Dr. John Pombe Joseph Magufuli, popularly known as JPM, has today completed his first year in office as President of the United Republic of Tanzania. The stature of a leader should not be measured by how long s/he has been in power but by how far s/he is ruling in the best interests of the majority in their country – and using this measure then Magufuli is doubtlessly a great leader, not only in Tanzania but Africa as a whole. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that the United Nations Economic and Social Council has declared Magufuli to be the ‘World’s Best President’ this year – 2016. And he has also been shortlisted for the Forbes ‘Great Man of the Year’ award.
A number of people have said that Magufuli is the true heir of Mwalimu Nyerere; there is indeed significant truth in this assertion in the sense that there is a clear continuation of Nyerere’s mission of building social justice through meritocracy. However, the difference between them is also noticeable in their semantics and emphasis. Nyerere called his policies “Ujamaa”, or familyhood, while Magufuli, to avoid being pigeon-holed, has opted for plain creation of social justice through equal opportunities without labelling what he is implementing. Also, whereas Nyerere paid strong attention to foreign affairs, especially liberation issues throughout Africa, Magufuli is fully focussed on advancing peoples’ quality of life at home.
Writing in the Daily Nation newspaper, Rasna Warah said: “The disgustingly conspicuous and gluttonous consumption – at the expense of taxpayers – displayed by our legislators and top civil servants is making Tanzanian President John Magufuli look like a saint”. (emphasis added). The reporter was talking about Kenya, but the situation he described holds true of everywhere in Africa today; and that explains why the overwhelming majority of Africans are yearning for the day Magufuli’s style of leadership can be replicated across the continent.
Why is Magufuli proving such an effective president with his approval ratings soaring from 90.4% in February to 96% in September 2016? There are several probable reasons: firstly there is his unique and selfless nature which makes serving the public second nature for him. Secondly, is Magufuli’s single-minded determination to confront and smash corruption, a scourge which is debasing politics and undermining progress throughout Africa. Thirdly, he was not an establishment figure but a rank outsider among the Party apparatchiks who aspired to become presidential candidates, his nomination being little short of a fluke. And this could be why Magufuli has no qualms whatsoever about dismantling the rotten structures built up, much to his chagrin, over the last 30 years. The details of how all these shenanigans unfolded will be kept outside this brief; however it suffices to say that in the end the wonderful power of chance and coincidence favoured the Tanzanian nation because through his election it was actually the country that won, not Magufuli; on the basis of his astounding performance so far, it is self-evident that, had he not won, the greatest losers would have been we, the people.
The fourth reason is his incorruptible nature which gave him the ability to keep at bay the power of money in his presidential campaign. During his audience with the Tanzanian Business Community at the State House at the start of his presidency Magufuli put it succinctly that he did not utilise money from any businessmen/women or other special interest lobbyists for his presidential campaign; he was therefore, his own man – not indebted to any of them. However, he proceeded to reassure them that he valued their contribution to the nation and that they could count on his support as long as they respected the laws of the land, but that no-one should expect any special favours – and that the only bond that would exist between them and the State would be one of mutual national interests.
If we want to get a clear picture of where we need to go, it is always advisable to take a good look at where we are coming from. Similarly, in order to fully appreciate the magnitude of Magafuli’s achievements so far, it is essential to throw light on what kind of country he inherited when he took the oath of office on this day last year.
To call a spade a spade, before the fifth phase Administration under JPM, we as a nation had, in real terms, degenerated to the lowest depths, with seemingly chronic boils (majipu) festering in every organ of State. Our nation was high in every kind of vice one can think of: unprecedented levels of corruption, inefficiency, bribery, sleaze, drug smuggling through VIP lounges, peddling of albino body-parts, money- laundering, embezzlement of public funds, laziness, looting of state coffers through ghost workers, granting of long-term land rights to foreign ‘investors’ with no financial benefit to the state, cavalier granting of tax holidays to foreign firms, and major tax-evasion. Actually one individual smoked out by the Magufuli administration was stealing 7 million shillings a minute from the state- every minute 24/7!
In addition, the number and size of inessential foreign trips by public officials was simply staggering; for instance according to figures compiled by the Opposition in Tanzania, the previous president, Jakaya Kikwete, made over 400 overseas trips in his ten years in office – no wonder The Economist magazine of London described him as the “peripatetic leader.” And all these were taking place, while the national air carrier, Air Tanzania, was languishing in intensive care. Board meetings of public institutions were being held with abandon in luxury hotels, sometimes outside the country; signing of contracts that are detrimental to our nation’s interests was a common occurrence and the doling out of farmlands to foreigners as if there was no tomorrow was rampart. Education and health care facilities were utterly run down – in short, no facet of national life remained uninfected by these “boils”.
