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They did not see Magufuli coming

Obituary

They did not see Magufuli coming

New African magazine editor Anver Versi pays tribute to the late President of Tanzania.

“When they said laziness and sloth in public service cannot be cured, they did not see Magufuli coming;

“When they said the cartels of corruption strangling Africa’s governments cannot be defeated, they did not see Magufuli coming;

“When they said African states cannot become middle income economies within a single presidential term, they did not see Magufuli coming;

“When they said infrastructure projects in Africa cannot be completed on time and on budget, they did not see Magufuli coming;

“When they said the only way to pursue our development is to follow the failed prescriptions that have left Africa more impoverished and in debt than they found it, they did not see Magufuli coming.”

The was President Lazarus Chakwera of Malawi speaking during the state funeral of the late leader of Tanzania, John Pombe Magufuli in late March.

As he spoke and his words were simultaneously translated into Kiswahili, the hundreds of thousands who had crammed every nook and corner in and around the National Stadium in the country’s capital, Dodoma, broke down into open weeping.

From the moment the unexpected death of Magufuli was announced on 17 March to his final burial in his home town of Chato on Friday 26 March, Tanzanians mourned the passing of their ‘Baba’ (father), their champion, with a passion and fervour unseen on the passing of any other African leader.

As his funeral motorcade wound its way through several major cities of Tanzania, including Zanzibar Island, the streets were thronged with people screaming his name, weeping uncontrollably and bidding him ‘Kwaheri’, goodbye. Many mourners said they felt as if they had personally lost a highly beloved member of their own family.

John Pombe Magufuli took his final exit in the same fashion as he had entered the Presidency, riding high on wave after wave of public adulation. That he did not lose that adulation while in office as so many of his contemporaries did, encapsulates almost everything about the man and his leadership.

But he also made bitter enemies inside and outside the country. President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya was the only East African Community leader to attend the funeral in person, although nine Presidents from the South African Development Community bloc did. Nor did a single European leader attend the ceremony.

Smashed apple cart to pieces

During his five and a half years in office, Magufuli not only upset the apple cart, he smashed it to pieces. In short order, he cleaned out the reeking Augean stables of the country’s civil service: over 10,000 officials with fake college certificates were given their marching orders; nearly 15,000 ‘ghost’ workers on the pay roll, costing millions of dollars per month, were expunged and there was a marked decline in incidences of corruption across government institutions.

He declared permanent sovereignty over natural resources (the country is one of the largest producers of gold in Africa) and renegotiated exploitative contracts, earning him the wrath of Western companies and their national governments.

He extended electrification in rural areas from 50% in 2015 to 70% in 2020; he expanded access to clean water in rural areas from 47% to 70%; he mandated free primary and secondary school education and expanded the budget for higher education loans.

He maintained economic growth at 5%, making Tanzania one of the fastest growing economies in the world and kept inflation to a manageable 4.5%; tax revenue grew from $366m per month to $862m; exports hit an all-time high of $5bn in 2019; per capita GDP increased from $912 to $1,080.

Infrastructure developments included an additional 3,500km of tarmacked roads, several essential bridges, a new Standard Gauge Railway (under construction), a new 2,000MW power station, the expansion of various ports and a new terminal at Julius Nyerere International Airport.

But he was also accused of being misogynistic, especially when decreeing that schoolgirls who became pregnant should be expelled; he showed scant tolerance of the opposition; he muzzled the press and his stance on Covid – taken for whatever reason – made him and his country look foolish to the outside world.

The controversy over John Pombe Magufuli will continue to rage for a while. He certainly did not belong to the ‘cosy club’ of national leaders (his salary was $4,000 per month) and he had no time for foreign meddling in the country’s affairs. As the saying goes, “When the Western media starts sniping at you, you know you are on the right track.” Magufuli was on the right track for most of the time, but not all the time on everything.

We at New African join the people of Tanzania and Africa to mourn the passing of a giant of the continent. May his soul rest in peace.

Read more about the life and achievements of John Pombe Magufuli: Magufuli will cast long shadow

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Written by Anver Versi

Award-winning journalist Anver Versi is the editor of New African magazine. He was born in Kenya and is currently based in London, UK.

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