Inside Magufuli’s controversial legacy

Thursday, March 18th, 2021 11:00 |
The late Tanzanian President John Magufuli. Photo/File

The late Tanzania's President John Magufuli cultivated an image of a rambunctious action man, a departure from his predecessors' demure and stately styles.

His interventionist leadership won him fans beyond Tanzania, especially in the East African region where he once inspired the #WhatWouldMagufuliDo Twitter hashtag that was shared by supporters of his no-nonsense approach to fighting corruption.

There will be vigorous debate about his legacy and whether his successor should stay the course or change direction.

But this discussion cannot be divorced from the current trend on the continent, where support for democracy remains strong but most people are increasingly disillusioned by the failure to deliver the promised dividends.

So while a significant number of Africans would prefer an action-driven leader like Magufuli, they equally want leaders who govern honestly and a government that respects them and does not hide information about their president's health.

Magufuli's death has been attributed to a long-standing heart condition, but many will still suspect that he succumbed to Covid-19.

It is an irony that the pandemic he so strenuously denied has outlasted him, turning his once heralded presidency into a cautionary tale for the region and the continent.

Magufuli was declared president on his 56th birthday in October 2015. He was elected for a second term following a disputed poll last year.

He was hailed for his anti-corruption stance during his time in office, but he was also accused of cracking down on dissent and curtailing certain freedom.

His critics agree that Magufuli contributed to Tanzania's development. He invested in large infrastructure projects such as a standard-gauge railway to connect the country with its neighbours, major highways, and a bus system in the commercial hub of Dar es Salaam.

He also increased electricity production, reducing the need for power rationing.

But it is his approach to Covid-19 that many analysts say will define his legacy. There has been little testing in the country and no plans made for a vaccination programme, leaving the country as an outlier.

In Tanzania, people have reacted with grief and disbelief to the news of Magufuli's death.

One, Joseph Petro, told the BBC he thought Magufuli was a "caring" leader, adding "he was helping people in one way or another".

"I am really pained. I am personally pained," he said.

Another, Illuminata Abel, offered similar sentiments: "He was not my relative, but he was someone who listened to people's problems, and he was down to earth."

More on World