Hon. Folks, Tanzania yesterday buried one of Africa’s finest heroes and that country’s ex-president John Pombe Magufuli who died of heart failure last week aged 61.
The ‘bulldozer’ whose death was announced on March 17 was fittingly interred at a family cemetery (not a Heroes Acre) in his ancestral home of Chato in Geita Region located about 1 600 kilometres north of Lilongwe.
Indeed it is during funerals when people from different backgrounds ought to unite as a gesture of respect for the deceased. President Lazarus Chakwera and First Lady Monica did just that when they led Malawians to grieve in solidarity with Tanzania during the icon’s State funeral in Dodoma on Monday.
Since the death was announced by Tanzania’s new President Samia Suluhu Hassan last week, millions of tributes have poured in for the hard-hitter who genuinely cleared public governance systems through his unbending grit to crackdown on laziness and corruption.
No wonder Magufuli’s visionary, result-driven and no-nonsense approach to work helped him to transform his country from a rather efficient ‘rubble’ (ours is completely dysfunctional) to a middle-income status within five years which won him immense admiration even from fellow presidents.
But Magufuli was human too and had his own political and governance deficits that narrowed Tanzania’s democratic space and subdued citizens’ human rights and political freedoms.
At his peak, he tolerated repression and intimidation of critics, including the opposition, the media and the civil society—a ritual commonly glorified by unsuccessful African leaders.
But still the bulldozer rose above this disorder and worked so hard to improve Tanzania’s infrastructural connectivity which that largely boosted that country’s economy.
Hon. Folks, there are also many political parallels that Malawi and Tanzania can reminisce while celebrating the icon’s life.
For instance, circumstances surrounding his 2015 presidential nomination evoke memories of the late Bingu wa Mutharika’s nomination as United Democratic Front (UDF) presidential torchbearer in 2004.
Then, Tanzania’s outgoing leader Jakaya Kikwete was concluding his two term presidential mandate and constitutionally he was mandated to relinquish power in 2015. Bingu’s predecessor Bakili Muluzi had already been forced to handpick his successor in 2003 following his (Muluzi’s) failed open and third term bids.
Just like Bingu around 2002/03, Magufuli was not among the most powerful elites inside the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party even after he was named as its 2015 presidential candidate.
Magufuli’s nomination infuriated many senior CCM members who had repositioned themselves to succeed Kikwete in 2015 and some of them eventually dumped the ruling party in frustration to challenge Magufuli as opposition candidates.
Muluzi’s choice for the then unpopular Bingu at the cost of many UDF veterans who eyed Muluzi’s presidency equally prompted many UDF bigwigs to dump the party and they formed their political parties to challenge Muluzi’s choice.
Coincidentally, all those that challenged Mutharika and Magufuli lost miserably because the winning candidates had separately enjoyed massive campaign support through their predecessors’ robust party and State machinery privileges.
Soon after winning office, both the bulldozer and Bingu immediately started cracking down on corruption by targeting fellow politicians and individuals and restricted unnecessary foreign travels by public officials in a bid to cut public spending which was extensive in Malawi and Tanzania before their election to power.
The two also appointed lean Cabinets against previous ones appointed by their predecessors and fired scores of ‘underperforming’ ministers and civil servants which won them popular support from millions of citizens but cost them a few friends.
As luck would have it, Magufuli toured Malawi on official duty in April 2019 and he concluded that trip by laying a wreath on Bingu’s statue in Lilongwe alongside his widow Janet.
Lastly, those who followed the funeral ceremony can definitely not fail to remember Chakwera’s moving eulogy inside the Jamhuri Stadium.
Mr. President you represented Malawians well and may the spirit of John Pombe Magufuli rest in peace!