(Bloomberg) -- Ali Hassan Mwinyi, who during two terms as Tanzania’s president oversaw the introduction of a multiparty democracy and the liberalization of the economy, has died. He was 98.

Mwinyi died from lung cancer in Tanzania’s commercial hub, Dar es Salaam, where he had been hospitalized for several weeks, President Samia Suluhu Hassan announced on state television TBC1. He said there will be seven days of national mourning and Mwinyi will be laid to rest on March 2 in Zanzibar.

Mwinyi took office in 1985, succeeding Tanzania’s charismatic founding president, Julius Nyerere, who had led the country to independence from Britain in 1961 and headed a one-party state for 24 years. 

Nyerere had introduced a homegrown form of socialism, known as Ujamaa, which took a heavy toll on the economy and led to crippling shortages of food, clothing, fuel and other necessities. The problems were compounded by an eight-month war with neighboring Uganda, which culminated in the overthrow of dictator Idi Amin.

As president, Mwinyi set about loosening state controls, encouraging private investment and opening up the state-dominated media. He also repaired Tanzania’s relationship with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which had become strained during Nyerere’s rule.

A multiparty system was introduced in 1992, and Mwinyi stepped down three years later — setting a precedent of Tanzanian leaders observing term limits. He was lauded internationally, yet endured stinging public criticism from Nyerere — who remained widely revered as the father of the nation — for abandoning socialism and failing to tackle corruption.

Zanzibar Upbringing

Born in the eastern village of Kivure on May 8, 1925, Mwinyi was raised in the semiautonomous island of Zanzibar and worked as a teacher before joining the government. He held several senior positions, including permanent secretary in Zanzibar’s education ministry.

He was appointed minister of state in Nyerere’s office in 1970 and served as Tanzania’s ambassador to Egypt from 1977 to 1982. He rejoined the cabinet upon his return, heading the health, natural resources and home affairs ministries. 

He stepped down as home affairs minister in 1977 following an outcry over the torture and deaths of a number of suspects rounded up during a police crackdown on two communities where people accused of witchcraft had been killed. In his resignation letter, he said that although he hadn’t participated in those crimes or issued instructions for them to be committed, he couldn’t escape responsibility as a cabinet minister. 

His decision to take accountability and resign was — and remains — a rare act for a senior Tanzanian politician, and was widely praised. 

Resuscitating his political career, Mwinyi was named president of Zanzibar and vice president of Tanzania in 1984. He ascended to Tanzania’s presidency the next year, as Nyerere retired.

Mwinyi lived with his family in the commercial hub of Dar es Salaam after stepping down as president and maintained a low public profile. A moderate Muslim, he had two wives and several children, including Hussein Mwinyi, Zanzibar’s current president.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.