Dar es Salaam. President John Magufuli has opted out of what would have been his maiden trip to Europe and will instead attend tomorrow’s swearing-in ceremony of his Ugandan counterpart, Mr Yoweri Museveni.
President Magufuli was scheduled to address the 2016 Anti-Corruption Summit opening tomorrow in London, but will be represented by Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa instead.
He was among only two African leaders invited, the other being Nigerian leader Muhammadu Buhari. Both have demonstrated renewed zeal to fight corruption in their respective countries as new presidents.
Some 600 leaders from around the world will participate in the summit organised by British Prime Minister David Cameron
President Magufuli will be in Kampala on the same day to witness the swearing-in of Mr Museveni for his fifth term in office as Uganda’s president following his election victory in February.
A statement released yesterday by the Prime Minister’s Office in Dodoma confirmed that Mr Majaliwa would travel to the UK.
It said Dr Magufuli would be in Uganda both as chairman of the East Africa Community (EAC) Heads of States Summit and leader of a neighbouring country.
“His Excellency the President is chairman of the EAC and the date (of the London conference) has coincided with the swearing-in of a regional head of state, so he will attend the ceremony in Kampala instead,” the statement said.
Mr Majaliwa will be accompanied to the London summit by Foreign Affairs minister Augustine Mahiga, Chief Justice Mohammed Chande Othman and PCCB director general Valentino Mlowola, among others.
Sources within the government told The Citizen yesterday that the recent pipeline deal sealed between Tanzania and Uganda was the main reason Dr Magufuli skipped the London conference.
According to the sources, it was felt that other than being chairman of EAC, it was in Tanzania’s strategic interest for Dr Magufuli to be in Kampala as a gesture of gratitude for the Ugandan leader’s personal push to have the pipeline pass through Tanzania amid relentless pressure from neighbouring Kenya.
“It’s true that arrangements had been made to receive Magufuli in London, but things changed following the invitation from Uganda. The pipeline deal is still in the news, and it is only logical for the President to be in Kampala,” a source said on condition of anonymity.
It was a view shared by a cross-section of political commentators who spoke to The Citizen yesterday.
Mr Richard Mbunda of the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) said the Kampala event would demonstrate the two leaders’ commitment to moving forward together.
“Tanzania, as a country, shouldn’t sleep until implementation of the project commences because of its strategic importance to the nation. Their meeting will cement the deal because the battle for the pipeline isn’t over yet,” he said.
Dr Benson Bana, also of UDSM, welcomed the decision, saying the timing of the visit after the signing of the pipeline deal was critical.
Mr Innocent Shoo, an assistant lecturer at the Centre for Foreign Relations in Dar es Salaam, said Dr Magufuli is the head of state of a neighbouring country and EAC chairman, and it was therefore unthinkable for him to skip the Kampala event in favour of the London meeting.
Former Saint Augustine University of Tanzania (Saut) Vice Chancellor Charles Kitima said it would have been “scandalous” if President Magufuli had chosen to travel to London instead of Kampala.
Mr Godwin Gonde Aman of the Centre for Foreign Relations said Mr Museveni needed the support of his fellow regional leaders following the widely condemned elections in Uganda, which he won comfortably earlier in the year.
“President Magufuli’s presence should serve to reassure Museveni that he still has the support of African leaders,” he said.