Tanzania: Hundred days later, what has Magufuli done?
- Simon Allison
- 14 Feb 2016 09:50 (South Africa)
Tanzania’s new president was a relatively unknown quantity when he came to power last year. It didn’t take long for that to change. His headline-grabbing anti-corruption and anti-waste measures soon captured the imagination of a continent. Magufuli demonstrated a humility lacking in too many African leaders. #WhatWouldMagufuliDo trended for weeks. But 100 days into his first term, has Magufuli been able to live up to this early promise? The verdicts are in. By SIMON ALLISON.
Before he became president, Tanzanians called John Magufuli ‘the Bulldozer’. The nickname was well-deserved, a reflection of his rare ability to get things done in government. As interior minister, if Magufuli promised to build a road, he would get it built, no matter who or what stood in his way.
So it should not have come as too much of a surprise that this forceful leadership style would make itself felt in his presidency. But no-one was expecting Magufuli to act so decisively, so quickly.
Within days of being sworn in, Magufuli was making far-reaching changes. To save costs he banned overseas travel for civil servants.
He cancelled lavish Independence Day celebrations and slashed the budget for a state banquet to mark the official opening of parliament. He made surprise visits to ministries and hospitals, firing the board of the country’s biggest hospital after finding patients sleeping on the floor.
Almost overnight, from being a relative nobody – even within Tanzania, Magufuli was not particularly well-known before his expensive presidential campaign – Magufuli became an African icon. #WhatWouldMagufuliDo trended on social media, and the Tanzanian president’s example was used by citizens of other countries to question why their own leaders were failing to deliver.
Naturally, after the initial rush of publicity, Magaufuli’s administration has received less and less attention, although he remains an internet meme. Last week, he reached 100 days in office, a traditional milestone at which to assess a new government’s progress. So how has he really done? Does he deserve all the adulation?
Of course, the most important answers to this question must come from his constituents: Tanzanians themselves. According to a poll conducted by the independently-owned Citizen newspaper, Magufuli has nothing to worry about on this front. “An overwhelming majority of Tanzanians have given the thumbs up to President John Magufuli's governance as he clocks 100 days in office,” reported the paper, pointing to a staggering 90.4% approval rating. The numbers were stronger still among women (93.1%) and rural dwellers (91.5%). Even in Zanzibar, the semi-autonomous island that is considered an opposition stronghold, some 86.4% of respondents said they were satisfied with his leadership.
“Dr Magufuli has so far shown a no-nonsense approach in taming corruption, laziness and the business-as-usual syndrome among public servants. This has endeared him to most Tanzanians. Whereas in the October polls he received only 58.46 per cent of the votes cast, the survey commissioned shows that if elections were to be held today, Dr Magufuli would win by a resounding 70 percent,” concluded the Citizen.
The state-run Daily News was even more effusive in its praise. “Most of those interviewed by the Daily News said President Magufuli is a man of his word and has walked the talk without mincing words. They prayed the efforts continue into the next five years,” it said. The paper noted that Magufuli’s anti-waste measures were already beginning to pay off, with the state’s monthly revenues rising from 900 billion shillings (R6.4 billion) to 1.5 trillion shillings (R10.6 billion).
But local economists warned that Tanzanians shouldn’t expect too much to change too quickly. “It is too early to measure tangible results, although the president has taken some commendable actions,” said analyst Donath Olomi, speaking to IPP Media. Olomi warned that while positive, Magufuli’s reforms may scare off investors, and cause short-term pain for Tanzanian workers employed by companies caught up in Magufuli’s anti-corruption drive.
Outside Tanzania, observers also remain largely positive about Magufuli’s start, but note that he’s not perfect. “And so as Magufuli marks his first 100 days in power today, it can be said to go without saying that his style of no-nonsense, results-oriented leadership has won him droves of supporters…Nevertheless, he also has his critics. Although most Tanzanians have been yearning for a ‘tough president’ to fix the country, some leading opposition leaders in the country say the Magufuli administration has already displayed some authoritarian tendencies, pointing to the banning of a weekly tabloid, halting of live television broadcasts of full parliamentary sessions, and demolitions of illegally-built houses countrywide,” noted Uganda’s The Insider.
Kate Hixon, Africa program officer at Freedom House, goes even further. “Despite these initial achievements, upon closer examination, the negative aspects of Magufuli’s performance to date outweigh the positive,” she said. Specifically, Hixon points to new restrictions on media freedom; the failure to restart the constitutional reform process; and the lingering political crisis in Zanzibar, where the general election was annulled in suspicious circumstances.
Magufuli got his presidency off to a flying start. There’s no denying that things have slowed down a little since then, nor is there any judgment in noting this – no matter how well-intentioned, that kind of momentum is impossible to keep up. And while there are certainly a few things Magufuli could have done better – Zanzibar, in particular, is a political mess that he has failed to address – it’s also true that Tanzanians themselves seem to be overwhelmingly optimistic about the direction in which he is taking the country. 100 days in, #WhatWouldMagufuliDo remains a fair question for many other African leaders, whom the new Tanzanian president continues to put to shame. DM
Photo: Tanzania's then President elect John Pombe Magufuli addresses members of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi Party (CCM) at the party's sub-head office on Lumumba road in Dar es Salaam, October 30, 2015. REUTERS/Sadi Said.
- Simon Allison