The interview with Ansbert Ngurumo, a Tanzanian Author, Journalist. Existential Philosopher, Human Rights Defender and Political Risk Management Analyst, on the past five years of the recently re-elected President John Pombe Magufuli and what the future holds for the East African nation of Tanzania in the next five years.
Q: How do you define or rate President John Pombe Magufuli of the United Republic of Tanzania as a leader in relation to the quality of national leadership in Africa given what tends to be seen by his critics and admirers as ‘unconventional,’ or ‘maverick’ approaches to governance issues (In Kenya, for instance, any leader with a strong stand on issues or less compromising has been christened Magufuli!?
To informed and critical minds, President Magufuli is a cruel, brutal, despotic, demagogic and narcissistic politician. This is what describes his true character – hidden in his populist actions. This is what defines his conduct that has adversely affected the media, businesses, the opposition, the judiciary, the parliament, the civil societies in his quest to seek religious obedience from everyone and every institution. He is a compulsive leader who obeys his feelings more than his reason and follows the constitution only when it serves his interests. For those who have known Zaire’s Mobutu Sese Seko and Uganda’s Idi Amin, it won’t be hard to realise that Tanzania has produced a 21st-century incarnation of those former dictators. Magufuli is a scandal in the country that has all along been recognised as East Africa’s beacon of peace and a champion for justice and human dignity in Southern Africa and the world. So, identifying with Magufuli is tantamount to falling in love with modern-day dictatorship and associated corruption.
Q: What is your assessment of the president’s performance in the following areas/spheres in the last five years?
Magufuli’s leadership is a one-man show. He has not created any governance system. He rules by walking around and by firing subordinates. He leads by intimidation. He does not believe in institutional governance. He doesn’t follow established rules and laws but his own guts. For the first five years of his rule, he has been hiring and firing, naming and shaming his assistants. He is far from observing good governance because he believes in himself more than he believes in established institutions – which he has been weakening to exalt and empower himself as an imperial president.
In the socio-economic sphere (Such as security, cultural issues, manufacturing, trade & investment, education & research, mining, and agriculture):
The easiest way to gauge his performance in these areas would be to go through the Controller and Auditor General‘s reports since 2016. They do not have the best story to tell on Magufuli’s performance in these areas.
He has done some positive work in infrastructure. But his megaprojects are rife with corruption allegations. The procurement laws are not followed. The parliamentary budgets are not observed. In some cases, like in the construction of Chato airport and in the purchase of 11 aircraft, not even the cabinet was involved. It was a transaction executed between the president and his nephew, Dotto James, who happens to be the permanent secretary and paymaster general in the finance ministry.
This explains why his government failed to account for Tsh 1.5 trillion queried by parliamentarians after it had been pointed out by the CAG in the 2016/17 budget audit. Much of the funds that were missing – 976.96 billion was later said to have been spent by the statehouse without approval by the CAG. In 2017/18, a total of Tsh 1.3 trillion was spent on illegal procurements ordered by Magufuli.
While he poses as a fighter of corruption, he has been cracking down of the true agents in the war on corruption – especially media and civic based organisations. He has been silencing, in fact, controlling, the parliament and the judiciary to make sure they do not have the independence required of them in addressing matters of corrupt practices in which he and other senior government staff are implicated. He takes stern action against junior officers, but he does not let anyone investigate and report about his own corrupt leadership. He is accused of grabbing thousands of acres of land in Karagwe, Kagera region, where he has turned a government ranch into his own belonging. He is probably the most corrupt but populist president in the history of Tanzania. Since the media cannot freely investigate his corrupt projects now, it will take years before Tanzania and the world know about the extent of Magufuli’s corruption.
In the same manner that Idi Amin claimed to wage an economic war, Magufuli has been making it hard for businesses to flourish. Many entrepreneurs, particularly those with an Asian origin, have suffered under the brutal and corrupt hands of Magufuli’s aides.
