The demagufulification of the politics of Tanzania is continuing apace, and President Samia Suluhu seems determined to remove as many reminders of her predecessor , and she looks unstoppable.
This is hardly surprising, because this lady could not have been comfortable with her predecessor (in content and in style), who was remarkably more coarse and crude in his dealings with other members of society.
A little more than a year since former president John Magufuli died, Samia is seriously picking apart many of the man’s legacy, and not too many people are unhappy.
She is sure taking her time, but what she is doing seems to come from a playbook she keeps close to her chest even as she keeps telling people that she is just continuing with the implementation of what Magufuli initiated.
For starters, she is civil and polite where Magufuli was, well, other things, although she has shown that she can occasionally kick butt, as she did when an uppity Speaker of parliament rubbed her the wrong way about her foreign borrowing.
She can also pull rabbits out of her hat. A couple of weeks ago, Samia surprised many people when she engineered the dropping of the prosecution charges against the leader of the opposition, Freeman Mbowe, who had spent months in remand prison on charges of “terrorism”, which many considered spurious.
The circumstances of Mbowe’s release made it clear she was seriously looking for je ne sais quoi , springing him from jail in the afternoon and hosting him in a tête-à-tête at State House the same evening.
This has created a new psychology in the land as people started talking of a new post-Magufuli era in which one could expect the relaxation of some of the more egregious political and economic exactions of the Magufuli presidency.
One area most badly affected by Magufuli was the political arena, which saw illegal prohibitions by Magufuli, who gave orders to the police to thwart any and all political activities, making the opposition politicians jobless, unable to exercise their right to do politics.
Magufuli’s lame excuse for ignoring the constitutional and legal order that had sanctioned political pluralism since 1992 was that he was working to “bring development” to the people and that such work did not brook the “wasting of time” on politics.
Of course, this did not make sense, and it was illegal, but the enforcement of such draconian and illegal orders was in the hands of a police force that had forgotten every rule it was taught and whose sole motivation was to please the boss while protecting their jobs by doing what was clearly illegal.
But it is all too easy to point out the opposition political parties as having been the only ones badly hit by Magufuli’s fiats, but so was the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi, which, strangely, found itself unable to do politics well.
CCM under Magufuli was reduced to a praise-singing outfit whose only allowed role was to receive directives from Magufuli and his band of acolytes and implement them without question.
The extreme centralisation of the party activities thinned the party structures to such an extent that they were cut to half, depopulating the decision-making organs and turning them into receptacles for orders from Magufuli and his (literally) hand-picked acolytes.
Now Samia is busy undoing that. She has superintended the renewing of the party structures of old, bringing back the numerical strength of the organs to give more voice to the grassroots and curbing the powers of the tiny number of Magufuli’s bureaucrats .
She has eased out Magufuli’s people, such as secretary-general Bashiru Ally, who had become such a surprising favourite of the gone dictator but now sits forlornly in parliament, with hardly a clue as to what fate has done to people and things.
Samia has brought back one Abdul Kinana, the veteran hard-nosed campaigner who has been known to conjure “electoral victories” where the rest of the populace saw no possibility of such easy wins.
She has rehabilitated a former propaganda minister who once boasted of having helped to score a Maradona-type “hand of God” for CCM but found himself kicked out when he dared to criticise a truer Magufuli favourite who was regional chief of Dar es Salaam .
She has brought back a former Foreign minister who pretended to decamp from CCM to oppose Magufuli in the last election in 2020, as well as a couple of other dissidents.
Sometimes the changes wrought by Samia seem breathtaking and dizzying, even improbable and unsustainable at times. But she will need to move resolutely forward.
The Tanzanian political class — I am sure she understands — is full of liars and dissemblers who believe in nothing apart from their bellies and the inordinate appetites they have cultivated over the years.
They will not tell her the truth when things start going really awry.
Plus, they may not know how to behave, or what to say to her by way of advice when things start moving towards the crunch of 2025, when the next election is supposed to take place, and in which she has said she will run for the presidency.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]