Tanzania’s rogue president

A BIT like President Donald Trump, Tanzania’s president, John Magufuli, likes to fire employees on television. In November Mr Magafuli used a live broadcast from a small town in the north of the country summarily to dismiss two officials after they failed to remember instantly details in their budgets. When one protested that she couldn’t reasonably be expected to be able to recall every figure, Mr Magufuli told her, “You can’t talk to me like that.”

Sacking minor officials in front of an audience is only one part of Mr Magufuli’s authoritarian populism. Since coming to power in the country of 55m on the east coast of Africa in 2015, Mr Magufuli, nicknamed “the bulldozer” from his time as roads minister, has bashed foreign-owned businesses with impossible tax demands, ordered pregnant girls to be kicked out of school, shut down newspapers and locked up “immoral” musicians who criticise him. A journalist and opposition party members have disappeared, political rallies have been banned and mutilated bodies have washed up on the shores of Coco Beach in Dar es Salaam, the commercial capital. Mr Magufuli is fast transforming Tanzania from a flawed democracy into one of Africa’s more brutal dictatorships. It is a lesson in how easily weak institutions can be hijacked and how quickly democratic progress can be undone.

Mr Magufuli was an unlikely candidate to run Tanzania. Though it has had multiparty elections since 1994, the country has been run exclusively by one organisation, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), the “party of the revolution”, since its formation in 1977. But unlike his predecessors, Mr Magufuli is no party man. In the nomination process for the election of 2015 he was not the favourite of any faction. Facing the biggest challenge to its rule since 1994, however, the party seemed minded to pick somebody with the aura of being an “outsider” who was not tainted by the allegations of corruption dogging it. Mr Magufuli seems to have won by having few enemies rather than many allies.

Within weeks of taking office, he excited even sceptics. He turned up at offices to check if Tanzania’s famously lackadaisical civil servants were at work. Businesspeople swooned after he sacked dozens of officials suspected of cronyism. In neighbouring Kenya, where president Uhuru Kenyatta’s government has not prosecuted a single major corruption case in six years, fans demanded their own Magufuli.

But the honeymoon did not last long. When Mr Magufuli last year presented Acacia, a London-listed gold-mining company, with a bill for $190bn in supposedly unpaid taxes (a figure equivalent to roughly four times Tanzania’s entire GDP), it was the latest confirmation that Mr Magufuli’s anti-corruption strategy is about as precise as a blunderbuss. He distrusts not only Western investors but also the Chinese, who are building infrastructure across east Africa. He tells his ministers that they are “not the same Chinese” as the Maoists who built the Tazara railway line linking Tanzania to Zambia in the 1970s. Rather than being freed from corruption, the economy is grinding to a halt under the weight of arbitrary tax demands.

Mr Magufuli’s approach to political opposition is no better. Though CCM has never lost an election, in recent years Tanzania’s politics did seem to have been opening up. Under Mr Magufuli, that has all changed. Less than a year after coming to power, he had banned all political rallies (the president gets around the ban himself by having “non-political” public events with civil servants). MPs are allowed to campaign only in their own constituencies (and several have been arrested). Several newspapers have been temporarily closed by the government, and two, linked to Chadema, an opposition party, remain so.

Extrajudicial violence, which used to be almost unknown on the mainland, is escalating. In September Tundu Lissu, a prominent opposition MP, was shot and injured outside his house in Dodoma, the sleepy capital. Minor political figures have simply disappeared.

Not all of the violence is by the state. Over the past year about a dozen police officers have been killed in Kibiti, a mostly Muslim coastal town about 70km south of Dar es Salaam. The police have seemingly responded in kind. Yet little news leaks out from the region. Foreign journalists are turned back long before they reach Kibiti; a Tanzanian journalist investigating the killings has been missing for three months.

Tanzania’s politics have never been truly open, but what is different now is that even CCM, which is by far the country’s most stable institution, is cowed. Under Tanzania’s constitution, little changed since it was written in 1977 by Julius Nyerere, the country’s founding father, power is almost entirely concentrated in the presidency (Nyerere himself once joked to a BBC reporter: “I have sufficient powers under the constitution to be a dictator”). Mr Magufuli is both head of state and chairman of the party, with the power to hire and fire civil servants, including judges, as he pleases. On taking office, he quickly filled important posts in the government and the party with his own allies.

Few are willing to speak up against the presidency, says one CCM MP. There is little hope of change coming through the ballot box since the opposition is crushed and the next election, in 2020, will probably be rigged. Nor is there much hope that the party can restrain Mr Magufuli. Some hope that Jakaya Kikwete and Benjamin Mkapa, two former presidents, can persuade him to change course. Others dream, seemingly forlornly, that the party will revolt.

