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Magufuli The ‘Political accident’ becomes the real deal

By Ronald Musoke

On Nov. 05, Tanzanians got a president who some called “an accident” because of the unorthodox way he got elected. Within a week, President John Pombe Magufuli, 56, had made it clear that his style of leadership would also be quite unorthodox.  Magufuli’s antics have captured headlines around the region and even motivated the hilarious twitter hashtag `#WhatWouldMagufuliDo’ on social media.

Social media citizens have also coined a new verb ‘to magufulify,’ meaning “to make something faster and cheaper or to deprive public officials of the capacity to enjoy life on taxpayers’ expense.”

“What Magufuli has done is to show that in the same country under the same political party, you can have an internal revolution to prove that things can be done differently,” says Leonard Okello, the Chief Executive Officer of Uhuru Institute in Kampala.


Okello is impressed that a day after being sworn in as Tanzania’s fifth president, the new president went straight to work, making an impromptu visit to the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs headquarters on Madaraka Avenue in Dar es Salaam. He walked to the ministry unannounced—a move that caught his security and protocol officers at State House by surprise.

Magufuli’s visit to the ministry was unclear but he was seen peeping into several offices as he strolled around. Although it was 20 minutes to 1pm— the official time for lunch break— the president reportedly found some empty offices.

To those he found, he asked about the whereabouts of their colleagues, often breaking the tense atmosphere with a mild smile. He then told some of the staff to work hard and be accountable on duty.

To the top ministry officials, he asked them to ensure enough revenue and tax is collected by the government to ensure he delivers on his campaign promises. If Tanzanians thought this was a one off, they were wrong.

Three days later, it was Hussein Kidanto, the acting managing director of Muhimbili National Referral Hospital to be surprised by a presidential visit.

Here Magufuli found several patients lying on the floor while he was told the main scanning and diagnostic machines had stopped working many years ago—something which irked him.

Kidanto was immediately sacked and transferred to the Health ministry. Magufuli instantly ordered officials at the referral facility to ensure that all defective machines are repaired within three days.

Magufuli then fired Rished Bade, the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) Commissioner General after failing to collect tax worth TShs 80 billion (Ushs 120 billion) from 350 containers at the Dar es Salaam port.

He then moved first to cut down the budget for the Parliament’s inaugural cocktail party which usually marks the opening of the Legislature from Shs TShs 250 million ($100,000) to TShs 15 million ($7000) and told the MPs that he wanted the money saved to go into buying hospital beds and other equipment at Muhimbili Hospital.

Magufuli then followed that up with the cancellation of meetings and conferences in hotels for public servants, saying the government would no longer foot the bills for conferences or meetings in posh hotels. Instead, he recommended that ministerial boardrooms be used and telecommunications technologies (video and audio tele-conferencing) be adopted.

But perhaps the most astonishing of Magufuli’s recent raft of changes was his scrapping of Independence Day celebrations. Tanzanians have always celebrated their independence anniversary every year since Dec. 09, 1961.

This year, there were no celebrations.

The president instead ordered that the day be spent by all Tanzanians in a clean-up campaign to combat a cholera outbreak, which has claimed the lives of over 75 people out of 10,000 cases registered over the last three months.

“It is so shameful that we are spending huge amounts of money to celebrate 54 years of independence when our people are dying of cholera,” he said.

“Let us work together to keep our country, cities, homes and workplaces clean, safe and healthy,” Magufuli said as he picked up litter with his hands, flanked by dozens of fishermen at the fish market near the State House.

Millions of Tanzanians were caught by surprise following Magufuli’s announcement but still were happy with the move, saying it showed commitment to ending the lavish spending by the government.

Like elsewhere across Africa, Independence celebrations are usually marked with a presidential address, nationwide military parades and performances by music groups and this usually calls for big spending in an attempt to demonstrate ‘nationalism.’

Whereas celebrating the day is not a bad idea, the problem is that a big portion of the billions of shillings spent directly goes into facilitating public officials in form of travel allowances and per diem.

In 2011 alone, the government reportedly spent about TShs 64 billion on celebrations marking Tanzania’s golden jubilee as an independent nation.

Just in his third day in office, Magufuli banned all but essential foreign travel by public servants calling on high commissioners and ambassadors abroad to take over. For a man who had travelled abroad only six times during his 20 years as minister, it was no shocker.

Magufuli’s restrictions on foreign travel are aimed at cutting down government spending and using the monetary savings on the provision of social services, including health and education.

