My heart is bleeding from the news of the passing of President John Magufuli of Tanzania. When I learned the news, all I could think of were Bob Marley‘s words “How long shall they kill our prophets …?” As you scroll through the media, all Western world newspapers seem so cheerful announcing that the African president who was a coronavirus denier has died, brushing away the legacy of this man and what he has done for the people of Tanzania and of Africa in general. President John Magufuli passed away yesterday on March 17, of a heart attack! Odd for this very healthy man who was seen doing push-ups with soldiers just a few weeks ago. So who was John Magufuli?
John Pombe Magufuli was born on October 29, 1959 in the Chato region of then Tanganyika (now Tanzania). He earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and chemistry at the University of Dar es Salaam in 1988. Later, he earned his master’s and doctorate degrees in chemistry from the same university in 1994 and 2009, respectively. I was happy to learn that he had attended the Mkwawa High School, named after the great king Mkwawa who defied and defeated the Germans, and later Mkwawa College of Education at the University of Dar es Salaam.
For years he was a secondary school teacher and then a chemist with a farmers’ cooperative union before entering politics as a lawmaker representing Chato in the National Assembly. He also worked as an industrial chemist before going into politics under the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party. He was elected a member of parliament in 1995 and that same year appointed deputy minister of works, later becoming full minister in 2000. He served in several Cabinet positions, notably as the hardworking public works minister nicknamed “the bulldozer” in the administration of predecessor Jakaya Kikwete. In 2010, he gained popularity after he was appointed Tanzania’s minister for works and transportation for the second time. His bullish leadership style and fight against graft in the road construction industry was endearing for Tanzanians, who affectionately nicknamed him “the bulldozer.” Under his leadership, Tanzania saw growth and development. For instance, to leave Dar es Salaam the capital could take 4 hours, but Magufuli had so many roads build, that in just a few years, Tanzania was seen under a brand new lens.
He ran as president in 2015 and won 58% of the vote, defeating Edward Lowassa of the Chadema opposition party. He had a reputation as an incorruptible man. In 2015, the newly elected Magufuli made news on his first day in office. He showed up unannounced in the morning at the Ministry of Finance offices to see how many officials had come to work on time (this is reminiscent of Thomas Sankara). That week he also banned unnecessary trips by government officials, as an austerity measure. He soon canceled Independence Day celebrations and said the funds budgeted for the event would be used to improve roads and infrastructure in Dar es Salaam, the commercial capital; he also urged citizens to clean up their communities to fight a cholera outbreak. Magufuli also fired a number of top government officials in his anti-corruption crusade. Under his command, his government passed laws to increase Tanzania’s stake in its mineral resources and demanded millions of dollars in back taxes from foreign mining companies, giving itself the right to renegotiate or terminate bad mining contracts in the event of proven fraud, which these multinationals did not appreciate; after all they are used to plundering Africa without paying a dime, so you can imagine their anger.
Magufuli was focused on Tanzania’s economic success and sought to implement ambitious projects that would lift more of his people out of poverty. Under his reign, he expanded free education, and rural electrification. Scores of infrastructure programs, including trains and railways, a hydropower dam set to double electricity output, and the revival of Air Tanzania, were launched. Tanzania is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, and in July 2020 the World Bank categorized it as a middle-income country five years ahead of schedule. “We had envisaged achieving this status by 2025 but, with strong determination, this has been possible in 2020,” Magufuli tweeted at the time.
In Tanzania, President Magufuli was a popular figure. His lean government and cost-cutting measures greatly earned him respect among citizens. As said earlier, he embarked on major infrastructure projects such as the port of Bagamoyo, and upgrading the Dar-es-Salaam International Airport. His hands-on war against corruption was admired not just in Tanzania — but the entire continent. “Magufuli came in on the platform of fighting corruption and empowering the masses,” Martin Adati, a Kenyan political analyst, told DW. “It is the people who have been benefiting from corruption and all these other funny things who are not very happy with him.”Magufuli remained a popular figure at home
So, why are Bob Marley’s words on my mind “How long shall they kill our prophets…?” Isn’t it strange that in Africa, the best ones are always the ones dying while the ones who are selling out their countries to the West are still standing? You know, the ones like P.B., I.D., S.N., F.E., A.B., ADO, P.K., M.S., and all of them? They can murder their populations, impoverish them, open their frontiers to all sorts of experiments by the big multinationals, and they stay so long in power… oh, and they get accolades from Western media as well. Isn’t it odd that this is the second president to die in office in East Africa, after Pierre Nkurunziza last year? And both were called “deniers” by the west? We have to pray for the people of Tanzania, because this might open the door to all sorts of funky business, nullifying Magufuli’s legacy, name, and efforts, and killing the wind of independence which was blowing on other African countries as well. May the spirits of Mirambo, Mkwawa, Nyerere, and Magufuli watch over Tanzania! So long President Magufuli, we liked your “bulldozer” style, because it included us, the people!