Dar es Salaam. In mid-July when ruling party CCM picked Dr John Pombe Magufuli as its flag bearer for presidential race he was fairly unpopular to the outside world, but today he stands as the most discussed president, not only in Africa, but around the world.
Only three weeks in office Dr Magufuli’s work for all good reasons has been capturing headlines in major newspapers from East Africa to as far as Australia. This is in addition to hilarious twitter hashtag (#WhatWouldMagufuliDo) which has taken the social media by a storm.
What made Dr Magufuli famous out there are the very same things that caught the Tanzanian population by surprise. In a continent where, in general, corruption and embezzlement of public funds are a way of life for African leaders, Dr Magufuli’s rigorous and prompt austerity measures have been hailed as very impressive. He has basically done what many people thought to be impossible things to be done by an African leader. A famous columnist, Mr Charles Onyango-Obbo, has branded Dr Magufuli as UnAfrican.
His cost-cutting measures among others included the scrapping of Independence Day celebrations which is annually held on December 9, and directed that the money set for the usually colourful event to be spent on expansion of a road between Mwenge and Morocco. He also ordered that the day should be spent by all Tanzanians in a clean-up campaign to combat cholera outbreak, which in the last three months has claimed the lives of 60 people. According to WHO, in October alone, the water borne recorded more than 5,000 cases.
“It is so shameful that we are spending huge amounts of money to celebrate 54 years of independence when our people are dying of cholera,” remarked Dr Magufuli.
In his third day in office Dr Magufuli banned all but essential foreign travels by public servants; calling on high commissioners and ambassadors abroad to take over. So much so, the first class and business class tickets have been restricted to the President, Vice President and Prime Minister alone.
He went on to cut down the parliament’s inaugural cocktail party budget from Sh250 million ($100,000) to Sh15 million ($7,000). The rest of the money was directed to Muhimbili National Hospital to buy hospital beds.
He also ordered the cancellation of meetings and conferences in hotels for public servants, saying that the government would no longer foot the bills for conferences or meetings facilities in posh hotels. Instead, he directed that ministerial boardrooms to be used and telecommunications technologies will be deployed to allow for two-way video and audio conferencing.
It is from these measures that the editor for Mail and Guardian Africa Charles Onyango-Obbo wrote in his weekly op-ed in The East African Newspaper that “Magufuli had turned out to be a totally unAfrican leader. Instead of measuring new curtains for State House and ordering his own expensive convoy, he was cutting back.”
In Nigeria, the country’s business based magazine Ventures Africa run a story titled ‘Here is How Nigeria Can Emulate Tanzania’ praising Dr Magufuli for working on his campaign promises.
Using Dr Magufuli’s performance, the newspaper is now demanding more tangible action from the country’s president Muhamadu Buhari who came into power six months ago.
“He (Magufuli) appears to be upholding his campaign slogan ‘Hapa kazi tu’ (work and nothing else) through recent declarations and the implementation of new policies within the country… Meanwhile, in Nigeria, President Buhari and APC’s mantra of change seem to have been a lie for six months on as many of the campaign promises, which were the basis upon which Nigerians voted for the APC, have not been fulfilled,” reads the story in part.
In South Africa, an online based publication, The South African.com posted a story titled ’10 things (Jacob)Zuma (the president of South Africa) can learn from Tanzania’s new president.’ In the story the writer noted that although Dr Magufuli become president only three weeks ago, he’s not pulling any punches when it comes to government reform and weeding out corruption.
“So what is it that makes John Magufuli so great? Well, unlike so many of his counterparts, he’s relentless in his assault on corruption, laziness, and overspending; something that no doubt has already made him very unpopular among his own political comrades. Let’s face it; the man makes almost every other leader look like a thief,” reads part of the story.
It is not just the African press which is ‘falling in love’ with Dr Magufuli but also African people at large. With corruption cases reaching unprecedented levels across the continent with little is being done to curb the menace, which makes people increasingly bitter at their leaders, then comes Magufuli.
Just last week, he fired Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) Commissioner General Rished Bade after failing to collect tax worth Sh80 billion from 350 containers at the Dar es Salaam port. Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa, on the other hand, suspended eight other TRA bosses and several Tanzania Ports Authority (TPA) executives over the case, in which its investigation is ongoing. So far, Director of Criminal Investigations (DCI) Athumani Diwani, has reported that some 12 people have been arrested in connection with the growing scandal.
As a result, President Magufuli who will mark his first month in office on Saturday became a social media sensation, with Twitter hashtag (#WhatWouldMagufuliDO) becoming the most trending platform in the continent for the last one week.
Social media people have already coined a new verb; to “magufulify”, meaning “to make something faster and cheaper” and “to deprive public officials of their capacity to enjoy life on taxpayer’s expense”.
Some outside Tanzania have gone a step further, wishing Dr Magufuli could be their president so he could fix their messes too.
Malawi 24 run a story titled ‘Malawians shun uninspiring Mutharika, turn to Tanzania’s Magufuli’. The publication wrote it that President Magufuli became a social media sensational in the country following his work approach.
According to the paper, while others have come out clearly that Malawi leader Peter Mutharika who rose to power challenging that he will change the way things are run in the country should borrow a leaf from Dr Magufuli.
It is seldom for developed world citizens to pick an African leader as a mirror of efficiency, but with Magufuli things are shaping in opposite direction.
In his opinion piece to the Courier Mail Newspaper, Australian editor Rowan Dean took a swipe on the country’s Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull who is in office for twelve weeks for ‘underperforming’ and in contrast hailing Magufuli for ‘impressive’ work in three weeks.