President John Magufuli has been a darling of ordinary Africans and he has massive support throughout the continent and better yet, in his own Tanzania. He is seen as the saviour of the poor, the one man who has given himself to the fight against the corrupt systems of governance that the continent was now used to. That he comes from CCM, a party not particularly famous for being democratic and prudent in its dealings only makes him more remarkable.
This is the party that the Economist called “thuggish and undemocratic” yet Magufuli rises against all odds to become the one man who is pruning the Tanzanian system of destructive elements. It therefore comes as a shocker that he would have to defend himself against the charge of being a mad dictator. In response to these allegations, President Magufuli said, “I have decided that this country will move ahead, and it will move ahead. The measures I’m taking are aimed at saving this country. I’m not a madman or a dictator…there are bizarre things going on in the government which I cannot tolerate…I must take action.”
Who has been saying Magufuli is an impulsive dictator?
It is not the ordinary poor people of Tanzania who have been complaining about Magufuli. It is the opposition and the elite through various publications. Writing for The Independent (Kampala), Andrew Mwenda said he thought of Magufuli as a stuntman not a reformer.
He said, “In many ways, Magufuli’s actions are not any different from the many pronouncements Museveni made in 1986-to buy furniture from Kawempe, to rule only for four years, and to abandon the presidential jet. And many coup makers in Africa have made them.” In his thinking, Magufuli’s seemingly extra-ordinary sort of leadership is nothing new. It has been seen before and it only lasted a few years.
Museveni for example largely broke all of his fantastical promises and proclamations. The argument is also that the fight against corruption and vices in government has been personalised with limited institutional backing. This has left the fight against corruption a personal one dominated by impulse and arbitrariness. This impulse is also the subject of the Economist’s Government by gesture piece which quotes a political opponent of Magufuli who says, “What Africa needs is strong institutions, not strong men and women.” Understandably, Kabwe would not readily support Magufuli and is on record for saying, “Slowly the country is heading towards a One Man Show and all others Presidents’ Men.”
Without rushing to dismiss the criticism as sour grapes, there is concern over the one-man battle he has been fighting which has a risk of promulgating a system of patronage if he does not handle it with tact. This is however simply a potential risk and not a reflection of what transpires in the country. It might end up being true that the motives will be innocent and well-meant yet the implementation and execution creates undesirable consequences. There is need for him to keep strengthening the Anti-Corruption body and the judiciary as he has started doing so he does not end up being the centre of everything.
However, a question should be raised about the whole criticism of having weak institutions and strong men and women. Is it not the strong men and women who constitute strong institutions? Is it not also true that he who is at the apex should lead the rally and show resolve and determination to pluck out corruption, otherwise all institutions will emulate his lazy approach if he is not seen as assertive? After all, the argument does not hold much water as the firing of Edward Hosea, the Director General of the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau (PCCB) was a move towards strengthening the country’s anti-corruption body after years of disappointingly slow responses to corruption. He also chided the judiciary for failing to play its part in the anti-graft war, offering a carrot to those judges who have done their jobs diligently.
Is this a man keen to hoard all the power and fight the war alone? Instead of standing by and complaining that he is fighting alone, people should join him in the fight. As for the impulsive nature of the President, on a scale of priorities, it seems the well-being of the state should be a bigger priority than formalities and processes. Convoluted and winded procedures end up defeating the cause if they are given precedence over the bigger picture of fighting corruption.
President Magufuli sees the attacks as emanating from the quarters of people who are not prepared for change. People who are the culprits; the beneficiaries of the corrupt system of yesteryears. Addressing a contractors’ registration board meeting in Dar es Salam, President Magufuli declared, “If you see people wondering, it is because they are used to business as usual. They thought I will be part of them. Never! Not me! I better give up the presidency and return to the village than being a President and entertain the rot that is in this country. I am saying never.”
If fighting corruption makes Magufuli a mad dictator, Africa needs more mad dictators at the helm. The claim that fighting corruption affects economic development for whatever reason is fallacious. Economic indications show there is confidence in the administration and Tanzania’s investment climate remains favourable. Any allegations to the contrary are malicious and shallow propaganda.