John Magufuli is a politician most Barbadians would love. In case you are wondering who exactly he is, he is the newly inaugurated president of Tanzania. Just two months in office, Dr Magufuli’s hands-on leadership style and unorthodox approach to managing the affairs of the East African country are already generating considerable buzz at home, across the African continent and abroad.
Nicknamed the “Bulldozer” for his results-driven approach as minister public works in the last administration, Magufuli, a 56-year-old industrial chemist and former Catholic seminarian, has introduced sweeping changes during his first weeks on the job. These decisions, which are obviously upsetting for the country’s privileged elites, underscore a strong determination to lead by example.
Placing emphasis on rooting out endemic corruption and ensuring greater accountability, prudent spending and improved delivery of public services, Magufuli set the tone for his presidency at the very outset when he substantially scaled down what was to have been a lavish inauguration costing US$100,000 to a meagre US$7,000. The savings are going towards improving patient care at a major public hospital.
On an impromptu visit there, the new president found patients either sharing beds or lying on the floor. Major pieces of diagnostic equipment also were not working. Shocked by the conditions, he immediately ordered that a substantial budget allocation for parliamentary parties should be diverted to purchase 300 new beds for the hospital. They were delivered a few days later. The senior manager of the hospital was fired.
“The disgustingly conspicuous and gluttonous consumption –– at the expense of taxpayers –– displayed by our legislators and top civil servants is making Tanzanian president John Magufuli look like a saint,” observed Rasnah Warah, a newspaper columnist
in nearby Kenya.
“All over social media, Kenyans are singing the praises of a man who knows where his country’s priorities lie and who understands that wastage of public money (especially by a poor country) is the height of stupidity and impunity.”
In another major decision, Magufuli substantially reduced the size of the cabinet to 19 ministers, 11 fewer than under the previous administration. He has banned all non-essential foreign travel, instructing that greater use be made of the country’s ambassadors to attend to official business abroad in such cases. First and business class travel, except by himself, the vice president and prime minister, was also restricted.
When Magufuli had to travel almost 500 kilometres from the former capital Dar-es-Salaam to the new national capital of Dodoma to officially open Parliament, he chose to go by car instead of private jet as would have happened previously. Signalling that it would no longer be business as usual, Magufuli told parliamentary leaders during a brief address that the people elected him to address their problems, not make long fancy speeches.
As the incumbent Democratic Labour Party (DLP) prepares to launch elaborate, year-long celebrations to mark Barbados’ 50th anniversary of Independence, despite severe financing challenges which have brought hardship for most citizens, Barbadians may find particularly interesting a decision which Magufuli made in early December in relation to his own country’s Independence anniversary.
Against the backdrop of people dying from an outbreak of cholera, he considered lavish spending on celebrations to mark Tanzania’s 54th anniversary of Independence inappropriate and ordered their cancellation.
“It is so shameful that we are spending huge amounts of money to celebrate 54 years of Independence when our people are dying of cholera,” he remarked.
He decreed a national clean-up day instead and led from in front. The money earmarked for Independence celebrations was spent on cleaning up Dar-es-Salaam in a bid to improve public health.
Is the grand scale of our 50th Independence Anniversary Celebrations appropriate in the prevailing circumstances where, to give two examples of hardship, more and more people are going hungry and homeless and some parts of the island face a persistent water crisis? It is my considered view that these celebrations serve a dual purpose. Overtly, they represent a toast to the nation. Covertly, they serve as a platform for the launch of the DLP’s campaign for the next general election.
“In a desperately poor country riddled for years by wild corruption scandals, all of these declarations and manoeuvres (by President Magufuli) have been bold and well received by citizens, if not by the privileged politicians from his long-ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party,” Robert Rothberg, a former programme director at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, wrote in an op-ed piece in Canada’s Globe And Mail earlier this week.
“Long accustomed to abusing their public positions for private gain, they have been alarmed by the actions of the new president,” added Rothberg who further noted: “. . . [These actions] have given Tanzanian citizens, and East Africans more generally great hope that governance will strengthen and that his fresh leadership will make government work for the people, rather than take from them.”
Tanzania, a former British colony like Barbados, became independent in 1961. Under founding president the late Julius Nyerere, the country was an inspiration for quite a few developing countries looking to come up with a home-grown development model, as Nyerere did, instead of embracing either Soviet-style communism or Western-style capitalism which were the two dominant paradigms at the time.
The Tanzanian model was based on the traditional concept of ujamaa, Swahili for “brotherhood”. Reflecting African culture and values, ujamaa emphasized a community-centred approach to development and underpinned the political, social and economic policies of the Nyerere government and the Chama Cha Mapinduzi party which has been
in power since Independence.
If the Magufuli agenda of change succeeds, and I hope it will, Tanzania once again could be an inspiration for countries looking to improve governance and make government work better for the people. Considering the pervasive mistrust of politicians today, it is refreshing to see a people-focused leader who clearly wants to make a difference. He deserves the support and best wishes of everyone who appreciates the imperative of meaningful political change in these times.
Given the many serious governance and public administration challenges facing Barbados at this time, most Barbadians would probably agree that we definitely could do with a John Magufuli-type leader who is prepared to take the bull by the horns and make the kind
of tough decisions which are required
to bring about real change, renew hope and restore public confidence.
There is hope. In the same way that leaders like the Right Excellent Sir Grantley Adams and Errol Barrow emerged in response to the challenges of their time, someone with such qualities will emerge at the right time. When it happens, the people will know who he or she is.
Great leaders have a way of making an almost instantaneous strong connection with the people at a psychological and emotional level, as happened in the case of both Sir Grantley and Errol Barrow. In the meantime, it is vital to keep hope alive.
A healthy and successful New Year!
(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and long-standing journalist.