Tanzania’s former president Benjamin Mkapa, who served from 1995 to 2005, died in the early hours of Friday, President John Magufuli said in a statement.
Mkapa, Tanzania’s third president, who led several regional peace mediation efforts in office and after stepping down as head of state, died at a hospital in Dar es Salaam where he was receiving treatment, Magufuli said. The president did not offer more details.
Magufuli has declared a seven-day period of mourning, during which all flags will be flown at half-mast.
“Magufuli asks all Tanzanians to remain calm, patient and united during this difficult time,” a statement from his office said.
Mkapa, who was 81, also served as an ambassador, minister of foreign affairs and leading official of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party, Magufuli said.
With strong backing from Julius Nyerere, who led the country to independence, he led Tanzania for ten years following the country’s first multiparty elections in 1995. He took over from Ali Hassan Mwinyi, who had shifted Tanzania’s economic policy away from socialism.
However, it was Mkapa who introduced the significant economic reforms that led the country to transition to a liberal economy.
He is credited with boosting tax collection, instituting austerity measures to curb wasteful expenditure and opening the door to foreign investors.
His privatisation policy was however much criticised locally, and he later admitted that although he had good intentions the policy was not well executed.
Last November he unveiled his autobiography, titled My Life, My Purpose. In the book, he said that the tragic killing of 22 protesters by police on Pemba Island in 2001 “will always be a black spot on my presidency”.
The protesters had taken to the streets to vent their anger about the results of Zanzibar’s election in 2000, which they argued were rigged.
Mkapa said the “tragedy shook me to the core”.
He handed over to Jakaya Kikwete in 2005.
He is survived by his widow, Anna, and two sons.