The signs of the stroke were there alright, alongside the realisation in many people’s minds that not many people tend to survive such an affliction, but it was still as if people expected him to continue living regardless.
But it was not to be, and on Thursday, disbelief was in the air when his own television station announced that one of Tanzania’s most recognisable public figures had passed at the age of 75.
|Mengi: dinning out with wife|
Mengi, who trained as a financial expert in the United Kingdom and worked for a while with a consulting firm in Dar es Salaam, became one of the few nationals who grabbed the opportunities created by the economic liberalisation ushered in during the 1980s by president Ali Hassan Mwinyi after decades of socialist experimentation by founding president Julius Nyerere.
|Mengi: showcasing his marital and family affairs|
He was quick off the starting block. He set up a number of manufacturing concerns, trying his hand at ballpoint pens, body-care products, sanitary pads and bottled water, as well as holding a Coca Cola franchise and others, all under the Industrial Projects Promotion brand.
In a culture where capitalism was frowned upon, Mengi was an enthusiastic trailblazer. He did what he did with surprising energy, and encouraged others to join him to form industrialists’ lobbies.
|Mengi: cruising out with wife|
This helped give voice to the budding merchant and industrialists’ guilds at a time when it was not very sexy to be an investor.
When the media scene was freed up in the early 1990s, Mengi was among the very first Tanzanian entrepreneurs to jump into the fray, establishing the first television station on the mainland—Zanzibar. Then a radio station and a string of newspapers in Kiswahili and English. These investments made Mengi a formidable figure on the national and regional media scene, affording him a lot of purchase in the marketplace of ideas.
He was an ardent protector of the environment and served as chair of important environmental bodies. He paid special attention to the protection of Mount Kilimanjaro, the proud African giant that stands in his backyard at Machame village, outside Moshi.
|Mengi: Crushing out with wife|
He was active in the Tanzanian and East African media, opening a television and radio station dedicated to East Africa, through which a constant flow of youthful exchanges of views, opinions and perspectives enlivens weighty discussions among the young in the region.
In Tanzania, for many years till his death he was chair of the Media Owners Association of Tanzania, a mouthpiece of media owners that kept knocking on the gates of government demanding this or that other break for those mad enough to want to invest in media.
|Mengi: A core family man|
He was particularly irked by the refusal by government to turn the Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation into a public broadcasting service instead of maintaining it as a government mouthpiece, and increasingly, a propaganda organ of the ruling party.
Mengi argued, correctly, that a body that is funded by the taxpayer should not do political work for the government of the day, but that rather it should serve all sections of society.
|Mengi: chilling out with his family|
Mengi will be remembered by many for his tireless efforts to help the needy, not only because he gave generously, but also, and especially, because he popularised causes that had not been talked about before.
We have many people in our midst who can be said to be richer than Reginald Mengi, but where are they when it comes to giving to those who are less fortunate?
|Mengi: cycling out with wife and kids|
It is likely that Tanzanians will remember this soft-spoken man, not for the amount of money he gave to charity, but for the rich heart that made him give gladly. Let’s all fete him, for Reginald Abraham Mengi was good people.