, Mr Gerard Mbwafu. According to his former Campaign Manager, Mr George Mlawa, he took him to the Tosamaganga Graveyard where his father and mother are buried.
He told his private secretary, Mr Mbwafu: “If I die, please bring me here,” said Dr Mahiga pointing to the space between the two graves of his parents and added: “There is adequate space for me between my parents.”
Dr Mahiga was laid to rest yesterday between the two graves of his father, Mzee Phillip Mahiga and his mother, Modesta Sekilongumutwa at Tosamaganga Catholic Mission as he had requested his private secretary two weeks ago.
Dr Mahiga would sadly be missed by the international community, Tanzanians, and in particular both sides of the country’s political divide.