So, the level of hopelessness and despair in Tanzania was so severe that some people resorted to desperate measures of forming a liberation movement – complete with an army, police force and a flag. What a turn-around; the leading liberator nation of the African continent being forced to liberate itself from the corruption and greed of its own leaders?! A well-respected tabloid newspaper Jamhuri of April 15, 2014 wrote a comprehensive article on this problem titled Majambazi wajitangazia Serikali, meaning bandits declare their own government. And the then Regional Commissioner of Tabora, Ms. Fatuma Mwasa, was quoted as saying: “It is true, we have that problem. The Government recognizes it and appropriate steps are being taken.”
Therefore, when I say our country had reached rock-bottom prior to President Magufuli coming to power, I am not exaggerating, because the next step from where we had reached was to enter the realm of a “Failed State.”
The Advent Of Magufuli.
What has transpired in Tanzania since Magufuli took office twelve months ago reads like little short of a miracle – but it is all true. First and foremost, the dissidents which the Jamhuri newspaper wrote about have since dissolved because the grievances that brought about their movement either no longer exist or are being dealt with a speed and thoroughness which has impressed objective observers both at home and overseas.
Magufuli believes that almost everything that needs to be said has been said in the last fifty years or so, and what is left to be done is only work, not talking. Hence his motto: “Hapa Kazi Tu” which can loosely translate into: “only work counts here”. In fact, at the opening of Parliament he told the organizers to reduce his allotted time saying: “I have been elected to deliver essential goods and services to the people, not make speeches.” While on the campaign trail in 2015, Magufuli repeatedly said in his rallies: “If you give me the opportunity to serve you, I will start working on day one” and he was deadly serious.
President Magufuli was sworn in on 5th November, 2015. The following morning, after a brief orientation tour of State House, he ordered excess reception and catering staff to be sent back to the hotels where they formerly worked. Then the President appeared unannounced at the nearby Bank of Tanzania (BoT) where he posed a number of questions to the BoT Board of Directors, cautioning them that
“…some of my questions are very technical” implying they should be careful how they answered him.
A few days after that visit Magufuli made two significant announcements: firstly that the State would remove all its funds from private commercial banks to the Central Bank for “ease of monitoring” as he put it. Secondly, that state income tax level would be cut from 11% to 9%. The first decision was designed to mitigate the impact of the on-going problem around the world whereby governments are made to borrow their own money from private banks at interest. The second decision was meant to reduce the burden of taxation on workers in the knowledge that all income tax money goes to the Central Bank (which is a private institution) to pay the debt of printing the nation’s money. Not a single cent of the revenue from income tax goes towards running the country; none at all.
When the President made another surprise visit to the country’s main hospital, Muhimbili a few weeks later, he was greeted with a nightmarish situation: patients lying on the floors like a battle field, pharmacy shelves almost empty, MRI and CT scanners not working and in the maternity ward women were giving birth two to a bed. He fired the entire Hospital Board and the new Director was given two weeks to repair the machines; and surprise, surprise they were all working within three days. Health Ministry pen-pushers who were occupying a three storey building in the premises were given two weeks to vacate, after which these floors were refurbished and turned it into a maternity ward.
President Magufuli went on to make all overseas travel by civil servants subject to State House approval and first class travel was restricted to the President, Vice President and Prime Minister; and so was the use of VIP lounges after realising that some unscrupulous officials were using them for drug smuggling activities. And the delegation to Commonwealth Heads of State Meeting, which was held in Malta in December 2015, was reduced from 50 to 4 delegates and they came from the Tanzanian High Commission in London, saving about $600 million in tickets and expenses.
And when Magafuli was told that a celebration party for the opening of Parliament was going to cost in excess of 200 million shillings, he instructed the organizers to cut this down to 25 million, with the bulk of the money saved being used to purchase 300 beds and 600 bed-sheets for Muhimbili Hospital. Moreover, new maternity ward buildings are under construction in all the districts of the Dar Es Salaam region.
Another significant achievement by our President is in the sector of education. The paying of fees has been abolished throughout the country up to standard twelve. A deficit of desks, books and basic items in primary and secondary schools has been reversed and teachers in Dar Es Salaam travel free across the region. As a result of the introduction of free education, standard one enrolment has jumped from one to two million pupils this year.
JPM has also worked wonders in the transport and infrastructure sector; when he was Minister of Transport Magafuli master-minded the construction of tarmac roads across the country. Since entering the State House, the national airline, Air Tanzania has been revived with two brand new aircraft with the carrying capacity of 76 passengers each already delivered. Funds for the purchase of two more with the capacity of 160 and 240 passengers have also been ear-marked and will be bought as soon as practicable. A new ship capable of carrying 1,000 passengers and 40 ten ton lorries has been commissioned which will ply between Mwanza and Bukoba. And the construction of a new high-speed Standard Gauge Rail between Dar Es Salaam and Kigoma will start before the end of the year.
Magufuli’s achievements in his first year in office are spectacular by any yardstick. He may not be liked by 100% of all Tanzanians, but those who do not recognise his achievements are clearly those who have lost out in our new President’s persistent and committed anti – corruption campaign. Like him or hate him, JPM is clearly the best man for Tanzania and the best man for Africa.