Third Eye

Magufuli too complex to be viewed in one lense

Friday, March 26th, 2021 00:00 |
The late Tanzania President, John Pombe Magufuli.

The late Tanzanian President, John Pombe Magufuli was loved by his people!

It has been an intense emotional week for Tanzanians as masses of people turned out to bid farewell to the man who led them for the past six years and who am they only re-elected six months ago.

Africa, indeed, the world, has had few presidents like Magufuli. He has been a disruptor per excellence.

In East Africa, Magufuli may fall in the mold of Uganda’s Idi Amin. However, it would be unfair to compare him with Amin, except for his force of will that he imposed on the country.

Initially, Amin’s most visible impact was his destructive force. Many people lost their lives under his regime, he spread fear among his people, sought to spread his adventures across the region, and by the time he was dislodged from State House in Entebbe, many were just happy to be relieved of the man.

Years later, historians are taking stock of Amin’s contributions to Uganda and while his destructive capacity is there for all to see, he is also remembered of many other positive contributions. 

Under him Uganda nearly eliminated corruption, infrastructure was put in place that has endured the test of time, he set up permanent embassy offices in many global capitals which have remained the pride of Uganda, built an airport and an enduring hospital, established some of the then most modern hotels in Uganda that still speak of his sober side.

Further afield, Magufuli brings to mind the former President of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara, who lasted just about four years in office but left an indelible mark when the assassin’s bullet silenced his people revolution.

Africa has not had many forceful leaders, however. Former Libyan President, Muammar Gadhafi was probably one of them whose reign changed the lives of his people.

East Africa has only known systems leaders who have played within the broad rules often not daring to rock the boat.

May be Magufuli knew he did not have enough time and therefore set to make a difference. Tanzania is not the same country he inherited.

From an ideological point of view, Magufuli has steered off some of the paths that Tanzania has traveled since the days of its founding father, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.

Nyerere was a pan Africanist, an east African who delayed the day of his country’s independence in pursuit of a shared experience with other East African countries.

Magufuli had a barely disguised disdain for the East African project that probably owes much of its effort to Nyerere.

Unlike his predecessors who were certainly internationalists and sought to play their part in the global scene, Magufuli was content to be a Tanzanian and provincial in orientation.

But this driving commitment to the nation of Tanzania is where he may have left his greatest mark in the hearts of his people.

In a matter of days following his death, artists across the country have sprung up with songs praising and immortalising his legacy.

For a man who is supposed to have driven fear among his people, the outpouring of emotions and such praise tells a different story. 

Probably Magufuli has been judged too harshly on the account of his stand on Covid- 19, on which he essentially took a position contradicting convention, his impatience with idle talk in the name of democracy, his distaste for idleness and for once forcefully driving his civil servants to work among others. 

The results of these measures have been there for all too see: the airport, the roads, the hospitals, the conservation efforts, the bridges, the new work ethics and probably ingrained in the psyche of his people, a new sense of nationalism and patriotism.

Tanzania has not had such a sense of patriotism since the days of Nyerere. Those who write history must always guard against the dangers of a single story.

Magufuli is too complex a man to be viewed through one lens. At the end Tanzania will be the richer for having had Magufuli. - The writer is dean, School of Communication, Daystar University

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