Ali Mufuruki, who died of complications from pneumonia in a Johannesburg hospital on December 7, has been eulogised as one of Africa’s most respected business leaders.
In his message, Nation Media Group board chairman Wilfred Kiboro described Mr Mufuruki as a renowned corporate guru who will be missed by many.
“Ali will be remembered by many of us for his enquiring mind, courage, belief in African entrepreneurship, hard work, high ethical standards, and desire to help and mentor others in very difficult operating environment,” Mr Kiboro said.
Mr Mufuruki, who served in the NMG board and as chairman of Mwananchi Communications Company Ltd, was famous for the kind of blunt talk that tends to annoy politicians but it was his ability to retain the respect of officials he was often at odds with that set him apart.
“What makes Ali unique in the African setting is his ability to garner the respect of people in politics and power even while criticising them. He is fearless in that sense,” Sara Menker, his former partner at Nairobi-based energy advisory firm Gro-Energy, once said.
In 2014 he wrote an opinion published in a local newspaper titled African leaders who believe Africans are incapable of great things should go!
It was directed at a local government minister who Mr Mufuruki believed favoured foreign firms at the expense of local industry.
Trademark East Africa, where he served as founder chair of the board (2015 to 2018), described him as “One of the most remarkable Africans of his generation, an inspirational leader who made great contributions to industrialisation in Africa, to technology and research.”
He also co-authored Tanzania’s Industrialisation Journey 2016-2056, a 190-page blueprint for Tanzania’s bid to transit from an agrarian to a modern industrialised state in 40 years.
Perhaps a fitting example of the kind of respect he maintained across the board is that the book’s foreword was written by President John Magufuli, himself a staunch advocate for state control of the economy.
“The authors have identified key elements of a credible industrialisation strategy, putting them into the Tanzanian and global context, and painting a realistic picture of what success could look like if the industrialisation project is executed in a decisive and disciplined manner,” President Magufuli wrote.
He described the book as a vital contribution to the discourse on how public and private sectors, economic planners, civil servants, educators, researchers, farmers, workers, entrepreneurs, politicians and ordinary citizens, can work together “to make Tanzania’s industrialisation journey a success that can be attained in our lifetime.”
Educated as a mechanical design engineer in Germany, Mufuruki began his career with Daimler-Benz and then moved to Tanzania’s National Engineering Company, where he was an executive until 1989, when he left to start Infotech Investment Group, which has wide holdings in retail, telecommunications and media businesses across East Africa. He remained chair and CEO until his death.
He also founded East Africa Capital Partners in Nairobi, known for its savvy investments in other firms.
He co-founded Gro-Energy, which advises firms and governments on how to manage East Africa’s newly discovered gas and oil wealth; and served as chairman of Wananchi Holdings, owner of one of the region’s largest cable TV networks.
His resume as a business leader stretched further: Apart from Vodacom Tanzania which he resigned from earlier this year, Mr Mufuruki also served as chairman of Tanzania's top tea dealing firm Chai Bora Ltd, AMSCO (Netherlands), and Tanzania’s National Environment Trust Fund.
He previously served as co-founder and chairman of Tanzania’s CEOs’ Roundtable, Mwananchi Communications Ltd, Air Tanzanian Corporation, and co-chair of the UK Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry into the impact of UK Aid for Africa Free Trade Initiative.
Other notable appointments and nominations included Henry Crown Fellow of The Aspen Institute (Class of 2001), co-founder of the Africa Leadership Initiative, and Policy Fellow Resident at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Centre (2017).