Tanzania: Magufuli – Mining reforms, roads over political space

John Magufuli scored highly in areas such as his introduction of a free education policy, leading to a three-fold increase in pupil numbers by June last year. PHOTO | FILE

Saturday March 20, 2021

Summary

  • During his first five-year term, the man known as ‘The Bulldozer’ drew admirers and detractors thanks to an abrasive leadership style.

Few African leaders have polarised public opinion in the recent past quite like Tanzanian president John Magufuli, whose death from a heart disease was announced on Wednesday just over four months into his second term in office.

During his first five-year term, the man known as ‘The Bulldozer’ drew admirers and detractors in almost equal measure both at home and abroad thanks to an abrasive leadership style that included firing public officials on the spot or giving them dressing-downs in public.

He confounded most early expectations by maintaining a consistent if not completely successful crusade against government corruption and funds embezzlement, and instilled a new creed of work ethic and frugality in the public service.

And he deserves much credit for the way he used his ‘Hapa Kazi Tu’ slogan to tangibly change the Tanzanian laissez-faire way of doing things and achieving standards of results-oriented government efficiency that were once considered all but impossible in Tanzania.

But Mr Magufuli also drew heavy criticism at home and abroad for presiding over a steady shrinking and deterioration of political and democratic space in Tanzania during his time in office, plus a hardline economic stance that paid scant regard to private sector growth.

Members of the political and business establishments particularly felt the pain of his tough austerity and anti-graft measures which also fuelled elements of factional discontent within the ruling CCM party.

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According to various sources including Moody’s international credit ratings agency, Tanzania under Magufuli saw “limited progress” in areas like business environment reforms, and a sharp decline in key democratic principles like civil rights, rule of law and freedom of expression.

Under his watch, voices of dissent were systematically snuffed out and restrictions tightened on civil society organisations and independent media. Opposition politicians were increasingly harassed and persecuted under an assortment of new and wide-ranging defamation and sedition laws.

The Magufuli administration was also widely panned for focusing on infrastructural development at the expense of “people-centred” development.

But he remained unfazed by all the local and international criticism of what many considered to be a repressive agenda, and continued to pursue inward-looking policies while striving to keep the international community at bay.

In almost five and a half years at the helm, Magufuli made less than a dozen trips to countries in the neighbourhood of Tanzania, the furthest being Ethiopia to the north and South Africa to the south. Not once did he venture outside the African continent, saying he preferred to “stay home and keep my own house in order.”

Championing social services

On the social services front, Mr Magufuli scored highly in areas such as his introduction of a free education policy in all government-run primary and secondary schools early in his tenure, leading to a three-fold increase in pupil numbers by June last year.

The number of healthcare facilities across the country has also increased exponentially since 2016, while a comprehensive programme that he initiated to ensure all Tanzanian villages are connected with electricity had by January reached 80 percent completion.

Part of Mr Magufuli’s legacy will be in the form of the sweeping reforms that he introduced to Tanzania’s mining sector. In going head to head with gold mining giants Acacia Mining and Barrick Gold he famously defied the assumption that African states cannot take on big multinational mining corporations and win.

That particular showdown eventually resulted in the UK-based Acacia being outlawed from Tanzania and the Canadian-based Barrick agreeing to a more equitable share deal over gold from its mines in the country and other substantial concessions to the Tanzanian government.

Mr Magufuli’s accomplishments also included a number of infrastructural improvements across Tanzania such as expansion of the country’s tarmac roads network in both urban and rural areas and facility upgrades at the major Indian Ocean ports of Dar es Salaam, Tanga and Mtwara.

During his tenure as the chair of the East African Community Summit he advocated industrialisation and infrastructure development.

“His exemplary stewardship led to economic growth, elevating Tanzania to middle income status”, said Peter Mathuki, the incoming EAC secretary general.

His main pet development projects included the ongoing construction of the standard gauge railway through the central corridor and a 2,100-megawatt hydroelectric dam within the Stiegler’s Gorge that is designed to solve Tanzania’s persistent power problems.

Stiegler Gorge project

The Stiegler Gorge project was not without controversy with conservation groups saying it would require the Rufiji River dammed as it flows through the Selous nature reserve. To conservationists, the project would further affect the population of elephants and the endangered black rhinoceros.

But Magufuli dismissed claims of irreversible damage to the reserve as groundless, arguing the project would cover 1,350 sq km, or just three percent of the reserve’s land area.

He also initiated an ambitious revival programme for the national airline Air Tanzania. The upcoming 1,444-kilometre East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project from Hoima in Uganda to the port of Tanga in Tanzania, which is set to be signed into implementation on Wednesday next week, also fits into this category.

As Tanzania under President Samia prepares to test itself on whether it has institutions strong enough to withstand the abrupt loss of such a strong-willed leader, chances of those projects being completed within their set timeframes even without Mr Magufuli’s watchful eye remain high.

The real focus will be on what steps the new administration may take to ensure the continued sustainability of ‘sideline’ projects such as an international airport and game park built with taxpayers’ money in his north-western Tanzania hometown district of Chato during his tenure.

Are such projects in danger of becoming “white elephants” now that he’s gone? Aside from the obvious Covid-19 controversy, that may be the true gauge of how this father of five is remembered by the larger Tanzanian family and probably the international community as well.

***
‘HAPA KAZI TU’: NO DISSENT; NO TRAVEL

Under President Magufuli’s watch, voices of dissent were systematically snuffed out and restrictions tightened on civil society organisations and independent media. Opposition politicians were increasingly harassed and prosecuted under an assortment of new and wide-ranging defamation and sedition laws.

A number of opposition leaders had to go to exile fearing for their lives.

But he remained unfazed by all the local and international criticism of what many considered to be a repressive agenda.

In almost five and a half years at the helm, Magufuli made less than a dozen trips to countries in the neighbourhood of Tanzania, the furthest being Ethiopia to the north and South Africa to the south. Not once did he venture outside the African continent, saying he preferred to “stay home and keep my own house in order.”

By Bob Karashani and Apolinari Tairo

SOURCEhttps://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/tea/news/east-africa/magufuli-mining-reforms-roads-over-political-space-3329302

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