Gain Two Women, Lose Two Men Presidents


Okello Oculi pays tribute to John Magufuli, former President of Tanzania

The Eastern African Region consisting of a landmass from Eritrea and Ethiopia in the north-east to Burundi and Rwanda in the west, have experienced history’s drama of two women becoming presidents of Ethiopia and Tanzania, respectively. Abiy Ahmed, a military officer from a historically oppressed Oromia community, appointed Sahle-Work Zewde as a neo-ceremonial president.

In Tanzania, a former school teacher and industrial chemist, John Pombe Magufuli, chose as his vice-presidential running mate for the 2015 election, Samia Saluhu Hassan, a woman from the island of Zanzibar. On 18 March, 2021, a sorrowing Saluhu Hassan announced the death of her boss to a shocked nation. On 19 March, she was sworn in as President to serve till 2025 the mandate they had both regained in 2020.

On June 8, 2020, the death of Burundi’s outgoing president Pierre Nkurunziza was announced. On 18 March, 2021, the death of Tanzania’s president, John Magufuli was announced. Nkurunziza, as advocate for political power by the Hutu ethnic majority in Burundi, was feared by global financiers. Magufuli insisted that vaccines for COVID-19 must first be tested for safety by his country’s scientists; and defended ‘’regaining Tanzania’s sovereignty against international financial institutions’’.

The rise of Magufuli and Samia Hassan has lessons for democratic politics in Africa. Under Julius Kambarage Nyerere’s leadership, the ruling Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), which later changed to Chama Cha Mapinduzi, (CCM) –or Party for the Revolution – established a leadership training institute. Individuals being groomed for future top leadership were also moved around posts. Some were dropped from ministerial jobs either because they had severe defects or test their party loyalty and ability handle adversity.
The government also built government schools in underdeveloped regions as a way of ensuring access to government jobs and political leadership to all communities in the country’s mainland, and the island of Zanzibar.

From his attending Primary School (1967 to 1974), to his earning university post-graduate degrees in Mathematics, Chemistry and Education, Magufuli was located in distant areas of mainland Tanzania. His attendance of a Catholic Seminary (1975- 1977), may well have combined with higher interest in Mathematics and Chemistry to prune a mind that had little tolerance for ‘’sin in governance’’. Mathematics insists on correct answers; Chemistry avoids shoddy handling of chemicals and Catholicism insists on avoiding the road to hell fire…

His career path ran from being a classroom teacher (I982 -1983); work with a cooperative company as an industrial chemist (1989 to 1995); getting elected as member of parliament (following rigorous scrutiny by the CCM party), and unbroken appointments to: Minister for Land and Human Resources; Minister of Livestock and Fisheries, and Minister of Works (2006 – 2015). In a political system in which ministers are appointed from among members of parliament, he had to win primacies and elections under stiff party competition and rules.

As the minister of Works, Magufuli invented the antic of fighting corruption in the Police by taking rides in trucks while hidden among the luggage. He would spring surprises just as bribe money had been accepted by a policeman. The reputation he built from these escapades won him the presidency in 2015.

These shock therapies rolled into his presidency. He cancelled the celebration of ‘’UHURU’’(Independence) Day and substituted it with a national clean-up campaign to end the shame of people dying from cholera five decades after self-rule. He reduced his salary from 15,000 USD per month to 4,000USD; cut delegates to Commonwealth events from 50 to four officials; banned the purchase and use of expensive vehicles for government work, and declared free school fees to government schools. Weeping mourners called him the ‘’president of we poor people’’.

As Chemistry devotee, he banned the export of minerals as raw ores and insisted on gold being processed locally while Tanzania was allocated 16 per cent of shares of the gold mining company. His earlier experience as a junior Minister of Transport now favoured heavy investment in railways, aeroplanes and ports to serve a vast country. His insistence that contracts awarded with fraud must be reviewed, made him unpopular with corrupt government officials and their foreign allies.

History smiled in silence as Magufuli’s rose to the presidency. In the 2015 CCM primaries, he defeated a former female Secretary General of the United Nations. In 2020, he defeated a former female African Union Ambassador to the United States of America. He gave us President Saluhu. She once said: ”I may look polite, and do not shout when speaking, but the most important thing is that everyone understands what I say and things get done as I say’’. She worked her way from a 17- year- old government clerk; several local and externally awarded university degrees, with CCM’s grooming.

As the Minister of Works, Magufuli invented the antic of fighting corruption in the Police by taking rides in trucks while hidden among the luggage. He would spring surprises just as bribe money had been accepted by a policeman