Dr. Mengi – Gone, the quiet loud Tanzanian
On the eve of the 26thanniversaryof the UNESCO-declared World Press Freedom Day, the United Republic of Tanzania lost one of its revered sons in the household name of Mengi. Whatever his age was, Reginald Abraham Mengi was so much of a multi-icon that even some of his open properties went unnoticed.
In the first place, was it not symbolic for Tanzania’s independent media development icon to take his last breath a day before the World Press Freedom Day? This apparently obvious property was missed as the fraternity lost direction to sideline aspects like Forbes entry.
Having known him from his days with Cooper & Lybrand then housed at the Aga Khan’s Investment Promotion Services (IPS) building near the Askari Monument in Dar es Salaam, to ‘our’ days in the media, I have something out of the ordinary about him to share with the world. What is it
His early presence at the accountants and auditors consulting firm of world repute as a director must have given the 40-year or so partner worthy exposure and experience, which he worked on to become what he was at the time of his death in his seventies. This must have helped him to identify new areas, plan, implement and, above, all reconcile activities for his desired goals.
My focus is on his high – almost genius-- level of reconciliation and it does not matter whether you look at it from the social, economic, political or religious perspectives. Mengi really knew that actions speak louder than words. His last word inscribed by himself in his “I can, I must, I will” book sends the message across.
In the spirit of Rio and its successors, we know that it is the polluter who pays. In most cases, the settlement modus is worked upon in collaboration with institutions like – in Tanzanian terms – the National Environment Management Council (NEMC). Mengi reconciled his pollution potential as a big industrialist with the chairmanship of NEMC. Moshi Municipality’s right marker position in environmental cleanliness in the country has a Mengi bearing.
Mengi did a lot of reconciliation in the media world. He reconciled his leading position and honour at the Tanzania Journalists Association (TAJA) grouping media workers – some of whom were (to be) his employees and, therefore, likely to demand a deeper dip into his pockets for better wages. He was comfortable with this.
Almost at the height of media pluralism establishment and development in Tanzania and himself being a big investor in the independent press, he was chairman of the government-owned Tanzania Standard Newspapers (TSN) Limited Board of Directors. Some of his right hand personnel were former TSN employees. This he reconciled as well.
Mengi was even ready to rescue failing competitors. I have the then big circulation Family Mirror case in mind. The publisher of that newspaper was a Chagga. But, the fact that the Chagga support one another in business notwithstanding, assisting a competitor requires a lot of self-reconciliation. He was ready to reduce his profit margin for another person in the same business!
I have a personal experience with him. Through a friend he offered me a job from which I would have enjoyed free accommodation and transport. I declined the offer because I already had a house and an old 109 Land Rover Station Wagon on hire and I had learned to live without a vehicle. Mengi ‘tweeted’ back through the friend that he envied my level of satisfaction in life.
One day, we met face to face at the Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA). I was taking one Afro-American artist, renowned Franco the Great, to experience what the northern tourism circuit had on offer and later promote it through his works back home in New York and beyond. In my team was one of Mengi’s IPP cameramen on leave. We had a brief talk. He looked at Franco and without much ado told me: “This is very good for our country. I will incur the costs of producing a documentary.” These were the words from a person whose job offer I had declined.
Let’s face it. Indigenous and non-indigenous industrialists in Tanzania have generally lived in different camps. But the country is one. Mengi did not pick bones with anyone. He worked quietly to occupy leading positions at the national and East African levels where these differences literally melted like the body of a snail in contact with ashes. There was nothing that annoyed him like taking the indigenous business people as a bunch of impotent, incapacitated, and rent seeking investors. And he did not hide this.
In Tanzania we have seen people using their economic power to access political positions. Some have sought membership to parliament to further their economic ambitions. Mengi had no time for this. He knew how to reconcile business and politics. He kept the right distance between them and himself. Literally, for him, it was enough to just sit beside the head of state and express concerns of the industrial sector growth. Then go back and deliver.
Reading between the Chagga tradition lines, I liked the way he reconciled the execution of his estate. He acquired a neutral site (for his widow-to-be) and built a magnificent house “for Jacqueline my wife.” And it worked out well. After his burial, his kinsmen were quoted in the press as saying: “Our in-law will possess the house.”
In the course of conducting his private and religious life, I don’t know whether he had read the third part of the whiff in the Ninth Treatise of the “Seedbed of Light”. Turkish genius scholar Said Nursi observes:”…one factor that distinguishes us from animals is that we have relations with the past and the future and can comprehend both the inner and outer worlds; we can discover the apparent causes of events and know how to obtain a desired goal…” Nursi goes on to say: “Those seeking to reach God … choose to purify their souls.”
Words of the ELCT Bishop presiding over a Requiem service revealed it all. “On October 19, 2014, Dr. Mengi and Jacqueline returned to the Church and had their marriage blessed.” On this token alone, the grave that received his body symbolized the door to God’s place. So, looked at differently, even the Forbes materials can enter heaven and relax on the breast of Dr. Mengi’s middle namesake, Abraham. Billionaire Lazaros are possible.
If I were to express the late Mengi in one word, I would simply say he was an introvert. If asked to elaborate, I would add: “He was quiet but would not lose even a second to get in touch with extroverts to help him relay his message loud.”
Finally, may God, the All-Merciful, forgive Mengi for the sins of his youth and reward him in direct proportion to his time and wealth spent on and with the underprivileged. May every shilling he left behind to prop up disabled entrepreneurs translate into a lit candle. Amen.
But, but; hold on. He left behind one question on his tweet still begging an answer.“Mara nyingi nimewahi kuuliza lakini sijapata jibu sahihi. Ni nani anayewashauri washauri wa viongozi wetu?” Translation: “Many times I’ve had chance to ask (questions) but am yet to get a correct answer. Who advises the advisers of our leaders?”
There goes the Mengi challenge to his media heirs to find an answer and relay it to the people on his behalf. In his honour, media workers should think critically and apply his legacy of the accounting and auditing profession to every assignment for authentic reports and explainable failures to serve as the basis for delivering follow-ups.
RIP Dr. Mengi. Your inspirations live on.