With the beginning of this sentence, I have succumbed to admonitions from several quarters to “put my story out” now that I am a public figure. It has always felt presumptuous and vain to recount the story of my life in public. And there are a number of ways to do this: chronologically, anecdotally, and so forth. In any way that the story is told, my 36 years of living have been quite eventful, if not peripatetic. I was born on 28 January 1974 to a young, polite and beautiful nursing course trainee and a very vibrant, loud and charming local government functionary (Katibu Tarafa): Josephine and Yusuf. Few months after my birth, my father was promoted to become a District Commissioner in Tanga. After three years, my mother went for further studies and my father went to join the military for Officer Cadet course in Tanzania Military Academy in Monduli. Me and my little brother were shipped to our village Mahezangulu, Lushoto, and later to our maternal grandmother who was living alone (my mother is a sole child and my grandma was widowed early) in a village around Kyaka – now Missenyi District – about 20 kilometres between the border of Uganda and Tanzania. After a year, Idi Amin invaded Tanzania and the Ugandan army occupied areas around our village: my grandma, my brother and I became refugees in displaced persons camp in areas further back from the border. Our mother made attempts to come get us but roads were closed around Biharamulo and people were not allowed to travel to the “war zone”. When the full war between Tanzania and Uganda broke out in 1978, my father, as an energetic new army lieutenant, was assigned to the frontlines – and therefore could not assist in getting us out of the refugees camp, until one day when he showed up in dirty uniforms soaked with rain commandeering an empty bus and got us permit to travel back to safe zone and reunite with our mother. When the war ended, my father was moved to Dodoma to work for the (CCM) party. (My sister, Mwamvita, was born there and was named because of the remembrance of my father’s safe return from war). In our neighbourhood, my brother and I were the butt of the joke because as passenger planes flew in the skies above we would cry and ran to hid in the bushes – because of the trauma of bombardment of Ugandan warplanes. In 1981, we were moved to Monduli where in 1982 I started Standard I at Rasharasha Primary School. In primary school, I was nicknamed “January Makaptura” as my mother bought me oversized shorts so they could last a couple of years.

In 1983, my parents decided that I should move back to the village (this time without my brother) to live with my grandmother. Life in the village, in 1983, in that era of scarcity where basic necessities such as soap, sugar, salt, etc were rationed, was quite rough. Hardship that comes with village life – no running water, no electricity, etc - tests your character. It was much more difficult for me to cope because I had lived in the cities where all amenities were available. School was about seven kilometres from my grandmother’s house, and to make it by 7am, you have to be up by 5am to get prepared. Every student arrived in school in the morning with wet shoes (or wet feet, for those many who didn’t have shoes) from collecting moisture on grass covering village footpaths. As a city kid in the village, I stood out in the village – for better and for worse. I did well in school because of the good foundation but I also slid back because of the sheer enormity of tasks a village kid has to undertake. After school at about 3pm, I used to go straight to herding goats in the nearby hills overlooking River Kagera (as you start a climb towards Karagwe). Goats are interesting creatures to manage. If you condition them that they have 90 minutes to eat, they will settle and won’t run around, and in 90 minutes they will be full. If they know they have full day, you will be frustrated because you will be running with them and by the end of the day they will still not be full. There is nothing more satisfying than herding goats back home with bloated stomachs. Every evening I would feel satisfied and extremely accomplished. And, as a kid, the wonderment of being in the bush alone with goats, the bewilderment of the immensity of nature around you, with occasional terror of a glimpse of a snake, does not leave you for your entire life. Alone in the bush, a sole shepherd of the important assets of the family, you reflect, you fear and you hope – all the while you are a nine year old. When the goats are back, my grandmother and I would go fetch water from River Kagera. The water used to be smelly and darkish kind as we fetched it not from the river itself but its adjacent wetland. When I go to the village today, and see some 7, 8 and 9 year-olds, shoeless and in ragged clothes, balancing 10 and 20 litres containers of water from the same river, I recall my life back then – and reflect on the purpose of politics. Life in the village happened at my grandma’s place. She used to have a little village pub selling local brew (lubisi). At 6pm, me and her open shop. Most customers were men. In the village, people knew each other and many customers will drink on credit. My grandma, who died this March, was tough as steel. She would handle drunken men who are aggressive with command and authority and cow them into leaving the pub or paying up their debts. I would watch in amazement as collect the money or measure portions to customers. Village pub conversation meandered from gossiping, to politics, to the latest developments in the village, to the retelling of the good old days. My grandmother is from a people who are steeped in etiquette: everything has elaborate rituals, most especially eating. Eating was communal where up to 8 people would sit down, and surround and share one big plate, and, as a junior, you do not pick up a piece of meat on your own. It is handed to you by seniors. And never ever will you greet someone while walking. You have to stop and offer extended greetings. The idea was to keep order, discipline and retain predictability in social conduct and relationships. So, I learnt to recall and abide to these rituals, and this provided me with a set of values that I have kept todate. 

