Africa has had its fair share of great leaders, like Nelson Mandela and Kwame Nkrumah. However, political power in Africa is often seen as an easy path to become wealthy. Too often, cronyism and patronage oil the wheels of governments, ensuring that corruption goes unpunished and impunity reigns. Enter Tanzania’s President John Magufuli, who is defying all the purportedly accepted norms of African leadership.
Magufuli wasted no time in implementing his campaign promises, quickly living up to his nickname – the Bulldozer. Tanzanians first felt the effect of his fresh leadership when he ordered the funds for their extravagant Independence Day celebrations be redirected to buy much-needed beds for public hospitals, immediately gaining him worldwide admiration.
His firm stance on fighting corruption, his introduction of severe austerity measures, and his seemingly aggressive development agenda, have earned him accolades. The United Nations Economic and Social Council recently named him the World’s Best President.
With just one year in office, Magufuli has amalgamated several ministries, downsizing his cabinet from 30 members to 19. He has banned the purchase of first class air tickets for ministers, and government meetings and conferences are now held in state buildings rather than high-end hotels. To the dismay of senior officials, he auctioned off their luxury cars, seen as both a right and a necessity, with the generated income being channeled into public services. He has also banned any future purchase of such vehicles.
“The president’s approach so far has been commendable and his battle with corruption impeccable. I think he will sustain his current style and won’t be putting his guns down anytime soon,” says Nicodemus Minde, a Tanzanian political analyst.
By channeling resources back into Tanzania’s economy, Magufuli’s austerity measures have been lauded and the impact is already being felt. His somewhat autocratic style is facilitated by the powers allocated to the Tanzanian Presidency. These allow him to appoint and dismiss officials, and to leverage state security apparatus to flush out and punish corruption and economic crime. He has pledged to double development spending, funded by cutting government wastage, which may enable economic gains to trickle down.
Although a chemical engineer by profession, Magufuli is not new to politics. He has been an active member of parliament for two decades, heading various ministries throughout his tenure. His radical, yet effective, methods of governance set an example for transparency, good governance and strict control of government spending. Tanzanians have grown to love his style, while citizens of neighboring nations look on enviously, hoping their leaders will take a leaf from his pragmatic book.
Ali Mufuruki, Chairman and CEO at InfoTech Investment Group, describes Magufuli’s style as steadfast.
“He has demonstrated a unique kind of consistency, an undiminishing stamina and an unswerving steadiness in his fight against the vices of corruption, abuse of office and waste of public resources.”
While Magufuli’s first year in office has been impressive, it remains to be seen whether this will translate into more economic growth, given that Tanzania was already growing by 7.9% in the second quarter of 2016. His success so far has been met with skepticism in some quarters, with some pundits warning that celebrations may be premature.
Magufuli has taken up the challenge of transforming his developing nation into a world-class economy and shown a willingness to challenge the long-standing negative views about African leadership. Years from now, Magufuli’s name might be mentioned alongside Mandela and Nkrumah.