Dr John Pombe Magufuli now goes into history for having served the shortest time as president of The United Republic of Tanzania, but he could end up being the most remembered after the founding father Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.
Magufuli’s demise on March 17, when he was just halfway into his assured 10-year tenure under Tanzanian/CCM political tradition, is in a way an eye opener: That with serious, focused leadership, one five-year term is actually enough for a president to make a lasting contribution to the advancement of their country.
I first interfaced with the “Bulldozer” in 2004 when I relocated to Tanzania to establish The Citizen newspaper. Though he bullied my reporters, the “Bulldozer” instantly became our darling at Mwananchi/Citizen by providing a running story for the new publication when he stubbornly refused to allow a boat destined to Lake Victoria to be transported from the coast on his precious roads (his portfolio then as minister) as its weight was above what was permissible. Our cartoonists had a field day illustrating Magufuli as a human padlock blocking the boat.
The “boat became the boat” as Ugandans would put it. The boat-owning entity sailed it from Dar to Mombasa so it moves to the lake over Kenyan roads.
But in Kenya Magufuli had a worthy counterpart in Raila Odinga who cooperated and the duo successfully frustrated the attempts to compromise the road load rules.
I think the Raila–Magufuli friendship (which became a matter of grave concern for the Jubilee establishment in Nairobi when 11 years later CCM nominated the “Bulldozer” for president) started or at least blossomed then.
The Raila-Magufuli comradeship was a case of like poles attracting, contrary to the laws of physics.
The point here is that Magufuli was always a bulldozer before he became president. Coming after a decade of the friendly, permissive JK (Jakaya Kikwete), the country needed a dose of bullying to get things moving a bit faster. I hasten to add that the bullying was unnecessary in matters of democracy and press freedom, for Tanzania has a smooth, sophisticated security system that makes the physical crudeness we see in other countries and in Tanzania over the past few years unnecessary. I certainly wouldn’t have dared commission or sanction the padlock cartoons if I were an editor in Tanzania under Magufuli’s presidency.
The workaholic, impatient Magufuli became president and outdid his “sponsor” Benjamin Mkapa in intolerance to laxity. Long story short, after five years, Magufuli had delivered tangible results that any of his predecessors would find hard to convince an ordinary observer to have attained so fast. And thus the Magufuli era has ended. But has his legacy gone with it? Time will tell.
What is instructive to the rest of us as Africans is that a country can be transformed considerably in five years. Magufuli was not necessarily a genius, but the transformation he has achieved in five years is most likely more than the eight percent it represents of the six decades that Tanzania has been independent. If I were to make a suggestion to Tanzanians, it would be that they stop referring to Dr Magufuli as the Bulldozer and instead call him the Transformer.
For the rest of Africa, there is a case for an end to regarding it as a necessity to keep leaders for longer than five years. If we respect our constitutions and all the laws, then we shouldn’t be missing out on different leadership and management talents our thousands of qualified leaders have to offer. It is not by accident that the leadership cycle in most jurisdictions is five years. Nor is it by accident that most development plans are also five years.
Even Tanzania itself, which we admire for smooth leadership transition and power transfer, has seen in its recent history that after five years, the incumbent CCM candidate has a hard time trying to win the second term. Rumours always abound after the election that “things happened” to get the incumbent re-elected, the Tanzanians know this.
The opposition in Tanzania tends to pose a bigger threat to the CCM presidential candidate during the quest for the second term. CCM presidents become untanzanianly unpleasant when seeking re-election.
Joachim Buwembo is a Kampala-based journalist. E-mail: [email protected]