Tanzania’s new president was a relatively unknown quantity when he came to power last year. It didn’t take long for that to change.
His headline-grabbing anti-corruption and anti-waste measures soon captured the imagination of a continent. Magufuli demonstrated a humility lacking in too many African leaders.
Before he became president, Tanzanians called John Magufuli ‘the Bulldozer’.
The nickname was well-deserved, a reflection of his rare ability to get things done in government. As interior minister, if Magufuli promised to build a road, he would get it built, no matter who or what stood in his way.
So it should not have come as too much of a surprise that this forceful leadership style would make itself felt in his presidency. But no-one was expecting Magufuli to act so decisively, so quickly.
Here are some of the things John Magufuli has done, most of them within his first month in office:
- Soon after his election, Magufuli declared there would be no celebration of Independence Day on 9 December because it would be “shameful” to spend huge sums of money on the celebrations when people were dying of cholera. Instead, the day has been set as a national day of cleanliness, and the money will go toward street-cleaning services. He has said everybody should pick up their tools and clean their backyards.
- After his first official visit to the Muhimbili Hospital, and seeing the horrible state it was in, he ordered over 200 million shillings marked for “parliament parties” be used to pay for beds for people lying on the floor and sharing beds. A few days later 300 beds were delivered. He dismissed the governing board and got a new team in place, and within days the broken MRI was fixed. He also pared down his inauguration party from $100,000 to $7,000 and sent the extra money to the hospital.
- Three days into his term, Magufuli announced a ban on all foreign travel by government officials. They have been instructed to instead make regular visits to rural areas to learn and help solve problems facing everyday Tanzanians. All tasks that required officials to travel abroad would instead be done by high commissioners and ambassadors who are already in place.
- He has restricted all first- and business-class travel to government officials, except the president, vice-president and prime minister.
- There will be no more workshops and seminars in expensive hotels when there are so many ministry board rooms available.
- He suspended the Tanzania Revenue Authority’s chief and other officials pending investigations after a visit by Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa to the port of Dar es Salaam found 350 containers listed in its books were missing.
- When he had to travel 600km to Dodoma, from Dar, to officially open parliament last week, he didn’t order a private jet – instead, he chose to drive.
- At the National Assembly in Dodoma last week he clearly sent out the message that it will not be business as usual under his leadership.
- He promised to cut public spending, fight corruption and enhance accountability in public service. He said it is time for Tanzanians to walk the talk.
- Magufuli reportedly told parliamentary leaders that the people of Tanzania want him to solve their problems and not make speeches.
Naturally, after the initial rush of publicity, Magaufuli’s administration has received less and less attention, although he remains an internet sensation.
Magufuli got his presidency off to a flying start. There’s no denying that things have slowed down a little since then, nor is there any judgment in noting this – no matter how well-intentioned, that kind of momentum is impossible to keep up.
Tanzanians themselves seem to be overwhelmingly optimistic about the direction in which he is taking the country.
Nearly a year in, and Tanzania continues to rise under the incredible leadership, showing other African countries how it should be done.