To Raila, he was a long time friend, confidante

Friday, March 19th, 2021 00:00 |
Tanzanian President Pombe John Magufuli (centre) and his wife Janet welcome Kenyan leader Raila Odinga to their home. Photo/Courtesy

Hillary Mageka @hillarymageka

Tanzania’s Covid-skeptic President John Pombe Magufuli who died on Wednesday evening aged 61 was a long time ally of Kenya’s Opposition Chief Raila Odinga.

Many will remember him for his controversial handling of the pandemic in Tanzania. But for Raila and his family, President Magufuli and his family have been close friends for a long time.

In his capacity as the AU High Representative for Infrastructure, the former Prime Minister has  mourned Magufuli as a partner whom they worked together especially in the areas of connecting Eastern Africa by way of infrastructure.

However, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Raila, a close friend of Magufuli’s, revealed that the late Tanzanian president had refused to heed advice from other regional leaders, including President Uhuru Kenyatta, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame to abandon his unconventional policies on the disease.

He said his own efforts to reach out to the Tanzanian leader had been futile, and Magufuli is yet to respond to messages left on his automatic answering machine.

As a result, he warned, the closely connected region risks descending into a calamity as President Magufuli holds onto his business-as-usual call to Tanzanians.

Speaking in an interview with British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) on May 10th 2020, the AU High Representative for Infrastructure said the region’s destiny is joined at the hip and no country should pull separate moves that could be detrimental to the others.

“As a nationalist, he needs to get information from fellow regional leaders. This is a regional issue. Our destiny is tied together.

We do not want a situation where any of these countries will have to close their borders. That is why dialogue is the most important thing,” Raila said.

Yesterday, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader sent his condolence to the family President John Pombe Magufuli and the people of Tanzania saying he had lost a friend who been by his side at my most difficult and painful moments.

“It is with deep sadness that I have learned of the passing of my friend, President Magufuli of the United Republic of Tanzania,” he said.

Painful moments

He went on: “President Magufuli and his family have been close friends for a long period of time. He has been by my side at my most difficult and painful moments.

Over the years, we have worked together especially in the areas of connecting Eastern Africa by way of infrastructure,”

“On behalf of my family and the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), I send our deepest condolences to the President Magufuli’s family and the people of the United Republic of Tanzania at this profoundly difficult and sad time,” Raila added.

“To First Lady Mama Janeth Magufuli, our thoughts and prayers are with you as a family.

We thank you for the occasions you welcomed us at your home and we stand with you at this hour of grief and sorrow in your family,” Raila said.

To the people of the United Republic of Tanzania and to the party of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Chama Cha Mapinduzi, (CCM) we mourn with you and join you in celebrating the extraordinary life and career of President Magufuli, the former premier concluded.

Ties between the Raila’s and Magufuli’s become public in December 2012, when he was the Works minister in President Jakaya Kikwete’s administration.

Magufuli attended ODM party delegates’ conference at Kasarani gymnasium where he endorsed Raila for Presidency.

This prompted opposition party Chadema to question the minister’s move, which they said could potentially cause diplomatic tensions between Dar es Salaam and Nairobi.

CCM said Magufuli had attended the event as Raila’s friend. When he ascended to power as fifth President, some Kenyan media reported that the Uhuru State House was uncomfortable with “Raila’s man” at the helm.

But  Uhuru embraced Magufuli and the relations between the two governments have been cordial. Raila’s friendship with the Tanzanian leader has remained intact and personal.

In 2016, Raila accompanied by his wife Ida and daughter visited the Tanzanian First Family in their home village in Chato District, in Western Tanzania where they spent a week.

They were welcomed by Magufuli and his wife, becoming the first official visitors to the President’s home village since he assumed office.

During the visit, Magufuli and Odinga together attended a church service in Chato where the former Kenyan premier explained how they become special friends.

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