East Africa: Magufuli is 'Back and in Charge' - Singing Regional Cooperation

opinion

For quite some length of time it was beginning to look like Tanzania's President John Pombe Magufuli had deserted his command post, the headquarters of the country, and decided to hunker down in his home village until the coronavirus was over.

In moments of communal anxiety, whatever that may have been caused by, the presence of the chief looking like he is in command had that magic effect of everybody saying, we are going to be okay, look, the chief is in command.

When he--rarely--disappears from public view, levels of consternation begin to climb, and that could cause panic.

Magufuli's home village is Chato--a little backwater of no significance till its most famous son became what he became five years ago--sits some 600km from Dodoma, the nation's capital, and only 200km from the Rwanda border.

He was accused of all sorts of things, including cowardice in the face of a disease he had belittled as some "little malady".

The opposition became very vocal, calling on him to come back to the centre to provide leadership at a moment when the country looked like a rudderless sea-vessel in uncharted waters.

But last week, Magufuli travelled the road to Dodoma, with a song-and-dance, effectively making sure all know that he is back and very much in charge.

He even had time for a little joke about Tanzanian drivers who have been held at various regional borders (because apparently they tested Corona-positive) by ordering his own driver to show himself and wave to the public in an attempt to show that not all Tanzanian drivers had the virus.

Hardly a method of testing anyone for Covid-19 infection, but the mood was jovial enough to elicit applause from the curious spectators.

More to the point, however, President Magufuli announced that he had spoken to President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya on the phone, and that the two had agreed to take measures to get officials from the two countries to coordinate their economic and commercial activities under the stressful conditions of the pandemic, to eliminate unnecessary friction and bickering across our borders.

That is what I call a leader coming out at the right time, however long he may have taken coming out. People will tend to forget that he took too long.

In his perceived absence, we started witnessing the practical illustration of "when the cat is away," insignificant provincial subalterns pretend to take over, even performing such sovereign functions as closing international borders.

With the kind of people we have in certain positions in certain localities, we should not be surprised if one of them declares war on someone one day!

With feline nimbleness, Magufuli suggested that his officials may have reacted to provocation--and that may be true from what we have heard coming from the other side of our borders--but the message to the playing rodents was clear: I am the one in charge here.

The problem with some of these presidential appointees has been that they are so excited with the powers they think they have they no longer even check to see if they truly have them.

Their boss may have committed the mistake of making them believe that all they have to do is bark orders, stop, interdict, arrest, ban, confiscate ... all the negatives ... but what about a little thinking?

Magufuli has been criticised by his neighbours for showing too little enthusiasm in closing ranks with his neighbours to deal with our problems, and that criticism is not entirely undeserved.

Tanzania has been losing diplomatic gravitas for some time now-ever since Benjamin Mkapa and Jakaya Kikwete--basically because we have not produced emissaries to conduct smart diplomacy for us, which must aim at maximising our friends and minimising our adversaries as we seek what is best for our country. Right now, we are succeeding in doing the exact opposite of that.

Magufuli said it all last week when he said that we are tied with Kenya--add Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, DRC, Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi into the mix--through the organic links that existed long before we became these entities into which we were shoe-honed by the colonialists.

Only a sick mind will want to believe that we did not exist before Berlin 1885, and that mind will find its cure when we are made to realise that viruses carry no passports, need no visas and heed no immigration officials.

The author is chairman of Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam.

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