Tanzania’s John Magufuli: Africa’s unsung hero
March 29, 2021645 views0 comments
By Olukayode Oyeleye
LAST WEDNESDAY WAS an emotional day in Tanzania as the late President John Magufuli’s remains got rousing welcome back to his hometown, Chato, for burial. John Pombe Joseph Magufuli, who died a week earlier, was born on October29, 1959. His ascent to power and his stay at the helm of affairs in Tanzania did not seem to have been a shining or attractive one, particularly to foreign media as Magufuli was unrecognised and his regime got sparse and little coverage, even in African circles while in office. In death, however, it seems his deeds and accomplishments are fast becoming obvious. It needs to be emphasised that this write-up was a product of motivation by a non-Tanzanian African friend and professional colleague that has been known for well over 35 years. This non-Tanzanian technocrat, resident in Tanzania for the past decade made his comments about Magufuli in a rather detached, objective and forceful manner that set the tone for this write-up. His point was capped with the statement that he is not a voter and is not involved in Tanzanian politics in any way.
Here are the points he shared: “President John Magufuli made Tanzania a middle Income country. He rejected a $10 billion loan from China. He didn’t go on state trips outside Africa. He reduced the cabinet’s size from 30 to 19. He banned government officials from foreign trips and abolished their tax exemptions. Magufuli accused UK company, Acacia Mining, of illegal mining and ordered them to pay $193 billion for undervaluing Tanzania’s gold exports. Over 250 containers of theirs were seized at Dar es Salaam port. They paid $300 million and gave Tanzania 16 per cent ownership in three mines. Magufuli introduced free education in government schools in 2016. He acquired six Air Tanzania planes, expanded Terminal III of Julius Nyerere International Airport. He built Tanzania Standard Gauge Railway, Mfugale Flyover, Julius Nyerere Hydropower Station, Ubungo Interchange. Dr. Magufuli built Selander Bridge, Kigongo-Busisi Bridge, Huduma Bora Za Afya, Vituo Bora Za Afya, expanded Port of Dar es Salaam, Dodoma Bus Terminal, an LNG plant, a water project, a wind farm project, Uhuru Hospital project, a gold refinery plant, and Magufuli Bus Terminal.” Late President, Dr. John Magufuli, excelled in infrastructure and financial affairs. He faced numerous accusations of human rights abuses and was accused of repressing the opposition. He also banned explicit images or videos online. President John Magufuli resuscitated Tanzania’s national carrier, Air Tanzania. He wasn’t a saint, but was a true son of Africa.”
For a country that has experienced a lull in its economy for a while and has been ruled with socialist ideals for so long, Magufuli came across as a breath of fresh air and a departure from the retrogressive ways of the past, particularly one which involved massive official corruption. His policies should be a good guide to other African political leaders, policy makers and business thinkers, especially the promoters of the new African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), recognising the central place of commodities – particularly minerals – in African trade. In a previous write-up published by this newspaper by this same writer on May 13, 2019, a passing reference was made to John Magufuli. The write-up, published under the title “Land, food and energy security: What future for Africa?” sought to emphasise the need for responsible management of Africa’s material resources. The quotes from the following two paragraphs capture the thoughts then and how Magufuli came into reckoning.
“Africa is home to most of the world’s mineral deposits, but Africans seem to be at a disadvantage in tapping into the benefits of these resources. African minerals are top-rated. Examples are bauxite, cobalt, diamond, phosphate rock, platinum group metals, vermiculite and zirconium. Benefits of these minerals have gone mostly to importing countries as Africa exports them in raw forms, thus attracting insignificant revenues from their exports. Niger Republic, for instance, has the world’s largest uranium underground mine, yet it is one of the poorest countries in Africa. Although Namibia is the world’s fourth largest uranium supplier, the Chinese largest investment is arguably their uranium mining company based in Namibia.
Similar cases of abundance in other mineral deposits have been made for DRC, Zambia, South Africa, Mozambique, Guinea, Ghana, Botswana, and Tanzania. Tanzania, in particular, is among a growing band of mineral-rich African nations tightening regulations on foreign companies. At the initiative of John Magufuli, the country’s president, a new mining law has been passed which, in future, will require foreign companies to pay higher taxes. Their operations in the country henceforth must be 16 per cent locally owned while existing agreements with the government will be allowed to be renegotiated.”
