BY Mweha Msemo, 8:06am May 06, 2018,

Patriotic acts in Africa that paid off half a century later

Tanzanian president John Magufuli and discoverer of Tanzanite Jumanne Mhero Ngoma

Sometimes you just wonder why people that do great things can be forgotten and shunned. Here are stories of two patriotic men who, at different times and places, gave their countries identity but had to endure long suffering to gain their deserving rewards, as well as public recognition and honour.

1. Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi – Nigeria

Patriotic acts in Africa that paid off half a century later

In 2006, Sunday Olawale Olaniran, an undergraduate at the University of Ibadan was compiling a pamphlet on Nigeria’s history. It was during his research for that history that he learned of the designer of the Nigerian flag and decided to track him down.

He finally found the man, Michael Taiwo Akinkunmi, who was then living by himself only depending on assistance from his neighbours.

Mr Akinkunmi took up a challenge to design the Nigerian flag when he was studying in the United Kingdom, in 1959. He was a 23-year-old engineering student at Norwood Technical College, in southwest London, when he spotted a newspaper advert calling on people to enter a competition to design the Nigerian flag.

A short time later, he submitted his design to Lagos, and in October of the following year received a letter inviting him to the London office of the High Commissioner for Nigeria in the United Kingdom, where he was informed that his design had been selected. He had won 100 pounds ($281 in 1959) as well as a place in Nigeria’s history books. The design was officially used on October 1, 1960, Nigeria’s Independence Day.

Since then, Mr Akinkunmi was never heard of again until Olaniran’s discovery of him in 2006 and decided to contact a journalist and collected a story that was published in the national newspaper, The Sun, on October 1, 2006. The published story introduced Akinkunmi to Nigerians.

Olaniran and other supporters began writing to the Nigerian government about Akinkunmi, and the then minister of information, Dora Akunyili, got hold of the story and took a trip to meet the man in Ibadan.

During Nigeria’s golden jubilee celebrations in October 2010, Akinkunmi received a presidential award for being a distinguished Nigerian. In 2014, he received a national honour from then-president Goodluck Jonathan in Abuja, and was also given a lifetime’s salary of a presidential special assistance – around 800,000 naira (roughly $4,000) – is paid into his account every month.

2. Jumanne Mhero Ngoma – Tanzania

Patriotic acts in Africa that paid off half a century later

In January 1967, Jumanne Mhero Ngoma, was walking in the bush at Merelani hills in Kiteto district, near the foothills of Kilimanjaro, when he stumbled on strangely sparkling blue stones that he could quickly tell were a big-ticket.

The then 28-year-old Meru herdsman had just stumbled on Tanzanite – one of the world’s most sought-after minerals. Tanzanite is a rare gemstone found in only one place on Earth – Tanzania.

Three years later, he was issued with a certificate of recognition signed by the country’s first president on October 10, 1980, and was presented with a financial reward of 50,000 Tanzanian shillings (roughly US$21 at today’s exchange rate) for his efforts.

In 1984, he was issued with another certificate for scientific discovery by Tanzania Commission for Science and Technology but he was still struggling financially all this time. Despite his discovery of a multi-billion industry, until recently, Ngoma was helplessly living in poverty.

The information about Mr Ngoma and his condition reached Tanzanian President, John Magufuli, through a text message that was sent to him by his daughter pleading with the President to help her father who is sick. Mr Ngoma has been ill and partially paralyzed for a long time and had not been able to seek medical attention due to financial constraints.

In April 2018, a half a century later after the historic discovery, President Magufuli declared the man as a patriotic citizen and gave him a sum of Tshs 100 Million ($40,000) as he unveiled the 24km wall that was built around the mine of the precious gem. He referred to Ngoma as “the hero of the nation who has for long been forgotten and neglected”.

Magufuli’s recognition of Mr. Ngoma ended years of speculations over the matter of who is the genuine discoverer.
Other people that claimed to have discovered the precious stone include another local man, Ali Juuyawatu and an Indian tailor, Manuel de Souza, but documents from the mineral office in Dodoma indicate Mr Ngoma was the first person to report on tanzanite discovery.

Tanzanite is one of the best-selling coloured stones in today’s gem and jewellery markets. That is a surprise considering that it was only discovered in the 1960s, while all of the other best-selling coloured stones have been known for centuries.


Last Edited by:Ismail Akwei Updated: May 6, 2018


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