A shift from 'what would Magufuli do?' to 'what does Magufuli want'

Friday November 4 2016

 

When I wrote about President John Magufuli’s first 100 days in power (Magufuli a transformative [leader] or a perfectionist of status quo?), I concluded that a perfected version of the status quo would likely continue. Specifically, I opined that “more revenues will be collected, service delivery in some sectors of the economy (health and education) may improve, old corruption will be addressed with vehemence and new emerging ones will be treated with kid gloves, but accountability institutions will be hugely undermined”.

Eight months later, my opinion is slightly more nuanced. The successes and, what I would call, failures of the President’s first year in power have in many cases been two sides of the same coin.

The President and his administration have focused on what may be called “second generation rights”, i.e. rights that are largely social, economic and cultural, such as the right to education or health care. Emanating from the campaign period and the focus on free (secondary) education for all, the President made it clear during his first days that his priority would be to ensure that government revenues increase in order to deliver for the poor.

Although we can see that this focus on second-generation rights has had some successes, we are also increasingly seeing that the challenges remain large and the administration has not been able to deliver as needed. Take the current medicine shortage or the fiasco with loans for students in higher learning institutions.

These are fundamental problems that need to be tackled in order to ensure transformational and systemic change, but instead we see the government and particularly its ministers acting in an opaque and inconsistent manner on the issues. In addition, this (unsuccessful) focus on second generation rights has come at the expense of first generation rights, i.e. rights that are largely civil and political in nature such as freedom of expression and assembly, of which I have spoken at length elsewhere. I will continue to speak about these rights because I believe that inclusive economic progress and liberty are NOT mutually exclusive.

We have seen the government hit at political parties (banning rallies and at one point even internal meetings), hit at civil society organisations (threatening to deregister a huge number of CSOs and harassing and arresting pastoralist activists in Loliondo), and now it is about to hit at the media (through the proposed Media Services Act 2016).  When will the government start hitting at its own people? These hits will contribute to a sense of fear and self-censorship, leading to a generation of leaders who do not receive much-needed critical feedback. This is detrimental to the very survival of the country.

I quote a Daily News editorial from 1976, which was dubbed “editorial of the year” at that time: “There are two most dangerous results that can result from absence of criticism and self-criticism. The first is that when criticism and self-criticism have been absent for too long, leaders in particular begin to indulge in excessive self-congratulation.

“They become big headed…Secondly, the absence of criticism and self-criticism breeds arrogance, high-handedness and intolerance. Those who feel are above criticism begin to pass themselves for semi-gods.” It is perhaps no coincidence that the infamous Newspapers Act was passed in the same year.

We have also seen the President tighten his grip on the private sector, showing that he will not tolerate businesses that do not abide by the laws of the country and, most importantly, that do not pay taxes. This has been a welcome step for me after years of advocating in and out of Parliament for stricter steps to be taken to curb tax evasion and increase government revenues. Our urban economies in Tanzania, Dar es Salaam being a case in point, have arguably grown over the past years off the back of fast money, money that has often been illegally gotten or accumulated through the loopholes of allowances, per diems, etc. It is very important that as Tanzanians, we start to live within our means and not on an illusion of wealth that does not actually exist.

At the same time, however, the President’s message to the private sector has been inconsistent and at times contradictory. Why give wealthy businessmen acres of land that they can actually afford to buy (and perhaps even already have)? Why return goods that a few months prior were labelled as ill-gotten? I would argue that perhaps the President is less keen to ensure that the laws of the land are adhered to, but that his rules are adhered to. If that is the case, then we are not necessarily seeing positive progress towards a constitutional democracy and decision-making based on the law, but a mere replacement of one leader’s rules by the next leader’s rules.

This goes hand in hand with what I would call a shift from “what would Magufuli do?” to “what does Magufuli want?” The one-man show that I spoke about in my previous article on Magufuli’s first 100 days in office has trickled down to a whole hierarchy of strongman decision-making. Whereas it is expected that a President should be able to inspire and groom a new cadre of leadership that adheres to his leadership ethos, this is dangerous if checks and balances on these leaders are disregarded. For example, I read some days ago about a DC who had imposed a new tax for the sake of “people’s contribution to their own development”. The power to impose new taxes is strictly the remit of Parliament, and not any other arm of the State.

To allow various leaders to make such decisions in an ad hoc manner is not only irresponsible, it is outright dangerous! We see this being replicated by ministers who make inspection visits and proclaim various new decrees and orders, with little respect for interrogating causes and consequences of what they are seeing and what they are ordering.  Dr Philip Mpango, now our Finance Minister, wrote in 2013 that unlocking Tanzania’s socio-economic potential requires, among other things, transformational leadership.

According to him, one trait of this is to “form winning coalitions. Leaders should not attempt to do everything themselves but strive to form and work with a formidable winning team”. Magufuli’s team is not a winning one.

Leadership in this day and age is no easy task. I refer back to remarks made by Mwalimu Julius Nyerere in 1998 on the theme of leadership and the management of change: “In retrospect, I think the burden of leadership was easier for my generation that it is for the leaders of today… the present generation of leaders have not only to deal with the effects of the economic realities, about which most of us knew very little; they have also to do so when the expectations of the people are higher than the general understanding of what is happening, and why.”

Undoubtedly, the President bears a heavy burden. His first year has shown that he has shouldered that burden in a shaky manner, at times relying on strongman tactics to push through changes that require technical and institutionalised solutions, thus undermining the extent to which his decisions can actually be transformational. One year is enough for trial and error and for shock therapy. What this country now needs is a visionary leader who aims for systemic and sustainable change.

Zitto Kabwe is leader of ACT-Wazalendo and Kgoma Urban MP