How President John Magufuli endeared himself to Tanzania’s public

Thursday March 18 2021
Magu tz pic

By Paul Owere

Tanzania is in mourning after President John Magufuli, died on Wednesday aged 61.

 Magufuli came to power in 2015 as a blunt-talking man of the people, attacking corruption as promised whose work won him many plaudits both locally and internationally.

Born in October 1959 in Chato, Geita Region on the shores of Lake Victoria, Magufuli was the fifth President of the United Republic of Tanzania since 2015 after defeating Edward Lowassa in one of the toughest contests in the country. In fact, insiders say, he did not target politics initially.

Educated entirely in Tanzania, Magufuli was a science teacher who majored in mathematics and Chemistry and later worked as an industrial chemist at the Nyanza Cooperative Union Ltd, which managed cotton ginneries in Mwanza, northern Tanzania.

First elected to Parliament in 1995, he served in the Cabinet of Tanzania as Deputy Minister of Works from 1995 to 2000, Minister of Works from 2000 to 2006, Minister of Lands and Human Settlement from 2006 to 2008, Minister of Livestock and Fisheries from 2008 to 2010, and as Minister of Works for a second time from 2010 to 2015.

As Minister and later as President, he endeared himself to the public by fighting for efficiency. His campaigns were based on taming corruption and saving public funds as well as protection of local enterprises.


 First term

After he took office in 2015, he imposed measures to cut costs. He reduced his own foreign travel and downsized delegations travelling abroad.

For example, he controversially cut down the delegation to the Commonwealth Meeting in London to four from the initial 50.

Further, he diverted funds meant for dinners or public celebrations to supporting the needy and the sick and took the issue of ghost workers heads on.

Magufuli also cut his own salary. Several months after his election in 2015, a social media hashtag ‘What would Magufuli do’ trended in the region as people in neighbouring countries admired his apparent efficiency. It was an expression of a continent tired of corruption scandals, ineffective civil services and government waste become enamoured of Magufuli's  style

Under Magufuli’s stewardship, the IMF listed Tanzania among the fastest growing sub-Sahara economies, averaging 6 per cent. Last year, the World Bank admitted the country into the list of Lower Middle Income Economies, although the final process is due to be finalised by end of 2023.

Magufuli has built various infrastructure projects such as the mega road networks, the planned East Africa Crude oil pipeline from Hoima-Uganda to the port of Tanga, the Standard Gauge Railway which is already taking shape and capital injection into Air Tanzania.

Zealous clean-up

After his election Magufuli quickly gets to work, making wildly popular decisions such as scrapping lavish Independence Day celebrations in favour of a street clean-up which was later adopted as a policy by several municipalities.

He banned unnecessary foreign travel for government officials, in fact , in the entire five-year term he never travelled outside the African Continent with Most of his travels being in the Eastern and Southern African region.

He was quick to act on fraud with dozens who implicated in corruption are suspended with immediate effect.

Mining shakeup

Tanzania had struggled with the rot in the mining sector for many years, but that was not until a government commission was  set up to expose fraud in the mining sector that had cost the nation $84 billion over 19 years, with foreign companies of failing to declare revenues.

Tanzania accuses gold mining company Acacia Mining of owing $190 billion in unpaid taxes and shuts down its right to export gold ore concentrate.

 Tanzania and Barrick later agree to a $300 million payment to resolve the tax demand.

In July, Tanzania passes new mining laws giving the state 16 percent of equity in mining projects.

Magufuli orders the army to build a wall around the country's tanzanite mines to prevent smuggling and better control exports of the unique blue and violet gems.