After high school, I trekked to Kasulu, Kigoma to look for adventure and check out in real life these images from media of massive numbers of refugees crossing into Tanzania. I ended up getting myself a job there, first as a registration clerk (basically registering refugee details in the “manifest” as they come into the country). I did this work enthusiastically as I had the opportunity to live alone and earn a salary for the first time. I was then promoted to become distribution supervisor – overseeing food and non-food items distribution. I saw people making a lot of money stealing refugees stuff and I was horrified. Of the things I am most fearful about is stealing: can you really spend stolen property with comfort? I feel like everybody in the world – who will be looking at you – will know that you are a thief. I remember very well to have brought to the camp police station 8 of my staff (including the retired army captain who was our chief of security) for unexplained loss of food items. I was naive and an idealist: there was no way there was going to be “evidence” that they stole it. So, my hardwork was rewarded with a promotion to become Assistant Camp Manager at Mtabila II refugee camp. I founded the camp myself. I recall surveying all the corners of the camp when it was just a bush handed to us by the Ministry of Home Affairs. I recall receiving new “caseload” – and giving away the first plot. I was young – 21, 22, 23, with a lot of authority, good salary, a car, a driver and most importantly a UHF radio handset, a real symbol of status in the refugee camp. It is at this stage that I started making friends with international people i.e expatriates. I worked very well with people at Africare, with UNHCR Field Coordinators Bushra Halepota (from Pakistan) and Alice Bellah Conteh from Sierra Leone. They all loved me. When I was leaving for college, I had a farewell party at Kasulu TTC and Alice gave me as present a gold Cartier pen (back then I did not realise its value and did not even know that “Cartier” was a luxurious brand. I was a bush boy). In the camps, I also became very reflective and philosophical. I felt deep in my heart the suffering of these refugees. And I recalled stories told by my grandfather about my own life as a refugee (in my own country). I reflected a lot on the nature of man, nature of war, violence and peace. I also fell in love with a refugee girl (now happily married in Canada) but could not date her as my position as service provider to her, with all the resources at my disposal vis-à-vis hers, as a refugee and vulnerable got me to rethink the wisdom of us getting together. Perhaps I was wrong. Anyway, when I decided to go to college, I thought I should do peace studies – to understand the nature of war, peace and violence; to see if I can offer assistance in making the world a much more peaceful place; to see if we can prevent people having to flee from their homes to other countries. Using the savings from my job and part scholarship, I went to college in the United States, a very prestigious one in Minnesota – St. John’s University, a catholic university, with a seminary, a monastery and many Benedictine monks as professors. But I first landed in Boston and took some preliminary/required courses/credits at a cheaper rate at Quincy College before transferring them to SJU. 

