Those First 100 Days: Tanzania’s New President and the Rise of #WhatwouldMagufulido

It has now been over 100 days since Tanzania elected Dr John Magufuli as the fifth president of the United Republic of Tanzania. What a time it has been! Magufuli, the son of a peasant farmer and former works minister, campaigned for the presidency on a platform of hard work. In his words, ‘[he] know[s] what it means to be poor’ and as a result, ‘[he will] strive to help improve people’s welfare.’ This promise and his image of humility helped him to win the office. Despite controversy over the cancellation of opposition votes in the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar, Magufuli entered office on the 29 October 2015, beating opposition candidate Edward Lowassa with 58 per cent of the votes. Magufuli is a member of the dominant political party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM; the Party of the Revolution), which has been in power since its inception in 1977.

Since entering power, Magufuli‘s government has focused on cutting down on graft in the public sector in a bid to reorient the government towards its people and to industrialise the economy. Within the first 100 days of his presidency, Magufuli’s commitment to stamp out corrupt practices and maximise the use of public resources has already earned him recognition within and outside of Tanzania. Magufuli slashed the budget for the party celebrating the inauguration of the new parliament from 300 million shillings (£95,000) to 25 million shillings (£8,000). Moreover, he has restricted foreign travel of government officials to his ministers and banned all officials, with the exception of himself, the vice president and the prime minister, from flying first class.

The new Tanzanian president has begun to weed through the government, uprooting inefficient, incompetent and corrupt officials without warning. To date, Magufuli has fired the head of the state anti-graft body for ‘failing to tackle high level corruption’; dissolved the board of Tanzania Railway Limited for failing to effectively meet their responsibilities in the face of economic violations; dismissed the head of the state national hospital, Hussein Kidanto, after finding patients sleeping on the floor during a surprise visit; Magufuli has suspended the director general of the state railway assets holding firm, Bernhard Tito, to permit investigations into ‘gross violations of procurement procedures’ for the construction of a multi-trillion shilling standard gauge rail network. President John Magufuli even went so far as cancelling the 2015 Uhuru Fete (mainland Tanzania’s Independence Day celebrations) and replacing festivities with a day of national clean-up. Typically, Tanzanians mark December 9 with grand military parades, choirs and traditional dances at the National Stadium in the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam. It is a ‘red carpet affair’ on which the government spends hundreds of millions of shillings (in 2011, the government spent approximately 64 billion shillings (£20.6 million) on this day alone). However, last December, the new president opted to channel the funds allocated for Uhuru celebrations into funding hospitals and public clean-up initiatives to curb the spread of cholera. Magufuli deemed it ‘shameful’ to spend such huge amounts of money to celebrate 54 years of self-rule while our people are dying of cholera.’

Through reform of the Tanzanian Revenue Authority (TRA), the Magufuli administration is supplementing government income by attempting to curtail tax evasion and increasing the efficiency of tax collection. In less than two months, measures to limit tax evasion have allowed the government to collect over 1.3 billion shillings (£418,000) in tax; this money comes primarily as reimbursements from middle and large businesses as a year’s worth of unpaid taxes. Duties collected have beaten the government’s target by 12 percent according to Finance Minister Philip Mpango. It is no surprise that since John Magufuli’s entry into office that state monthly revenues have risen from 900 billion shillings (£290 million) to 1.5 trillion shillings (£483 million).

Although Magufuli’s methods may be described by some as austere, the new Tanzanian president is demonstrating to the Tanzanian people that the problem is not that Tanzania does not have the means to improve the delivery of public services. Rather, the problem lies in the priorities of previous governments. The Magufuli administration is spending revenue saved from waste and generated from taxes to deliver on his campaign pledges. The Tanzanian government recently adopted reforms to the education system, which include introducing free education for the primary and secondary school level and changing the language of instruction in these institutions to Kiswahili. Between November and January, the Treasury has spent 80 billion shillings (£25.7 million) on an electricity plant in Dar es Salaam to address irregular electricity supply, 46.3 billion shillings (£14.9 million) on water projects and 37.5 billion shillings (£12 million) on school grants. Furthermore, the government plans to double the £48.4 million they had previously allocated to fund free education between January 2016 and June 2017. Through funding free education, the Magufuli government may help alleviate poverty and improve the quality of life of the Tanzanian people. The education scheme, although young, will make education accessible for families that could not otherwise afford to send their children to school.

