Juma Volter releases a riveting autobiography

Saturday September 16 2023

Juma Volter Mwapachu. PHOTO | POOL


Juma Volter (JV) Mwapachu) has just given us, and posterity, another book which, it is fair to predict, will attract much greater attention than his earlier efforts, because it is a peek into his own life. The autobiography is a compendium comprising a personal history, articles, and speeches. It also includes a photo album with beautiful pictures that capture the highlights of his life.

After reading the book, I could not help but be awed by the courage of the thought to undertake it amidst personal hardship and family tragedy. JV has amply demonstrated the meaning of the hackneyed saying, “Where there is a will there is a way.”

The auto is a veritable record of the intimate personal life of the man through the different phases of life to where he is today: retired but not tired, satisfied with a life well-lived and achievements chalked up: saddened by the tragedies of the departure of so many close and beloved people. Grief echoes as you flip through the pages and read about the demise of Hamza (father); Juliana (mother); Harith (son) Harith Bakari (elder brother); Wendo, (younger sibling} and Mark Bomani (beloved brother-in-law and confidant).

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The book offers a detailed narrative of a (clearly) privileged sapling, born into an African elite family with connections to the independence movement, the father was among the founding members. As a young boy, therefore, he knew Julius Nyerere as well as many other TANU bigwigs as ‘uncles.

Because of these connections, JV’s career path was heavily influenced by the then-president, Julius Nyerere. He stopped JV from flying to the United Kingdom for studies and insisted he study law in Dar es Salaam.


It should be noted that JV's dad, Hamza Mwapachu had been senior to Nyerere at Makerere and had introduced the latter to the originators of the fermenting bubbles of the nascent nationalistic movement, which were soon to crystallize into a fully-fledged pro-independence movement under the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU).

JV discusses his ancestry at length, tracing his father’s family among the Wadigo of the Kenyan coast, and on his mother’s side, a Dutchman whose daughter, Juliana, attracted young Hamza’s amorous attentions. At the time of the courtship, Hamza was working as a medical officer around Lake Victoria.

In the book, JV suspects the colonial administration was wary of his father’s involvement with TANU and kept transferring him from place to place. These transfers opened vistas and multiplied friendships.

The book tells of life-long friendships birthed at Tabora school and St Michael’s and St George’s, Iringa, the ‘white school’ that was in the process of ‘nationalisation’ to make it an African school.

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Between Tabora and Iringa, JV recounts how he met people who have remained close to these twilight years. Names like George Kilindu, Wilfred Mwabulambo, Davies Mwaikambo and Joseph Mungai are central to the experiences enjoyed in these two schools.

The section about Dar es Salaam University is interesting in that it describes the events of 1966, which led to college closure, and the requisite apology before readmission. It was Mama Juliana who signed the obsequious letter to Nyerere before JV was readmitted to complete his legal studies.

Among the least known aspects of JV’s career is that he was once a uniformed police officer. He was advised by another ‘uncle’ who was the minister of police to quit because senior cops were not happy to see Nyerere’s ‘favourite son’ joining the cops.

He went into finance and worked in decisive roles in both the public and private sectors-- before he moved to the pinnacle of diplomatic service as ambassador to Paris (2002) and secretary-general of the East African Community (2006).