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ANALYSIS: Why Magufuli’s reforms in mining sector are about politics as much as economics

Has been called a dictator by his opponents.

Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania| AFRICAN ARGUMENTS |  Ever since his election in 2015, Tanzania’s President John Magufuli has been a subject of public fascination. At first, his war on graft promised to cleanse the state of corruption, while his patriotic thrift inspired the hashtag #WhatWouldMagufuliDo?

But as this campaign of tumbua majipu (“lance the boils”) was becoming old news, Magufuli became associated with another d-word. To “development” was added “dictatorship”. Public rallies were banned, radio stations shut down, and newspapers publicly threatened. It became apparent that Tanzania was taking a sharp authoritarian turn.

Now, Magufuli’s image is shape-shifting once again. Over a matter of days earlier this month, the president turned Tanzania’s mining policy on its head. A regime of low taxes, free enterprise and light-touch regulation ended at the stroke of a pen. Magufuli assumed a new identity: the president that took on the multinationals.

The changes began in earnest on 3 March, when Magufuli imposed a ban on exporting unprocessed mineral ores. Containers holding copper-gold concentrates began to gather in the port of Dar es Salaam. On 29 March, Magufuli appointed a committee to chemically examine the contents of the containers, which belonged to Acacia Mining, a subsidiary of Barrick Gold.

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