- Respect for Human Rights and basic freedoms:
Magufuli’s leadership has no regard for human rights. On several grounds, he has spoken openly that to him, democracy and human rights do not matter as long as he can build roads, bridges or airports for his people. His derogatory remarks about women have become worse than those of DonaldTrump. He sees women as objects that he easily and freely abuses regularly in his speeches. This partly explains the many arbitrary arrests, abductions, tortures, jailing and killings of his critics, activists and journalists. Freedom of assembly, association, expression and the press have been seriously curtailed by many repressive laws enacted and used since Magufuli came to power in 2015. Free minds have no place in Magufuli’s Tanzania.
- Deepening of regional integration and foreign relations matters:
Day by day, his relations with the world has been deteriorating. Within the East African region, Magufuli’s has been seen as a laughing stock by neighbours. He is not a good communicator, and he lacks the confidence expected of the president in interacting with his counterparts. In so many ways, Tanzania looks isolated from the regions and the world due to Magufuli’s bizarre conduct.
In my book, “John Magufuli: An Epitome of Cowardice,” on page 78-86 where I discuss his fear of the international community, I emphasise the fact that Tanzania’s strong voice in international matters has been waning since Magufuli came to power. His lack of international exposure, his communication deficiency (particularly in English), his wrong appointments of foreign affairs advisors and actors, his fear of the international community, his guilt of human rights records, his fear of international media, and so on, have badly impacted on his international relations. And this explains why he hardly travels abroad. He has infected Tanzania with his own inferiority complex before the world. To shield his weakness, he has launched negative propaganda against all foreign missions and development partners, calling them imperialists, especially when they quiz him about his human rights records or corruption. He respects and lauds them only when they give him funds.
- National unity and relations with the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar:
With regard to the Union and Zanzibar, Magufuli in treading in the footsteps of his predecessors. Zanzibar remains a thorn in the flesh of the union, as most Zanzibaris remain discontented and complaining about Zanzibar being a latent colony of Tanganyika. Magufuli has had two obvious lows in regard to Zanzibar – firstly in March 2016 when he sent the armed forces to take part in stealing the election that was eventually shunned by the opposition, secondly in October 2020 when he again used the army to beat up, maim, and kill tens of opposition supporters in order to rig the the election for his ruling party. As par 2015 election results that were forcefully and unconstitutionally annulled by the chairman of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission, Magufuli had garnered 194,317 votes (46.5%), against Edward Lowassa’s 211,033 votes (50.5%).
In this year’s election, the armed forces made it hard for the opposition to oversee the voting and tallying of votes, but the deaths that emanated from the process speak volumes as to the eventual relationship between Zanzibar and Magufuli. Of course, with a gruntling Zanzibar, the Union remains a shaky entity contained only by the Mainland’s military politics.
The media is generally alleged to have had it rough during the president’s last term (with some journalists being incarcerated and reports of alleged the disappearance of others –and of course you personally had to go into exile at one time
Q: In your observation, what has been the propelling factor(s) of the unfortunate scenario?
In a nutshell, Magufuli of afraid of the media because he does not trust his own integrity. This is another evidence of his corrupt leadership. I summarise this notion on page 27 of my book: “He fears the media because he knows their power, and he wishes to rule over an ignorant and uninformed citizenry. He fears media because he has much to hide from them. And he knows that the only way to keep them at bay, at least temporarily, is by suffocating and terrorising them.”
Q: President John Pombe Magufuli’s policy on COVID-19 has been termed as ‘problematic’ by neighbouring states-what is your take on the issue?
Magufuli is a man of trial and error. He is a Machiavellian politician who does a lot of evil deeds but tricks his people and uses religion to appease them. This is the way he used religion to dispel the fears of COVID-19. And it worked. He ordered the government to stop testing the people, automatically ending any announcement of statistics of infected, dead and recovered patients. Later, he declared Tanzania corona-free! The fact is, people have kept getting sick and dying quietly as no one is allowed to associate the death of their relative with COVID-19. The media is not allowed to investigate or report it. The national laboratory is not doing any mass testing. It has been testing passengers traveling abroad. This is another exhibition of his dictatorial leadership that has been killing people in silence.
His approach, however, is a bit similar to that of Sweden, except for the fact that the Swedish government is not allowed to lie to its people or impose any measures to them. In Sweden, for example, the voluntary testing goes on and the statistics are displayed, but there has been no total lockdown or the use of face masks. Yet, the Swedes are not saying their country is corona-free because while they know it might be psychologically rewarding, it is scientifically absurd to do so.
