John Pombe Magufuli is no more and as someone close to me often says, God bless the dead. He was a leader who divided opinion just as starkly as night and day. You either loved him or you hated the man for his leadership style.
That is why over the past few weeks as people have been mourning him, the words visionary and courageous have been thrown around with as much gusto as the words dictator and autocrat.
In East Africa, he was something of an enigma. While here in Kenya we have to contend with a leader who has sold our country for “free money” in form of loans and taking on mountains of debt, Magufuli categorically refused to do the same. Infact, he cut down the size of his cabinet and ensured his ministers drove simple cars and not the fuel guzzlers we see here in Kenya.
32 years of being together: Mama Janeth Magufuli breaks down in tears at husband’s funeral service (Video)
As for the bare-faced greed for power that Ugandans see in their president Yoweri Museveni, Magufuli knew how to keep his hand hidden within a velvet glove. His was not an offensive blatant thirst to keep the reigns of power. He had time again said he would respect the Tanzanian constitutional limits to his presidency.
His detractors will cite his decision not to lock down Tanzania while the rest of the world dealt with Covid-19 and the fact that he seemed opposed to Covid testing which he claimed to have proven as false and was also very sceptical about the vaccine.
Another thing they complain about is the fact that he was often heavy-handed to his detractors and critics. Infact, it is reported that one of his political opponent, Tundu Lissu, had his car shot up. I would however like to invite you to take a look at the man so that I can explain why he was the leader for our times.
Magufuli started off his career as being a chemist and at one point became a teacher before eventually becoming Tanzania’s minister of public works between 2005-2015 and it was while he served in this capacity that many caught glimpses of his bullish nature. Thereafter, he was cleared by CCM to be its presidential candidate and he won the top seat in 2015.
The man took office and came down hard on fraudulent ghost workers, asking employees to justify their jobs. He sometimes fired public officials on live television. He also embarked on ambitious and aggressive public works such as dams, football stadiums, railway lines, roads and attempted to revive Air Tanzania.
They say you have to crack an egg to make an omelette and Magufuli wasn’t shy about doing this. He quickly became authoritarian and employed repressive tactics against his detractors and critics including music artists, newspapers and other media outlets. Infact, they were sometimes charged with sedition, “immorality” or “insulting” the president. This was also said to have been furthered by his ultra-conservative Catholic faith.
That said, the thing that we as Kenyans ought to focus on is the fact that he managed to steer the Tanzanian economy clear of ruinous debt and rampant corruption. Infact, at one point, he is quoted as having said the manner in which Kenya is signing one-sided agreements is something only a mad man would do. That is why when President Uhuru was talking about the man, he ironically said,
“In a very short span of time, President Magufuli has shown that we as Africans are able to disentangle ourselves from the dependence of foreigners and that we have the ability to manage our own economy and ensure that our people get what is rightful to them.”
That is where our focus needs to be on with the fact that Kenyan debt has crippled the country. While explaining what he strove to defend Tanzania against and describing the type of loan agreements Kenya has agreed to, Magufuli said,
“Some of the conditions set by these investors could only be agreed upon by mtu wa kichaa. Imagine someone telling you that I will build you a port but on a the condition you will not be allowed to construct or develop any other port in the country for a specified period. That investor also demands you will also not be allowed to collect revenue (at the port they have constructed), not even TRA (Tanzania Revenue Authority) will be allowed within the premises of that investment.”
You see, my argument is that as a developing nation, certain truths are real about the state of reality in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. We always hear media pundits and old heads preach about the need for a benevolent dictator. That to a certain extent is what you got with Magufuli. He fought to ensure the Tanzanian economy grew and the IMF recognized it as one of the best performing sub-Saharan economies. He avoided the ruinous debt that Uhuru Kenyatta has pushed onto Kenyans and even though he could have done more to handle Covid-19 (by asking people to adhere to the guidelines of wearing masks and washing their hands), he ensured the economy avoided the crippling effects of disorganized lockdowns that have weighed heavily on Wanjiku in Kenya.
What about his development projects? They not only gave employment to alot of Tanzanians but he ensured they wouldn’t later turn out to be an avenue for donors to hold the country at ransom. That is why, despite his short-comings as a leader, I believe history will remember him kindly and look at him as an example of the type of leader created by and needed by our time.
April 22, 2021