 Life in the United States was quite interesting. Everything was new and big. The second day I arrived, my hosts were at work and there was a ring at the door, and when I open it, two little African-American girls were there saying some things that I could not figure out. They were frustrated and left – and I felt embarrassed and figured America is going to be really tough. Since I was in Tanzania, and watched American movies, I had longed to eat at MacDonald’s. So, at the first opportunity, I went there but ordering was an issue. So, I looked at the pictures of burgers and just pointed to the number whose burger looked delicious, but still many questions from the cashier in rapid English came toward me (after a few months, I learnt the questions entailed “for here or to go?”, “meal or combo?”, “large or medium”, “cheese and mayo?” and so on) and I felt like saying “Maswali ya nini? Wewe nipe tu hiyo burger kama ilivyo kwenye picha” or “Just give me the burger as looks in the picture!” But America was a great place. For summers, I took on all jobs one can imagine: I delivered pizza and magazines, I worked in nursing homes caring for the elderly, I worked with people with mental disability (this was most readily available job for immigrants and foreign students), I worked as a security guard (where I had to buy that silly heavy belt with everything on it), as an office clerk, and so on. I recall in Boston, working at a house with people with mental disability, my boss was late and I was asked to get these guys to their doctor’s appointments. I had a driver’s licence but had never driven in the United States apart from the test to get the licence. I got lost for three hours. The guys I was with started losing it as time for meds came and I was on the road. I also started losing it as I hit the wrong freeway and as you know can’t drive slowly in the freeway, so I was speeding without really knowing where I was going. I was rescued by police – who escorted me back to the house. My boss was American of Greek origin. He understood and gave me another chance. A PIOUS JOB But my best job was on St. John’s University campus. I secured some 20 hours a week to work with the Benedictine monks at the monastery nursing home. This is serious stuff: working with these great men of god, who have devoted their lives to serve God – no kids, no property, no nothing – and they are placed at a house where they know, and everyone knows, that they are waiting to die. And I was a friend, a companion, caregiver and conversation partner to these men. You see the best of both worlds: strength of faith and fallibility of faith; prospect of death as inducement of fear and prospect of death as embraced opportunity for eternal rest. I attended a funeral mass for one of these men where the attendance is very small, because their work and their mark have been in missions around the world and because at that place called nursing home the banality of death can harden the heart that, when it happens, only few show up to celebrate it. In college, my favourite subject was philosophy and my mentor was Father Rene McGraw who got me to “get” Emmanuel Levinas’ “Totality and Infinity: Essays on Exteriority”. And since then, I have become a better person (I believe). I left college and took up a very competitive graduate assistanceship/internship at the Carter Center, an institute founded and led by former US President, Jimmy Carter. This took me to Sierra Leone. The Sierra Leone experience was one of pressure and discovery. We went there primarily to observe the election, but also explore other opportunities for Carter Center programming. Expectations were very high as those who won the internship were considered to be “smart” people. Indeed, I was in the company of some very competent and accomplished young people and had to really up my game. Ambitious and smart young people at American workplaces are fiercely competitive, even when pursuing the same objectives. To remain relevant at Carter Center, I had to work hard and also learn both global and office politics. Our Sierra Leone project leader was a cheerful, sharp and very committed Harvard-trained Human Rights lawyer, Ashley Barr, who was a very helpful and a good mentor to me. It was indeed an awesome experience. I travelled around and saw a bit of the Sierra Leone countryside, and had to learn a lot about Liberia, Guinea and Ivory Coast as all these countries, together with Sierra Leone, form an interlinked conflict ecosystem. As an old refugee camp staff, my pull in Sierra Leone was in the internally displaced people (IDPs) camps in the countryside and around Freetown. The common – and very brutal – feature of the Sierra Leone war was the chopping-off of hands of innocent people by RUF rebels. I will never forget an occasion where I had a chat with a group of energetic young people in one of the IDP camps in Freetown. I chose to put on spot this beautiful young girl who had both her hands cut off right at the elbows. I asked her, rather dumbly in retrospect, what the most challenging part of her situation was. She smiled and threw back the question to me: “What do you think?” She went on to answer, rather bravely particularly with the presence of boys in the group, something along the lines that “each end of the month is traumatic, as for a couple of times a day for the entire week, I have to ask someone to help change my female sanitary pads”. At that point I was lost for words, but then I had a sense of satisfaction that the career I had chosen - to study peace and conflict so as to help end war and violence - was the right one. I ended my Carter Center gig on a high note - meeting with President Carter and his wife, Rosalynn Carter. We took a picture, which President Carter graciously autographed a few days later and it was the first ever picture that I framed. Until today, it sits atop my bookshelf. 