If media were free in Tanzania, we would know the real extent of COVOD-19 in the country. All that is known so far comes from a few people who have their patients treated at the Agakhan Hospital in Dar es Salaam which is said to have developed a special formula for containing and curing COVID-19.
Q: In a nut-shell what could you candidly describe as the key success and failure of president John Pombe Magufuli during his last term?
Magufuli has failed more than he had succeeded. He prides himself with major successes in the implementation of some mega-project including the Standard Gauge Railway from Dar es Salaam to Morogoro and adjacent areas, the purchase of aircraft, the construction of the Julius Nyerere Hydropower Station and several other infrastructural projects. He is also lauded for moving the country’s capital from Dar es Salaam to Dodoma.
His main failure lies in oppressing, torturing and killing his own people in the course of forcing them to obey him and never criticise his development projects. All of the above-mentioned have corruption implication around them. Even his attempt to improve the mining sector leaves much to be desired when the laws enacted to protect the same resources prohibit any auditing by the Controler and Auditor General. According to the CAG reports, so much public money has been misallocated and misused, particularly by the statehouse and police force, at the expense of important people-centred sectors such as agriculture, fishing, water, health and education. And it is all done with his direct permission.
Q: President John Pombe Magufuli was sworn in for a second term courtesy of overwhelming support of the votes cast and his main opponent Tundu Lissu of CHADEMA alongside other opposition leaders contested the outcome – going forward, what electoral issues do you think require addressing?
He was sworn in courtesy of the militarised operation by the highly compromised national electoral commission. There was no genuine election. Magufuli borrowed a leaf from some of his neighbouring countries, and rigged the election, seeking to raise his numbers as all dictators do. But he was not a smart one at that. The results do not show how the opposition party that has a strong following and a membership of at least 7 million members can obtain only 1.9 million for its candidate in such a bitterly contested campaign. The authorities have not yet provided any answers as to the ballot stuffed boxes that were scattered all over the country’s polling stations. They have not given any satisfactory answers as to why they used the army and police to prevent opposition polling agents from observing the polling process at the stations. Worse still, as of today, the website of the National Electoral Commission does not have any statistics of the just-ended election. They do not seem to have the properly tallied data worth displaying – because the results were simply made up to ensure Magufuli’s re-election. Just as the eminent persons of the Tanzania Elections Watch (TEW) put it, this election was far from credible.
Q: Likewise, with an overwhelming mandate thanks to what appears to be abysmal performance in the polls by the opposition, what do you think is the future of multi-partyism in Tanzania given that observers see CCM dominance as akin to a single-party rule?
Your question is wrongly coined. The polls were evidently rigged and cannot be used to gauge the performance of the opposition. Of course, Magufuli is ignorantly turning Tanzania into a de facto one-party state. This is a very unfortunate scenario and a clear indicator of his lack of political prowess. He is doing all this in his fears of opposition and criticism. But he will suffer the consequences.
Q: Again how do you describe the inability of Tanzanian opposition to exert a strong influence on Tanzanian politics?
The opposition has been doing politics while Magufuli and his party are doing military terrorism against the opposition parties. The politicians would not counter live ammunition and brutal treatment by the army and police.
Q: Once more, Chama cha Mapinduzi is among the few vanguard independence parties in Africa that survived the Winds of Change brought about by multi-partyism in the 1990’s and still maintain a stranglehold on power-what do you think has made it thrive?
What KANU used to be in Kenya is what CCM is in Tanzania today. Unfortunately, the only power that keeps CCM going is its excessive use of state apparatus – police, the army, the intelligence and security service, district executive directors (the returning officers, all of whom ere CCM cadres and appointees of the president) to suffocate the opposition. It does not thrive on political power per se.
Q: What issues do you think Tanzanians are keen to see President John Magafuli tackle in his second term as a priority?
Magufuli is an infrastructure president. Tanzanians will see more of the same in the next several years.
Last but not least, what key policy shifts will you recommend being undertaken by the government in the next five years to improve the lives of Tanzanians.
I wish to see a Tanzania that is keen on matters of utter importance to the people. The opposition’s agenda in the just-ended election fits best the next policy approach on freedom, justice and people-centred development.