When Magufuli met his predecessors, did they watch World Cup 2018 or talk turkey?

Tuesday July 10 2018

Tanzania's President John Magufuli (second-right) met his predecessors Ali Hassan Mwinyi (right) and Benjamin Mkapa (centre) as well as other former top government officials.

Tanzania's President John Magufuli (second-right) met his predecessors Ali Hassan Mwinyi (right) and Benjamin Mkapa (centre) as well as other former top government officials. It was the very first time that such a consultation was held since Magufuli assumed the presidency in 2015. PHOTO | MWANANCHI | NMG 

By JENERALI ULIMWENGU
More by this Author

It looked like a council of the retired greats assembled together to offer their innermost reflections on the performance of their successor.

Although the meeting was held in camera, it was thought from the snippets released by the convenor that the grey-haired former leaders had not been brought together for the sake of a cuppa tea.

They were surely come to give their opinions on how the ship of state was sailing and what they thought about its helmsman, President John Pombe Magufuli, and his style of leadership.

So, who did Magufuli invite to this conclave of heads of state present and past? There were presidents Ali Hassan Mwinyi and Benjamin Mkapa, but the other retired president, Jakaya Kikwete, was not among those who turned up, the unofficial explanation being that he was out of the country.

In addition to the former presidents, most of the top aides who served under these heads of state were also in attendance – their prime ministers, chief justices and Speakers of parliament.

It was the very first time that such a consultation was held since Magufuli assumed the presidency in late 2015, and the novelty of this meeting was brought sharply home by the perceived reluctance of the president to consult anybody whomsoever.

So tongues began to wag. What was this meeting in aid of? Was the president anxious to let the populace know that his illustrious predecessors were in his corner? If so, in exactly what kind of trouble was he to make him feel he needed these retirees to endorse him?

Was he now feeling isolated and, like misery, in love with company? Or was it just that he had a couple of questions over which he wanted to pick the brains of those who went before him and who might have experienced the same?

Nobody suggested that he had called his elders so that they could watch Russia 2018 together.

Fighting impossible wars

There is little doubt that President Magufuli sounds increasingly like an embattled man fighting seemingly impossible wars.

Just before the conclave of presidents, he took the occasion of the swearing-in of new ministers as a launch-pad for attacks on his party’s MPs from the south who had criticised the government over the desultory payments to cashew growers in their constituencies.

He even suggested that he did not care if they all decamped from the ruling party – because, he said, it would still have a big enough majority to rule.

This may be the bravado of someone who does not have too much political savvy, and who will soon expend his political capital; maybe he has started seeing the signs of the nefarious effects of this cavalier approach to governance, and maybe he needs the older boys to bail him out.

I suspect the retired presidents and their teams will – because, basically, they have no alternative.

Though he has largely ignored them, they know Magufuli is their creation, and if he collapses, he takes them all down with him. They have to worry about their own skins, after all.

Damning ecclesiastic letters

A recent study by a reputable polling outfit, Twaweza, showed this week that Magufuli’s popularity, put at 91 per cent two years ago, has plummeted to 55 per cent, a slide that no other president since the reintroduction of multiparty politics has registered.

That will not please Magufuli, but he has other things to worry about, especially the damning ecclesiastic letters of the Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches around Easter that berated his regime as anti-democratic, anti-free press and governing through fear.

The churches deplored his muzzling of parliament, his closing down of political spaces for political parties; the unexplained disappearances of individuals and targeted attacks on opponents.

Though state agents have attempted to water down these grim accusations, this has done nothing to make the clerics recant their allegations, and this must be extremely worrying for Magufuli. It is suggested that this is why he must consult.

If he took this route in earnest and tried to make life easier for people who do not agree with him, his move would be more than welcome and he would get a lot of support from various quarters. But he will have to go much farther than just meeting with his predecessors. More thorough consultation is indicated.