Tanzania: Magufuli's Grandiose Projects Become Pet Subject for Opposition Criticism

Tanzania's election campaigns are heading into a home stretch with candidates disagreeing on what infrastructure projects should matter most for the ordinary folk.

While President John Pombe Magufuli has been fighting back critics of his mega infrastructure projects, calling them "imperialists," his opponents say most of those are misplaced.

Opposition Chadema's Tundu Lissu told an audience on Tuesday that he would focus on socio-economic challenges facing ordinary citizens, rather than erecting projects he argued were detached from needy people.

"Flyovers, no matter how good; they do not have any impact on the 99 percent of Tanzanians living in mainland regions and have infrastructure challenges," he said. Tanzania has recently erected the Mufugale flyover, funded by the government of Japan. It cost about $45 million.

Constructed at the junction of the busy Mandela Expressway and Julius Nyerere Road in the commercial capital, of Dar es Salaam, the facility was seen as a solution to motorists who endured hours stuck in traffic.

"These funds could have been used to implement national developmental projects, instead of benefiting a small portion of the Tanzanian," Lissu said in a speech broadcast online.

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He spoke at a campaign rally in Mbogwe district in Geita region on his way to Chato, the hometown of President John Magufuli. When he came to power in 2015, the President oversaw the construction of a new airport in Chato. At a cost of Tsh39 billion* (Ksh1.82 billion), government officials argued it could open up local tourism, bringing new business opportunities to the local communities.

But Lissu says there is no impact yet from the facility completed in 2018 and which is run by the Tanzania Airports Authority.

"Who uses it? How is it helpful for a farmer living in Mbogwe and who faces the daily hassle of undeveloped roads?"

It is not the first time Lissu has questioned the benefits of infrastructure projects put up by the current regime. Last month, the ruling CCM, however, rebutted his arguments, saying the opposition candidate was running on faulty information.

"When you have an international airport anywhere, you also need to have a strategic aerodrome. Now, Mwanza is an international airport and Chato is the alternative," argued Humphrey Polepole, CCM's Ideology and Publicity Secretary.

Magufuli, who holds a PhD in Chemistry has argued in the past he wants to erect projects that benefit Tanzanians without burdening them with debt.

His government has renovated roads and started erecting a gas plant in Lindi, Southern Tanzania's coast, an upgrade of the Dares Salaam Port to accommodate larger vessels and recently entered a deal to put up an oil pipeline with Uganda.

But Magufuli, also sometimes shows up at market places to feel what the locals face. On a rainy and flooded Tuesday afternoon, President Magufuli told Dar residents a major market will now be run by the traders themselves.

Cutting off what he argued was exploitative taxation, he told a gathering in Ubungo that the local Mahakama ya Ndizi market traders will no longer pay fees to a third party.

"From now, all the traders will just need to have the entrepreneurship identity card after paying the Sh20,000 per year," he said at the rainy and muddy Barafu Primary School grounds.

"Water is always blessing and the ongoing rain today is a sign that we will win," said Dr Magufuli.

Both Lissu and Magufuli seem to agree there are heavy tariffs imposed on small-scale traders and farmers. The former says he will address the issue by abolishing most of the tariffs to make it easier for farmers.

And Lissu, seen as Magufuli's main opponent in this race of 15 candidates has lampooned the government for not focusing on immediate needs of the people. On Tuesday, he pledged to utilise the public funds to improve the country's education system and make graduates employable across the region.

The farmers' problems have often arisen to every contender in this election. In Singida, Prof Ibrahim Lipumba, a Presidential candidate for Civic United Front (CUF) was told of the troubles farmers go through getting seed for sunflower and delivering produce to the market.

"I will improve both main and feeder roads in rural and urban Singida once I am elected the President," he assured the residents.

Their problems, they said start from poor quality seed. Better seed is very expensive and when they do get it, they argued they struggle to deliver the produce to the market due to bad roads.

"We are blessed with a fertile land for sunflower cultivation, but among the key challenges that we face is poor road infrastructure. It is costly to transport harvests from the production area to the marketplace, hence we manage to earn a small profit compared to the production costs," said Halima Ally, a resident of Ughandi in Singida.

"Due to the high price of good-quality sunflower seeds, many of us are forced to use low-quality seeds, hence we fail to increase our yields," added Mr Mussa Hashim, another farmer.

Reporting by Josephine Christopher, Alawi Masare and John Namkwahe

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