Incandescent with fury, a tornado, Lowassa thus earned my respect

Saturday February 17 2024

Former Tanzanian prime minister Edward Lowassa. PHOTO | THE CITIZEN | NMG


The news of the passing of Edward Lowassa was sad to receive. I had to sit with it for a day to understand where this welling of emotion was coming from.

Death is too much a part of life in Dar es Salaam for this to evoke tenderness.

But it came to me in an image: He was in a field, wearing gumboots. It looked muddy there. It was during some campaign or another. The cameras were all focused on him as he inspected the land.

And then he paused and looked off to the side, frowning slightly like he was missing something.

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He then held out his arm and his wife came into view, picking her way delicately through the muck. She reached him and took his hand and he settled and went back to marketing himself as a desirable candidate.


Experts will tell you all the ways in which one can manufacture appeal to the public. A bonny face, a good suit, a tie in the right colour.

There are metrics and social scientists who specialise in using them to manipulate us into voting for this one or that one. So very logical.

And yet, up until that instance I can admit I was happily impervious to Mr Lowassa as a potential head of state.

While in Tanzania our presidents tend to seem like a surprise, not all of them have been unintentional in their careers. Edward Lowassa was a man who never hid his ambition, something that I found refreshingly honest and also quite concerning.

There is a certain flavour of “I want to be president” that triggers my distaste. It is the reason I still won’t read any of Barack Obama’s books. Take that as you will.

Mr Lowassa was prime minister for a very brief but impactful period.

His reputation for effectiveness and efficiency proved right, the country felt dynamic under his stewardship. That all ended with a spectacular resignation that I got to watch live.

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I believe I called him “incandescent with fury,” as beautiful to witness as a tornado or a volcanic eruption. He earned my respect, if not my affection.

Or so I thought. During his campaign as the Chadema presidential candidate, I grilled a member of the party about Mzee’s wellness. How dare they make such demands on him? Later still, I quietly kept tabs. He retired from public life. He was overseas for treatment. He was back home.

I watched the cortège ferry his casket from our municipality to the airport. It is surprisingly poignant every time they show the live feed of a Bongolander’s last trip from the city to their final resting place.

It seems that, perhaps — and let this remain between us — there is a little bit of me that cared about this fierce, intelligent man, who always seemed just a little bit calmer with his wife’s hand in his. Take that as you will.

Farewell, Edward Ngoyai Lowassa. Rest, in peace. While this worldly chapter has ended, I hope you know you left a legacy and, for the upcoming generations, the story has just begun being told.

If they ask me, I will begin the story thus: “He was tall and ran lean, in the way of his people. He had a quietly commanding presence, and his trademark: A shock of bright, white hair…”