Is John Magufuli the Leader Africa Has Been Waiting For?

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Last October, the most tightly fought election in Tanzania’s history named John Magufuli as the country’s new president.

In some ways, it was a predictable win for the CCM. The ruling party has been in power for forty years – long before Tanzania became a multiparty state – and won every election ever since. However, it’s the events that have taken place after these latest elections that have captured the world’s attention. From the moment Magufuli was sworn in, he’s waged war on corruption, introduced a wave of austerity measures and earned global recognition for his no-nonsense approach to managing the government.

So could John Magufuli be the leader Africa has been waiting for – or is history repeating itself once again?

 

The Magufuli effect

One thing Magufuli has made perfectly clear already is his regime will be one of change. He spent the election campaign making the kind of ambitious promises you would expect from a ruling party’s presidential candidate. The difference is he’s making a clear effort to deliver on those promises – something you don’t see from many leaders anywhere in the world.

His antics haven’t gone unnoticed with the international community either. His austerity measures became a trending topic across Africa and beyond – a topic of parody among users asking “what would Magufuli do?” Above all, though, it has been his tough measures against government officials spending public funds and overall corruption that have made him a leader the world want to watch.

 

Magufuli’s key actions as president:

  • Limit travel privileges for government officials
  • Cancel Tanzania’s expensive Independence Day celebrations; use finds for road expansions
  • Slash the budget for his inauguration from $100,000 to $7,000; buy hospital beds with the remaining funds
  • A crackdown on tax evasion and corruption, saving more than $11 million
  • Presents a new budget with social spending up from 27% to 40%

 

The list goes on, filled with bold moves that fit in with his trademark philosophy of “work and nothing more”. However, little more than six months into his first tenure as Tanzania’s leader, questions are already being asked.

 

A tale too good to be true?

The bulldozer approach that earns Magufuli so much praise has also prompted some to question where his presidency will take Tanzania. Last month, Michelle DeFreese, of the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy in Tanzania, asked the question: “Is Magufuli the region’s next Kagame?”

Her article cites a number of similarities between Magufuli and the early days of Rwanda President Paul Kagame’s first term. And while she ends with a sense of hope that Magufuli can achieve the same economic feats as his Rwandan counterpart, not everyone would be so happy to see him follow in Kagame’s footsteps.

The Rwandan president has joined a growing list of African leaders seeking to extend their presidency beyond the constitutional two terms. While his ruthless grip on power has become a concern for the international community. As the years pass, Kagame’s reputation is plummeting.

Then there are the questions over Magufuli’s political abilities. The Economist took a more critical view of his approach this week, saying: “he has a worrying tendency not to think things through”.

“When he thinks a public official has misbehaved he fires him on the spot, rather than following due process. More important is that he shows little interest in wider reforms aimed at spurring economic growth. If anything he seems to be making it tougher to invest in a country that already scores dismally on the World Bank’s ease of doing business index, where it is ranked 139th out of 189,” the article reads.

 

The unpredictable president

It’s hard to know exactly where Magufuli will take Tanzania because he’s unpredictable by nature. Even his political ideology remains something of a mystery as he steps between the socialist lines of the CCM ruling party and a capitalist democracy.

His bulldozer antics certainly make for great headlines but they won’t replicate the decisive economic calls of Paul Kagame and Yoweri Museveni. That kind of progress will rely on whatever political substance Magufuli has underneath the tough exterior. Not to mention the fact that both Kagame and Museveni’s astuteness has been accompanied by increasingly oppressive regimes.

As for Magufuli, all we know at this stage is he intends to make an impact. He’s already proven he can that much – but what kind of impact he intends to make is yet to be seen.

 

Featured image: YouTube