A point has to be stressed here about Magufuli’s seeming lacklustre regime in the eyes of many critics, and that point can be put in perspectives in the form of the question of “whose interests did he serve as a President? Magufuli’s sudden exit should raise more issues than one. It should raise the issue of possible external conspiracies, especially from foreign vested interests. Students, analysts and pundits on Africa’s economic development need to take special interests in Magufuli’s six year rule in Tanzania, the sea change he has brought about in the country’s social and economic milieu and the possible push-back from local and foreign interests that have been jeopardised. The attempt of one Western cable news network, in a news item last week, to portray Magufuli as “COVID-19 sceptic” not only appears to miss the point, it also appears to be a deliberate emphasis, made an issue leading up to his death – a form of distraction from what should now be the central issue of widespread discourse. This raises an important issue of the manipulative tendencies of influential foreign media and their ability to control the narratives in developing countries.
The message of Magufuli phenomenon should not be lost on Africa and African leaders. Countries, such as Nigeria, that have serially missed opportunities to transform their economies need to read from Magufuli’s leadership playbook. They should see quickly through the veneer of benevolence of foreign print and electronic media that choose to promote the humdrum, pedestrian and superficial issues in Africa, but neglecting major issues of greater significance. The African Union, in particular, would benefit from creating a session – not just a minute silence – for John Magufuli and attempt to examine his performance and giant strides in office as a possible template for many others who are beholden to foreign powers in business and government circles. His style has redefined Africa and those leaders who are truly keen on transforming Africa should study his approach to governance. Only last week, one of Africa’s despots has just ‘won’ an election to run for another term after 36 years in office in a country that hardly gets a mention in Africa’s development stories.
Those who have been in office for decades should recognise their shame and the futility of self-perpetuation in office at the expense of their countries’ growth and development. It was impressive to hear one Tanzanian commentator confidently saying that Magufuli “restricted official foreign trips,” refused to take “orders from African enemies, shied away from foreign loans, tackled corruption and human rights abuse, revived and revamped Tanzania’s economy, stopped the colonial exploitation of Tanzania’s wealth of diamond, gold and platinum, stopped the export of raw materials” as he “found out that they have been stealing from Tanzania.” His records included building of roads, airports, railway lines and that, before his death, he began to build oil pipeline from Uganda. Magufuli’s diplomatic relations approach and foreign policies were a clear departure from those of many African leaders. His development policy, particularly in the area of infrastructure was exemplified by his bold initiatives on reviving the railway system. On July 2016, Magufuli chose to adopt a big policy shift from its regional neighbours, who have bought into China’s fund, build and operate model to fund their railway projects. He decided on a $700 million Eurobond and concessional loans to fund the construction of his country’s standard gauge railway.
It is difficult for such a man not to be in the black books of many who have been used to plundering Africa to feather their own nests, or those who have found an easy avenue for entering into deals which have put many African countries at a disadvantage. Magufuli reportedly achieved in six years what many others would have taken sixty years to achieve, because he was God-fearing, because he loved his country, because he wasn’t looking for praise singing, because he was courageous. How many African leaders would defy criticisms from foreign countries, stand their ground on behalf of their people and seek to make their countries great? Magufuli was apparently deaf to criticisms and negative press, but focused more on what would make Tanzania great. Like Sweden did at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tanzania under Magufuli did not shut down its economy, unlike many African countries that took that decision. Whether or not Magufuli was right is a matter for debaters and analysts to figure out. His boldness and refusal to embark on panicky measures stood him out as a hero. Another issue on which Magufuli was vilified was his stance against the LGBTQ agenda, on which basis the liberal Western media attempted to portray him as an evil man. The key issue now is not whether one agrees with Magufuli on all fronts, but rather that he stood tall among minions in nations’ leadership and came across as one that had a vision of greatness in his mind for his home country. Did he achieve that vision? Time will tell as many truly great men are criticised in their lifetime but only get posthumous accolades after all their works are open to friends and foes alike to see. African leaders alive today and currently holding public positions should learn something from John Magufuli’s example, imperfect though as it may seem.
Dr. Oyeleye, a consultant, journalist and policy analyst, can be reached via: oyeson2@yahoo. co.uk Twitter: @OlukayodeOyele1