Mr Speaker, once a sycophant, it’s costly trying to be your own man

Saturday January 08 2022
Job Ndugai

Tanzania’s Speaker Job Ndugai resigns from his post on January 6, 2022. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


The fractious nature of Tanzania’s rulership has come to the fore once again, and, once again, the fighting is taking on an intensity comprehensible to only a few.

A little sojourn into the immediate past will stand us in good stead as we try to understand how we got to our current situation.

John Pombe Magufuli, who was president for five years and a few months leading up to March last year, was a maverick who led his mainly unquestioning followers to believe that he was some kind of saviour who could save them from Covid-19, and who could “bring prosperity” to them. They actually believed — and even he himself believed — that he was invincible.

That was until March of last year—the exact date remains shrouded in mystery — when Pombe was revealed to be only mortal, and his place was assumed by Samia Suluhu Hassan, the first female to be elevated to the presidency of the United Republic of Tanzania. History was being made and we all sat up and watched and listened.

Close to a year has flown by since that transition, and the country is still taking its ginger steps on the new road of a post-Magufuli reality, no one being too sure where we are headed.

A heavy legacy is upon this country which has literally emerged from the five years of a Magufuli presidency which, at the same time it was bombarding the populace with illusory ‘development’ which comprised roads, bridges and dams, it was pushing the country into a gulag where political dissent was anathema, the word of the top man was sacrosanct, and those who disagreed were shot or disappeared.


In five hard years, Magufuli managed to outlaw dissent, whether in his own ruling party, CCM, or in the opposition parties, whose actions he banned, though it was not known how he could do that to political parties sanctioned by the constitution and the laws of the land.

The important thing to note here is that while his opponents within the recognised political opposition were being stifled, his own CCM hierarchy also felt the heat, as they could not raise their voices to say what they were unhappy about in Magufuli’s decisions, which rode roughshod over his own party’s wishes.

No wonder, then, that after he was gone, many of his decisions found new opposition from within his own party, people taking positions they were known to have been too scared to touch with a ten-foot pole when Pombe was at the helm Why? Simply, the man was dead, and dead presidents cannot bite anyone, can they ?

No, they cannot possibly do that. But new ones surely can, and the new president, in the shape of Samia, could easily have been mistaken for being toothless and thus one to test for grit.

For some reason still unfathomable to me, Samia was chosen by the speaker of the Union parliament, who had all along shown himself to be so pliable before the executive that many saw him as the government poodle.

Why he chose to cross his little horns with those of Samia over the issue he chose is still anyone’s guess. Some people suggest he was fishing for something over which to take Samia to task, just to test her mettle and feel the ground for future engagements.

Job Ndugai tackled the lady president over her decision to continue borrowing from international lending institutions, the speaker suggesting that the government’s borrowing policies would soon expose the whole country to being “put on sale”.

The president’s response was swift and sharp, addressing a well-publicised meeting, broadcast live on the major networks, to blast the speaker as someone who was not helping her in her efforts to “bring development” to the country, insisting that she had no other choice but to borrow in the circumstances of the economy she had inherited.

She sounded sore, if that is the word, suggesting that Ndugai’s attack was a stab in the back, suggesting that the attacks she received from the opposition were more honourable than “these attacks from your own people” .

After that blistering attack, it was clear Ndugai had run his course, at least for now. The hounds were out now, baying for his blood. Some Young Turks were on social media declaring their readiness to replace him as speaker. He tried to apologise, but his apologies sounded feeble and insincere.

In a couple of days, he had resigned, ending the sad tenure of a speaker who made a career out of rubber stamping executive decisions under Magufuli but forgot to continue with his stance under Samia. He paid for his inconsistency in bootlicking.

A number of lessons have to be drawn from this episode, but many questions will remain unanswered.

In the coming weeks, pundits will be mulling the inexplicable actions of a man who, though clearly beholden to the executive to the extent of ignoring his duties as head of the legislature, was too ignorant of the way sycophancy works in systems like ours: once you are a sycophant it is costly to try to be your own man.

The fat lady has not sung yet.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]