Tanzania: Magufuli Is All the Rage


News coming out of Tanzania since the most contested presidential election ever, which culminated in President Dr John Pombe Magufuli coming to power, has captured the imagination of many across the region –and provoked jealous reactions from some.

Tanzania’s new CEO has given real meaning to the notion of “hitting the ground running.”

One story that has generated much discussion in print and on social media was his on-the-spot sacking of “the boss” at the country’s Muhimbili Hospital where he arrived unannounced to take a look at how things were going.

Apparently he found what should be one of Tanzania’s premier public health facilities in the kind of mess that those who are familiar with the health sectors of other countries in the region have grown to accept as normal.

“Normal” in these places is defined by equipment lying broken and unrepaired for ages; patients sharing beds while others sleep on the floor, and health workers having long adopted a go-slow attitude to work, whereby attending to patients promptly can be optional, with sanctions for such conduct being rare.

As that was still being digested, he again hit the headlines and ignited a new frenzy on social media. He had popped over, again unannounced, to the Ministry of Finance where he reportedly encountered empty chairs behind several desks. Apparently their would-be occupants were not in the building. They had travelled.

Soon enough, Dr Magufuli tackled official trips and related wastage of the government’s resources and cost by way of time spent away from work.

A raft of new rules imposing stringent conditions on government officials wanting to travel outside the country kicked in, reportedly to much grumbling among those affected, and applause from Tanzanians who want more of their taxes to be spent on such things as social services for the direct benefit of the ordinary Mtanzania.

And then the bombshell: In yet another gambit to save taxpayers’ money from wastage, this year Tanzanians will not be “celebrating” Independence Day. Reports say he wants Tanzanians to grab brooms and other implements and spend the day cleaning up their neighbourhoods instead.

Now of course we can debate endlessly whether the savings will actually be channelled into services, but that is beside the point — that money will be saved.

Reactions in countries where wastage and abuse of the kind Dr Magufuli is trying to curtail happens unchecked, have been mainly of the type, “When shall we ever get a president like that?” or, “We need change too”.

As many in and outside Tanzania celebrate the “Magufuli revolution” and as others live for the day they will get their own Magufuli, however, apparently some Tanzanians are beside themselves with annoyance at what they claim is the new president’s “Rwandanisation” of Tanzania.

Just in case you’re wondering what on earth they mean, here it is: it is some years now since Rwanda’s leadership curbed the shirking of duty by public servants; degraded Independence Day celebrations; and imposed stringent limits on official travel.

And, of course, Rwandans, their leaders included, come out to clean their neighbourhoods on a regular basis, one reason why the country has such a reputation for tidiness.

Clearly, Tanzania and others of Rwanda’s neighbours could do much worse than aspire to be a little like Rwanda in these respects.

The challenge for Magufuli and his counterparts elsewhere, however, is whether, given the nature of politics in their countries, this very limited form of Rwandanisation is at all possible on a sustainable basis.

Here the “nature of politics” refers to the adversarial contestation that characterises the way politics is organised, practised and managed in countries such as Tanzania and others with conventional multiparty systems.

Under such systems it is hardly rare for otherwise excellent ideas or initiatives to be opposed by groups whose motivation is to oppose sitting governments merely for the sake it.

Prospects for success are further threatened where these entail the acceptance of a certain degree of pain or inconvenience such as being required to go clean up the neighbourhood on weekends or public holidays when one would rather lie in bed or have a drink with friends.

Rwanda has registered many successes since 1994. Perhaps the most critical success area for both President Paul Kagame and the Rwanda Patriotic Front has been to sell their vision of the post-genocide Rwanda they want to build to a large majority of their potential rivals for power.

It has allowed for the emergence and consolidation of a political system in which give and take are key elements of how the country’s significant elites relate to each other in the national interest.

Can Dr Magufuli and CCM emulate this and sell their vision to the wider Tanzanian political elite?

BY Frederick Golooba-Mutebi

Frederick Golooba-Mutebi is a Kampala- and Kigali-based researcher and writer on politics and public affairs.