Indeed, his deputy, Samia Suluhu Hassan’s first foreign trip to South Africa had a lean delegation of only six members. In the past, such delegations would have low cadre staff such as cooks.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation had approved a delegation of 12 members to accompany the Vice President.

In November, the president cut a bloated delegation of 50 to the 2015 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in Valletta, Malta to only four.

He then slashed a delegation of almost 20 members to only three to attend the international Climate Change conference (COP21) in Paris (Nov.30-Dec.12).

Instead of sponsoring a World AIDS Day commemoration, Magufuli ordered the money to be spent on anti-retroviral drugs.

When the president finally named his cabinet on Dec. 10, almost a month after being sworn into office, he fulfilled his campaign promise of a small government, appointing 19 ministers and 16 deputies.

In contrast, his predecessor boasted a comparatively modest cabinet of 30 ministers. Magufuli said he had decided to merge some of the ministers in line with his cost-cutting philosophy.

“We wanted to fulfill our promise of a lean cabinet so that we can help reduce government spending.”

But missing in Magufuli’s announcement are four names expected to lead the ministries of finance, transport and infrastructure, education; and that of natural resources and tourism.

“I have not found the right person yet. I am still thinking about it,” Magufuli said. “Patience breeds blessings; so no need to rush,” he said.

Still in a new move to cut costs, Magufuli said there would be no retreat for the newly appointed ministers. Instead the ministers would have to familiarise themselves with their work environment along the way.

The money which would have been spent on the retreat will now be redirected to social services. That is TShs 2 billion.

“There is no reason for a retreat because most of the appointees campaigned for “Hapa Kazi tu” (work, nothing else) when they were canvassing for votes.

“I and my colleagues (the Vice President, and the Prime Minister) did not go on a retreat but we have managed to perform our jobs even in the absence of the ministers,” he said.

So how did CCM, an ancient organization with over 60 years of history behind it, end up with such a maverick as president?

Accident happens

Magufuli was never CCM’s candidate of choice when the party faithful met to nominate the candidate who would run for presidency.

Observers say, however, that Magufuli’s victory involved a lot of behind the scenes activity involving the party elders like retired presidents Ali Hassan Mwinyi, Benjamin Mkapa and Amani Abeid Karume of Zanzibar and others on the CCM Advisory Council. There are stories that it was some of these elders who told Magufuli to pick nomination forms.

Unlike his colleagues who collected party nomination forms with a lot of fanfare, Magufuli collected his quietly. He avoided speaking to the press and refused to form a campaign team. While Lowassa held a mammoth pre-nominations rally at Sheik Amri Abeid Stadium in Arusha on May 30, Magufuli travelled alone across the country soliciting signatures from party members.

Prior to his nomination, the process had been sometimes bitter as over 38 aspirants wanted to get hold of the party ticket.

The rivalry pitted some of the party’s big wigs and powerful camps aligned to former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa and Foreign Affairs minister, Bernard Membe. Then, President Jakaya Kikwete, who also doubled as the party’s national chairman, favoured Membe.

Kikwete wanted Lowassa off the ticket and the former’s allies reportedly manipulated the work of CCM’s Ethics and Security Committee, which is responsible for reviewing, vetting, and forwarding all candidates to the NEC.

Instead of passing on the names of all 38 potential candidates, the party’s Ethics and Security Committee is understood to have held a highly unusual session and agreed to forward only five names to the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC). Lowassa, who at one point considered himself the frontrunner, was not on the shortlist which had Magufuli, Bernard Membe; Minister for Foreign Affairs, January Makamba; Deputy Minister for Communications, Amina Salum Ali; the African Union Ambassador to the U.S., and Dr Asha-Rose Migiro, Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs.

Lowassa’s supporters, angered by the party’s NEC decision threatened to revolt over his not featuring on the shortlist. But the party elders refused to budge. Lowassa then turned his full attention to preventing Membe from securing the nomination.

When members of the NEC were asked to cast votes for their top three selections, Membe failed to make the cut. Apparently, those who had previously favoured Lowassa, in a snub to Kikwete, voted against Membe. Makamba also did not make the cut and the door was left open for Magufuli to tussle it out with Amina, and Migiro for the party flag.

In the vote on July 12, Magufuli won 2104 votes (87.1 percent) out of the 2416 total vote count. Amina got 253 (10.5 percent) and Migiro 59 (2.4 percent) votes.

With his presidential ambitions on the brink, Lowassa crossed to the opposition to challenge Magufuli for the presidency.

