Magufuli’s surprise talks with Rostam

comPresident John Magufuli with businessman Rostam Aziz at State House, Dar es Salaam, yesterday. PHOTO | STATE HOUSE

What you need to know:

  • Billionaire businessman has kept a low profile and his visit to State House

Dar es Salaam. President John Magufuli yesterday held talks with businessman Rostam Aziz in a surprise development that sparked debate on social media.

The meeting at State House was revealed in the afternoon in photographs and a video of the two sharing a light moment posted online by the President’s communications director, Mr Gerson Msigwa.

Although Dr Magufuli also met opposition politicians James Mbatia and John Cheyo around the same time, it was his talks with Mr Aziz that drew the most public interest online.

Mr Aziz is one of Tanzania’s well known and established businessmen with wide interests locally and internationally. He was also one of CCM’s kingpins in his heyday in politics and at one time served as the ruling party’s treasurer.

However, he has largely been missing from the limelight after quitting politics in a huff in 2011 while accusing unnamed individuals in CCM of a “witch-hunt”. He also resigned as Igunga MP after serving for 17 uninterrupted years from 1994.

Until yesterday when he appeared smiling broadly beside the President, Mr Aziz had maintained a low profile, mainly concentrating on his business empire that traverses several continents.

In Tanzania, the billionaire is known best for his huge stake in Vodacom Tanzania and in Caspian that carried out construction works for gold and other mines. He also has interests in several other companies, including at Dar es Salaam Port and the media.

No official reason was given for Dr Magufuli’s meeting with Mr Aziz but the statement from State House said he praised the President’s economic reform agenda and pledged to support him.

He hinted his areas of support in the recorded video clip shortly after the closed-door meeting with the President.

“As a businessman, what I see being done at present is the laying down of the foundations for the economy (which will make it) grow in a more assuring manner,” said Mr Aziz.

He added: “In economic terms, we call it the removal of distortions in order to have a level playing field (so that) people can be able to carry out their businesses freely and justly, and that’s how the economy can grow in comparison to how it was in the past.”

“We support the President by making sure Tanzanians invest in our country, growing our economy…that’s the key for us as businesspeople,” the State House statement quoted him saying.

In the video clip, a relaxed Mr Aziz and the Head of State share light banter, with the businessman telling Dr Magufuli that he supports Young Africans FC.

The timing of Mr Aziz’s meeting drew wide interest as it conjured images of big business endorsement of the government’s economic agenda amid claims that the current administration was anti-private sector.

That one of the biggest and sometimes controversial names in business circles was endorsing the reforms agenda, was central in the debate by Tanzanians online who tried to make sense of the meeting.

Sources close to his businesses told The Citizen last evening that the businessman has for some time since last year been seeking audience with the President on unspecified matters.

The businessman has lately spent most of his time outside the country and was rarely reported in the local media. His name occasionally cropped up in public like when his younger brother Akram Aziz was arrested and charged in court early November on 75 counts of economic sabotage.

The younger Aziz is currently in remand after pleading not guilty to the charges which included those of money laundering and being in possession of government trophy and illegal firearms and ammunition. Economic sabotage and money laundering are unbailable.

Mr Aziz was also recently in the news when Vodacom announced it would hold a special annual general meeting today to seek permission to take over his shares in the company via Mirambo worth $200 million (over Sh400 billion).