At the Ministry, I was assigned at the same desk as during the internship – Africa and the Middle East. The new department Director, Ambassador Joram Biswaro, was an academic, really a non-traditional bureaucrat, who enjoyed a vigorous policy and intellectual debate that I always was keen to have, particularly during our departmental meetings every morning. I didn’t quite feel that I should be constrained by the civil service customs so I was outspoken in airing my views and a prolific writer of Memos and analyses on current affairs and matters relevant to the work of our department. So, even when our Minister then, Hon. Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, decided to run for President I was audacious enough to write him a paper on how he should organize his campaign. By then we had interacted because I was in the Ministry teams he was working with as he was leading the mediation process for Burundi. Although I enjoyed my work at Foreign Service working on peace processes, as I was doing something I went to school for, my heart was really in the bush – with the refugees and rebels. When the inevitable frustrations of working in the bureaucracy started to set in, I seriously contemplated leaving government service altogether to join the International Crisis Group, the outfit I admired the most for its work in our field, and where I had contacts. I also did phone interview with one American NGO to go to work as Program Officer in the Afghan refugee camp in Peshawar, Pakistan. But then, my future wife was about to follow me back to Tanzania and I felt the need to settle down and start a family.

The campaign itself was one of hope. The theme was Continuity and Change - and doing things with “New Vigor, New Zeal and New Speed” to bring “Better Life to all Tanzanians”. The candidate was fresh, and articulate. The message was clear. And the final tally was a resounding 80 percent victory for our candidate. The President was sworn in, and less than a month later I was appointed one of his aides, dealing with speechwriting. My formal title was Personal Assistant to the President – Special Duties (PAP-SD). I was the youngest back then of all the aides. The position, in government civil service ranks, was quite senior. It was a high pressure, long hours, and emotionally draining post. Working at the State House is like living in a glass bowl – everyone peeking from the outside trying to figure out how you got there, how much influence you have on the President etc. You can bet that your phones are being tapped, your emails are intercepted and you are a subject of reports on your whereabouts, dealings, remarks and relationships. I survived because of the trust and confidence of the President himself – and the commitment I put into my work, as my work spoke for itself as speeches were a daily occasion. The magnitude of the office and responsibilities required me to remind myself to remain humble everyday. As you travel with the President; as you have access to him at all times; as you can call any office and get all the information you need; and as you are driven to and from the office; and have people serving you tea and food at the office, if one is not careful, the arrogance of the office may get to your head. If you are not careful, you may regard anyone who is calling you as having a problem or a favour to ask. I forbade my secretary at State House (Mrs. Aziza Bukuku) to call me “Boss” (as is supposedly customary) as I thought it sounded awkward and demeaning to her. She insisted, and later we made it a joke. The five years at State House were quite a journey. Presidential aides attend cabinet meetings as observers. In fact, we are sworn in during the very first cabinet meeting we attend. I recall the nervousness I had when all the Ministers were seated and looking as the President presided over my oath before proceeding with the cabinet meeting. It is a very special feeling and indeed an honour. As I attended the cabinet meetings, and communicated with people throughout the government, as I travelled with the President in almost all the regions (again) and overseas, I learnt a lot about how government is run, the nuances of high-level diplomacy, dilemmas and choices in policymaking, the difficulties in executing big government programs, and why progress can be difficult in some areas. More importantly, the office gives you the confidence to interact with the wider community with authority of knowledge and experience. You are taken seriously and you are respected. You are listened to, and therefore rest, to impress or to disappoint, is up to you. The only problem is that, once you disappoint you let down the President because it reflects on his ability to choose the right people. I made a lot of acquaintances in the diplomatic community and political circles, and friendships were forged later on beyond work relations. As a presidential aide, I was also responsible for sitting in and taking notes when the President meets with dignitaries. As a result, I had the fortune of meeting and listening to some of the great personalities in global politics and business having conversation with my boss. I met, shook hands and sat in meetings with George W. Bush in the White House in Washington DC (after a meeting with my boss at the Oval Office, he hosted lunch for 8 members of our delegation