Rashidi Mfaume Kawawa (born 1929), Tanzanian political leader, devoted his career to policies designed to increase his fellow citizens' standard of living.
The son of an elephant hunter and the eldest of eight children, Rashidi Mfaume Kawawa was born in the Songea district of Tanganyika (now Tanzania) in eastern Africa. After primary schooling in Dar es Salaam, he finished his formal education at Tabora Government Secondary School (1951-1956), the alma mater of Julius Nyerere, leader in the fight for Tanganyika's independence. Kawawa refused the opportunity to continue his education at Uganda's Makerere College, thus enabling his father to use the family's limited resources to educate his siblings.
Kawawa's first job was as a Public Works Department accounts clerk. This was a most difficult period for the young man. With the death of his father, he assumed the responsibility of supporting his younger brothers and sisters. In 1951 Kawawa realized a long-standing dream of becoming a social worker. He had actually inaugurated this career by organizing a literacy campaign for adults while a student in Dar es Salaam.
On his new job Kawawa joined a mobile film unit engaged in government literacy programs. When it was decided to use the unit for educational filming, he was chosen as the only Tanzanian leading actor. He also served as a scriptwriter and a producer. Perhaps the most important aspect of Kawawa's social worker career occurred when he was sent to central Tanzania (1953) to work among Kikuyu detainees held because of the Kenyan Mau Mau movement. He later described his successful work there as the "greatest challenge of my life."
Kawawa joined the Tanganyika African Government Services Association, becoming its assistant general secretary in 1951 and its president in 1955. His main task was securing rights for government employees due them under Tanganyika's laws. Realizing the advantages of a nationwide organization, Kawawa helped found the Tanganyika Federation of Labor (TFL) and was elected its first general secretary in 1955.
The Tanganyikan independence movement was then underway, directed by Julius Nyerere of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU). Kawawa's government employment prevented him from political participation, but his commitment to use the unions to further independence led to his resignation in February 1956 to devote his time and talents to labor and political organization. Joining TANU, he became a central committee member (1957) and vice president (1960). In the meantime Kawawa had been appointed to the Legislative Council (1957), remaining a member until 1960. In September 1960, following his first appointment to Cabinet rank, he resigned from the TFL to concentrate on politics.
When Prime Minister Nyerere of the now independent Tanganyika resigned for a brief period in 1962, Kawawa replaced him until his return to office. After 1964 Kawawa held the office of second vice president of Tanzania (formed from the union of Tanganyika and the island republic of Zanzibar), serving as Nyerere's principal assistant for mainland affairs and as leader of the National Assembly.
Nyerere resigned as Tanzania's president in 1985, and Kawawa left government service as well. However, he was seen once more in the political spotlight when he attended the seventy-fifth birthday celebration of former president Nyerere in early 1997.
Judith Hare Listowell, The Making of Tanganyika (1965); A Survey of East African History, (1968) B. A. Ogot and J. A. Kiernan, eds.; Tanzanian delegation, UN.