12 February 2016

Tanzania: Magufuli's Shock Therapy for Tanzania

#WhatWouldMagufuliDo? After his first 100 days in office, Tanzanian president Magufuli has made several reforms. He has made a big impact leaving other Africans hoping their leaders will follow his example.

If John Pombe Magufuli has achieved one thing in his first few months in office, then it's that every Tanzanian has an opinion about him. He's been tough on corruption and has tightened up the national budget.

It's an urgently needed "shock therapy," Tanzanian political commentator Attilio Tagalile noted. "The government appeared to have gone on leave. People were doing whatever they wanted. There was an aversion to paying taxes," Tagalile told DW. Magufuli, he explained, has managed to reverse this trend.

On Saturday, February 12, Magufuli marks 100 days in office. He clamped down on Tanzania's political elite and has given up some of his own presidential perks. He cancelled what he thought were unnecessary flights and downsized delegations for international trips. He led by example as he personally helped to clean up the streets (as seen above) on Independence Day and he even turned the opening of parliament into a no-frills event.

In his fight against corruption, some officials have already had to lay down their posts. "I'm very impressed," said Adam Ihucha, a DW listener from Arusha. "In Africa it's not always easy for presidents to start implementing within 100 days what they have been preaching during the campaign."

Afraid of the one-man show

'The bulldozer' was the nickname Tanzanians gave Magufuli during his former tenure as the minister of works. From 2005 to 2015 he channeled his energy into road construction. And while his latest reforms show that he has stayed true to his nickname, some believe the president is going too far.

"Running a government is not a one-man show," Muhammad Yussuf from the Zanzibar Institute for Research and Public Policy (ZIRPP) told DW. "He would be doing much better if he were to make sure that all the government institutions are doing their jobs according to the law and to the constitution," he added. Magufuli needs to appoint competent ministers, he added. He can keep an eye on his ministers but he cannot afford to interfere with their work.

Tanzanian media expert Mlagiri Kopoka agrees. "There are those who point out that Dr Magufuli is becoming too strict and in his desire to bring change, he is bringing restrictions which are limiting democracy," Kopoka said. A few weeks back, the government announced a decision to halt the live broadcasting of parliamentary sessions, claiming this would save money.

A Twitter sensation

It of course remains to be seen whether Magufuli will keep up the momentum during the rest of his tenure. But he has managed to awaken the hopes for change in a country that has only seen one government since independence. The hashtag #WhatWouldMagufuliDo has been trending amongst Tanzanian and East African Twitter users since the start early December 2015. The message: if you're planning to indulge in any luxuries, stop and think, #WhatWouldMagufuliDo.

The Tanzania president's reputation has left other countries looking on in awe. In neighboring Kenya, where President Uhuru Kenyatta's elaborate state dinners are still common practice, Twitter users are enthusiastic about Magufuli. The Kenyan media also jumped on the topic. "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," columnist Rasna Warah wrote in Kenya's Daily Nation newspaper.

In the meantime, Ghana's government seems to be following in Magufuli's footsteps. It has announced that its ministers would no longer be flying first class.

Still early days

So could Tanzania be setting the trend for African countries outside the 'Twittersphere'? Economist Vera Songwe believes it is too early to tell. Efforts to regulate spending are underway in many countries, for instance in Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari. Every country, she explained, must find its own way.

Nonetheless more efficiency and transparency are urgently needed, Songwe said. "What is happening may not start a trend, but what it may do is bring the topic back to the forefront as we have seen with the hashtag," she added.

One should however not be dazzled by Magufuli's recent triumphs, Songwe warned. "The issue is that you do it consistently, that you do it in a transparent manner and that you do it over time. It should not be one-off," she said, referring to his ambitious reform drive.

Yusra Buwayhid contributed to this article.

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