at the White House in August 2008. I remember vividly this rainy day in the White House because it was the day when John McCain announced Sarah Palin as his running mate (and all TV sets in White House lobbies were tuned to Fox News, and the press was not allowed to ask questions after the meeting because President Bush didn’t want to answer questions about Palin mainly because he did not even know her. He was charming throughout lunch, and afterwards, he gave us a tour of the White House); Muammar Gaddafi (met my boss on AU issues several times, and every time there was a surprise – sometimes I would skip notes just amazed by his stories and theories); Shinzo Abe (a pleasant Japanese Prime Minister); Robert Mugabe; Morgan Tsvangirai; Tendai Biti (a sharp guy); Bill Gates (came to the President’s hotel in New York City to talk about his Foundation’s work); Mwai Kibaki; Yoweri Museveni; Paul Kagame (in New York also, came to talk about the Isaka-Kigali railway with people bearing a big map); Uhuru Kenyatta (in Dar es Salaam, as leader of PNU delegation during post-election violence in Kenya); Bill Clinton (a couple of times, last time at Kirchner Museum in Davos, Switzerland in January, 2010; I consider some of his aides my friends); Raila Odinga (this one I met without the President, I had breakfast with him at his house on Christmas of 2007, two days before the election); King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia (we had the honour to have dinner at his palace in Riyadh, a magnificent place); Romano Prodi (a very intelligent chap); Jacob Zuma; Jeffrey Sachs; Bono, the rockstar (in New York, another intelligent chap); Gordon Brown; Ban Ki-Moon (at the 38th floor of UN HQ, a very pleasant man); Inacio Lula Da Silva (in New York, at UNGA Hall meeting booth, a cheery and confident leader); Thabo Mbeki (a mentor and friend - emailing). In his very first visit to the United States in 2006, the President was invited for lunch at the Senate Dining Room by five Senators (Dick Durbin, Russ Feingold, Barack Obama, Richard Lugar and Thad Cochran, who hosted the lunch). The President was asked to bring two people for lunch. He brought me (as a note taker) and Hon. John Cheyo (MP for Bariadi, who was part of our delegation). Barack Obama, as the most junior Senator then met us at the steps outside and ushered us to the dining room. One interesting thing about the lunch meeting was that Obama was mostly quiet, just listening. And whenever he spoke, he asked questions. Feingold mostly talked about Zanzibar. Lugar asked about Chinese influence in Africa. The list is really long and impressive. I also met and interacted with a number of diplomats and business leaders in World Economic Forum meetings and other conferences and here in Dar es Salaam. Now, these details would seem irrelevant and sort of bragging, but for me they add to the sum of what I know about the world, and therefore who I am. It is part of my story. At the end of the day, what makes a person is the sum of his values and beliefs and life experiences. When I was a kid in the village, on weekends when I did not go to school, my grandmother would leave me to attend the pub for patrons who wanted to have an early start. The regular customers on those days were former hardcore criminals who were in a rehabilitation program at a halfway prison camp in Kitengule/Mwisa village near our village, who were allowed to leave camp on weekends. So, there will be me, 9 or 10 years old, and some criminals – me serving them alcohol and them telling me stories. I would be fascinated by the stories of their exploits. Yet, this was a very dangerous exposure for a young child. But I made it. I made it to be able to share a lunch table with George W. Bush at the White House as he recounted his recent trip to the Olympics in China; as he talked about malaria in Africa; as he did a small talk with his fellow President. Sometimes, in these meetings, I would reflect on where I had come from and I get swept by the vastness of the journey I have taken. I conclude that nothing can pull me down, and that anything more than what I have now, and where I have reached, is simply a blessing and not a necessity to complete me. At State House, I learnt a great deal beyond my field of study. I can confidently say that I self-taught graduate level Development Economics as I delved into textbooks I bought through Amazon.com and other publications on topical issues and journals that I subscribed. I continued to read about politics and philosophy, my first love. In travelling overseas, I used every occasion to learn about the history and the politics of places we visited. When we visited Cairo, Rome, Istanbul, and Jordan I stole some time to visit the remarkable monuments of three great monotheist religions – Islam, Judaism and Christianity - and learnt about the rise and fall of two great empires – Roman and Ottoman. In Rome I visited the Colosseum, The Panthenon, The Roman Forum, and learnt about statecraft. In Cairo, I took a crash course on Egyptology. As a result of all this, I left State House enriched with deep knowledge on many issues and countless lifelong lessons. I will always be grateful to the President for this exposure and for giving me a front seat view to history.

...January Makamba.....

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