But with the backing of the formidable CCM machinery, Magufuli won the Oct. 29 poll with 58% of the vote to Lowassa’s 40%.

Some analysts argue that considering that he was never in the reckoning to succeed Kikwete, Magufuli’s elevation to be CCM’s presidential candidate was a ‘political accident.’

Magufuli needs prayers

One of the toughest parts of Magufuli’s job, according to some analysts is making sure that Tanzania’s economic progress translates into benefits for all.

While the country has experienced good economic growth in recent years, Tanzania remains an unequal country. Of the 50 million Tanzanians, up to 57% are unable to meet their basic needs.

“The biggest and most delicate challenge facing Magufuli is how to engineer a ‘structural transformation trajectory’ of economic growth that allows the benefits of this growth to be shared by the poor,” Matteo Rizzo, a lecturer in economics at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies recently told the American news magazine, Newsweek.

“This will mean stepping on the toes of powerful interest groups, both foreign and Tanzanian.”

Rizzo is right.

Already some of the policies introduced by Magufuli have been angrily branded by some Tanzanian elites and within his party as ‘arrogance.’

But Nape Nnauye, the CCM Ideology and Publicity Secretary told the media that President Magufuli has the full backing of the party and whatever reforms and actions he is currently undertaking have been outlined in the party election manifesto.

Nnauye said the party clearly outlined in its manifesto the need to translate the country’s economic growth, averaging 7% per annum, into improved living standards of ordinary Tanzanians by ensuring availability and accessibility of social services such as education, health and water.

“What our president is doing is to ensure effective implementation of the manifesto, that the majority of our people can benefit from the country’s vast resources,” he said, rubbishing a segment of media reports claiming that some CCM bigwigs were not impressed with Magufuli’s no-nonsense approach.

“How can anyone within our party be unhappy while the government is so far doing a commendable job, which is to our party’s credibility?”

What some thought was an ‘accident’ that could hurt CCM’s chances of retaining its large majority in Parliament or retaining the presidency on the contrary seems to have lifted the party’s ratings not only in Tanzania but the East African region as a whole, thanks to the measures Magufuli has introduced aimed at reducing expenditure.

Even politicians from governments such as that of President Yoweri Museveni in Uganda, which is often accused of corruption and profligacy, are applauding Magufuli’s frugality. Evelyn Anite, the youthful Minister of State for Youth and Children Affairs, has praised Magufuli’s style of leadership as down to earth and citizen-centred.

“Just like President Museveni,” she said in what clearly, was not intended as a joke. She added: “In fact, I think that Tanzanians might actually look at what their president has done for them and cause the removal of term limits so he can continue governing the country.”

“The message he is sending is that it’s not true that Tanzania does not have money to improve public service delivery, resources are just not being directed to projects that can change the lives of people,” Dr. Benson Bana, a political science lecturer at the University of Dar es Salaam recently told The Citizen newspaper.

Patrick Wakida, the executive director of Research World International (RWI), a Kampala-based opinion poll agency says Magufuli is simply responding to the common man’s needs.

“In a time when millions of people feel poverty and feel suppressed, they tend to want radical reforms and Magufuli reflects that radicalism.”

“Reforms are a necessity for those who want to become president anywhere and experience has shown that governments are extravagant and anybody who wants to get into office will work towards reducing that profligacy,” Wakida says.

Okello of the Uhuru Institute is excited about Magufuli’s attempt to end the misuse of money and skewed budgeting where governments tend to put money in wrong priorities.

“For instance, in Uganda, almost 51-55% of budgets of ministries are held at the headquarters in Kampala,” says Okello, “The local governments get about 16% of the national budget meaning about 84% is held up by the central government; but the voters are at the grassroots and you are putting little money in local government. That is skewed budgeting.”

“The challenge for Magufuli is to sustain these changes such that they become institutionalized so that whether he leaves office or stays, it becomes part of Tanzania’s culture,” Okello says. He says if Magufuli continues acting at an individual level, when he leaves office, the changes he has initiated will go with him.

Cissy Kagaba, the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU), agrees.

“The bigger picture is that Magufuli has been able to demystify the notion that governments do not have money and he has been able to prove that most times our leaders spend public money on wrong priorities which do not translate into value for money for citizens,” she says and describes Magufuli as “people-centred and determined to show Tanzanians where their money goes”.

“He is obviously frustrating and stepping on people’s toes by making these kinds of cuts and there are so many other forces that are going to come in and resist his reforms,” says Kagaba, “He definitely needs our prayers.”

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