The main lesson of Tanzania is that constitutions which concentrate power in the presidency can quickly be subverted. Democracy flourished between 1994 and 2015 because the bigwigs in CCM saw the benefits of a more open, pluralistic economy. But they failed to do the tedious work of strengthening institutions and limiting the powers of their successors. Now they have lost their chance to embed the reforms and the country faces ruin. That should be a lesson to other African elites.

This article appeared in the Middle East and Africasection of the print edition under the headline “Falling into dictatorship”

At least there is a measure of dissension from within and an opposition that has him tethered to his own standards.

The micro warehouse manager.
Deliquescence galore with ujamaa ushamba

Magufuli ako sawa.

The west will like to see weak, inept, and puppet leaders installed in the name of shit democracy.

Democracy is actually a trojan horse!

So say and tell, what in particular make Mafunguo a rude bwai in odiero’s eyes?

I can respect a man of principals and truth be told, Magufuli has a clearer conscience than Uhuru as far as fighting corruption is concerned. Fighting corruption is something the president of a country must lead from the front. That is why I felt that Uhuru should have resigned instead of shamelessly asking Kenyans “mnataka nifanye nini” and that some of the most corrupt individuals in Kenya since 1992 are thriving right under Uhuru’s nose.
Magufuli though doesn’t understand that wealth is allergic to uncertainty. This is why anybody in Kenya who has anything worth having have a healthy fear of a Raila presidency. These radical overnight declarations that become public policy are nothing but uncertainties to potential investors. Kenya is more corrupt than Tanzania but investors still choose to come to Kenya. That should tell Magufuli something

I think uncertainty in Magufuli regime is only for those who are corrupt and still have mentality of pre-magufuli era.

Like you have said, Magufuli seem to already has a very clear road map (talk win-win contracts in mining, , zero tolerance on corruption, …, therefore those who do not fit in are free to move to countries where they fit in!

As you rightly put, a astute leader cannot please every tom, harry and dick investors. Its no wonder we have countries such as Panama, cayman,…

The difference is that the Constitution of Kenya gives power to it’s people but in Tz its only vested on the presidency.
SASA mnataka nifanye nini and u r the ones deciding…activist con…STI… institution


Honestly, RAILA is not the answer to our problems as many claim, he is part of the problem. LOOK at how he handles allegations of corruption facing his allies. LOOK at how he handles corrupt leaders within ODM…you expect him to change once he gets full-blown power? LOOK at how he runs his party and tell me that is how you want to see the country run. WE NEED A NEW CROP OF LEADERS, every present leader is part of the problem.

FYI: RAILAS presidency is feared by a tribe that his campaigns since 2007 have targetted. WAKIKUYU WAMEJENGEWA BARABARA mpaka kwa nyumba, WAKIKUYU wanapewa pesa equity…blah blah blah. MAKE a people your target and they will respond in kind. It is not that we fear a leader who will fight corruption, we FEAR a leader who promises to target a community!

Tanzania is virtually a one-party state.

Magufuli is changing Tanzania.Give him a few more terms na hiyo ujinga ya corruption itakuwa imekwisha huko TZ.There is a small problem though…He is way ahead of many folks interms of work ethos and vision.Wa TZ wenyewe ni wavivu sana…and that makes him sick when he sees hows ordinary folks in a neighbouring country hustle like sh*t to make ends meet.

There are term limits in TZ unless CCM changes the constitution.

Kikwete was very understanding
Imagine burning chicks and auctioning masai cows, they criss crossed Kenya and Tazania before the magufool was conceived !

They are doing well, really.
And the country follks aren’t a bit lazy, as you have said. They are a respectably resilient lot. That Magufuli is the one who is being over ambitious. He took over when Tanzania had all but caught up with her peers in the region. Now he wants Tanzania to be the number one above everyone else. Too bad that this implies that the taxes will shoot up and the collection of the same will go on overdrive, an inevitable pinch that will be painfully felt by the people.
I am wishing them luck.

You mean kikwete used to break laws to please some smugglers??

Nooooo !The law are made for people not the other way . Law should not be abused

All i know is anybody who is a friend of RAT, is fake. He can never achieve anything good fueled by envy and hatred. He will start many projects which will never succeed. It is like competing with your neighbour since he bought a v6 you go buy yourself a v8. He starts a business you go start a similar one and try to take his customers. Let history be the judge.

Raila had to be brought into this conversation somehow. There are other worse leaders in the region who are not necessarily Raila’s buddies.

Not fair. Considering, especially, that it is more likely that the president has very minimal communication, if there’s any, with Raila.