@Ellisbht , Posted 26 November 2015.
@Ellisbht , Posted 26 November 2015.

Beyond education, the new president is seeking to improve infrastructure within the country. The government plans to construct a 2,561 km standard gauge railway to connect the port at Dar es Salaam to neighbouring land-locked Rwanda and Burundi. There are also plans to connect Dar es Salaam to the coal, soda ash and iron ore mining areas in the northern and southern parts of the country. Such changes will aid Tanzania in making the most of its natural resources, and if they can be implemented effectively, this bodes well for Tanzania’s economy.

Understandably, Magufuli is popular among the people. His commitment to the people and ridding the country’s public sector of extravagance has helped restore faith in the government. According to a poll by the independently owned newspaper The Citizen, ‘an overwhelming majority of Tanzanians have given the thumbs up to President John Magufuli’s governance as he clocks 100 days in office’.  Magufuli garnered an approval rating of 90.4 per cent. His governance even inspired a hashtag that trended in Tanzanian and other East African twitter spaces since early December 2015, which had users asking #whatwouldmagufulido.

@iGitz_ , Posted 26 November 2015
@iGitz_ , Posted 26 November 2015

This new Magufuli-led CCM government appears to be prioritising the people, and while the new president has demonstrated a commitment to building Tanzania’s economy, the Magufuli administration is not without fault. John Magufuli may appear to be doing well for his nation, but the corrupt system he is fighting against was put in place by the CCM, of which Magufuli is a member. If Magufuli is indeed genuine, as he appears to be, then it is almost certain that he will meet resistance within the party, particularly given the number of high-profile sackings he has made within the last few months.

‘Running a government is not a one-man show,’ notes Muhammad Yussuf of the Zanzibar Institute for Research and Public Policy (ZIRPP). Magufuli needs ‘competent’, trust-worthy ministers. ‘He can keep an eye on his ministers but he cannot afford to interfere with their work.’ Furthermore, while making the once unaccountable accountable may discourage some from the misuse of government funds, corruption in the Tanzanian government is systemic. Magufuli will have to make structural changes to weaken the attraction of corruption if he wants to remove the root of the ailment and not just its surficial expression.

Another potential concern is that Magufuli’s government has demonstrated authoritarian tendencies. Magufuli may have fired government officials to punish those accused of wasting government resources, but the rapidity with which this occurred after Magufuli’s rise to power mirrors the removal of dissenters in authoritarian regimes. In January this year, the government announced a decision to discontinue the live broadcast of Parliamentary proceedings, citing a desire to cut costs. Similarly, in the same month, the Tanzanian government banned the Maiwo newspaper for ‘the publication of content that is antagonistic and threat to the peace, stability and security’ of Tanzania. According to Mlagiri Kopoka, a Tanzanian media expert, ‘There are those who point out that Dr Magufuli is becoming too strict and in his desire to bring change, he is bringing restrictions which are limiting democracy.’

Although these first one hundred days are by no means descriptive of John Magufuli’s total presidency, they set the flavour for days to come. Magufuli cannot, realistically, maintain this level of momentum throughout his full presidential term. As the newness of the presidency wears off and government officials are made more accountable, the firing of officials is likely to decrease and a greater sense of stability may be found. However, Magufuli needs to build a government that he can trust and in turn, can trust him. The Tanzanian president has so far been active in his service, and Magufuli’s commitment to change is hopefully indicative of a more positive future: one in which the economic and social needs of the people are met by their government, a Tanzanian government for Tanzanians.

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