Tanzania needs some cathartic healing from Magufuli trauma

Saturday February 11 2023
Former Tanzanian President the late John Pombe Magufuli.

Former Tanzanian President the late John Pombe Magufuli. PHOTO | PSU


Now, calls are being made for the excesses made during the John Magufuli era to be accounted for, and it is certainly a good thing.

There are just too many injustices that were committed in those five to six years that have not been explained, and I doubt that the task of bringing them to some light can be attempted in a haphazard manner.

The list is daunting, and one may not even know where to begin. There are so many grievances that have been expressed in so many varieties of circumstances that we may be easily lost in the labyrinth without touching the core of the problem.

If we choose to start now, we will soon find that the core of the problem is the deliberate and conscious decision that Magufuli had made to never leave the office of president once he was there. This is not a figment of my imagination; his campaigners did not have the wisdom to keep their mouths shut.

So upbeat were they about this project that they proclaimed it from the rooftops.

The grand plan


That was the grand plan that provided the broad tableau against which everything else was arranged, including amassing a huge war-chest — financial booties from such spurious programmes as “plea bargaining” — and the recruitment and deployment of cadres in strategic posts even when they did not qualify for those positions.

In this endeavour many people suffered, some more terribly than others. Those who lost their freedom through spurious cases brought against them by the state authorities; those rounded up and given cases of offences ostensibly non-bailable, such as money laundering; those forced to negotiate with state authorities to — literally — buy their freedom; cases of “money laundering” that did not look like anything we know that particular offence entails.

Cases of kidnapping, disappearances of people Magufuli wanted dealt with, often rich individuals making financial and other commitments to the president to secure their release; dead bodies in gunny bags washing up on Indian Ocean beaches.

Journalists like Eric Kabendera, Azory Gwanda taken or threatened; political activists like Ben Sanane disappeared after questioning Magufuli PhD claims; Tundu Lissu shot 16 times in broad daylight a couple of hours after Magufuli said “such people don’t deserve to survive”.

Thousands of people thrown out of jobs they had been doing and delivering in; many people humiliated in public at the whims of Magufuli; hundreds of cashew-nut formers dispossessed of their crop without payment; tens of forein currency businessmen doing foreign-exchange deals shorn of their money without receipts and without hope of being made whole one day, some of whom died from shock...

That is one catalogue of woes, affecting mainly individuals who had rubbed Magufuli the wrong way.

His cavalier fashion

Though a number of people he treated in his cavalier fashion were not, seriously speaking, entirely clean in their dealings — some had their own skeletons — the complaint of this writer is that he often set himself up as the thief to catch the thieves: there is no way he could claim to be above reproach.

It is now becoming clear that Magufuli, being a quintessential product of the “lootocracy”in the state, knew how to play the system and who to work with.

There is a government body called TANROADS, which oversees all the roads constructed in the country, and which is where Magufuli’s heart lay, because the president had access to its funds since he was minister for infrastructure.

Truth be told, there are many people — some of them could be called educated — who think Magufuli was the next best thing after sliced bread, but I happen to disagree and maybe there is now an opportunity offering itself as a result of what President Samia Suluhu Hassan has been doing, including the recent revelation that some of the money looted out of the “plea bargaining” scam can be traced all the way to the Middle Kingdom.


It does not seem to me that there is a way out of this situation without some soul-searching, an exercise in self-examination where we inspect our inner selves and bring out what we have kept under the rugs of our hearts.

It seems to me that we need what they called a truth and reconciliation commission in other countries, from whose rich experiences we could borrow a few leaves.

With all the injustice that I have laid out — there are many more that have already been alleged by others — we may have a compelling reason to call for such soul-searching.

Too many people were hurt, some permanently. And it is unacceptable that we just shrug our shoulders and let bygones be bygones.

Some of the scars will be borne, not by individual but by the national psyche, which needs special cathartic healing of its own.

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