As President Lazarus Chakwera arrived in Tanzania to attend the funeral of John Magufuli, I made a prediction to those around me. If, I told those around me, that he’s going to deliver a eulogy, he’ll be talk of town.
True to form, Chakwera did not disappoint. He sent social media either side of the Malawi- Tanzanian border, across east Africa and the continent, into a meltdown as his speech resonated and reverberated across the continent.
Chakwera is gifted. He can capture the essence of the moment and deliver words that sting the heart and lines that reach home.
By the time he was finished in Dodoma, world media was quoting him, Tanzanian twitter users proposing a statue to be erected in Magufuli’s village Chato, in honour of Chakwera’s bewitching oratory. A gobsmacked PL Lumumba, the continent’s orator-in -chief, was left publicly begging to meet Chakwera.
Naturally, critics were drawing parallels between the beauty of Chakwera’s speeches and the achievements of a man from Chato whose works of his hands are solely remarkable in these parts of the world.
So questions over whether Chakwera is more than just a leader blessed with oratory or there’s more to his leadership lingers. In time, we will find out.
While Magufuli vigorously fought for institutional changes from his first day in office, providing shock and awe through dismissals, directives, edicts, laws, surprises visits, dress downs, ultimatums, arrests and deportations, Chakwera believes in systems and processes.
By running a far transparent government after DPP’s executive arrogance and plunder, he has been a breath of fresh air. But is that ever going to be enough?
For all we know, corruption and wastage, twin evils Chakwera campaigned to slain, remain rampant in government. If anyone wanted any reminder, the abuse of Covid-19 funds and absence of accountability for the political and technical leadership tasked to manage those funds, tells you everything, including that our version of Magufuli—Lazarus from Malembo—is perhaps, a bit too lenient and too fatherly.
Hence, unlike Magufuli, Chakwera (like Peter Mutharika) has left running of day to day government to technocrats. Whether that’s a good thing or not, time will tell. But Magufuli preferred to intervene. He couldn’t afford to watch from far. Not all the time!
But Chakwera has none of Magufuli’s experience in government and certainly doesn’t have the abrasive character that meant the end could always justify the means even if it means a few heads crushed or laws trumped, as an opinion piece by Magufuli’s nemesis, leader of the opposition Tundu Lissu, who fled the Tanzania after a futile assassination attempt that still left Tussu ridden with sixteen bullets, reminded us.
To his credit, Chakwera is working well with his more technocrat deputy. That might be a good thing, too. There is no single remedy for governance.
But if you asked me, my hunch is that for Chakwera to succeed, he needs to borrow the good out of Magufuli and combine that with his own best ideas. The system is way too broken to be trusted to reform itself or in a speed required to make the current presidency meaningful.
I’ve seen so many wasted presidencies to trust the process or countenance seeing another one the go the same route. If Chakwera was praising Magufuli for turning Tanzania into a mid-income country within a single term, it’s precisely because Magufuli took matters into his own hands and decided that, no taskforce, commission of inquiry, reform process and consultation should override what he considers common sense.
That often meant Magufuli often bringing to bear the full powers of executive office to deliver Tanzania towards the path he wanted.
If Magufuli’s autocratic tendencies could be done here at home, many, including this columnist, would jump to the battle ground to protect our cherished freedoms but perhaps at this point we need to ponder why the images and footage out of all of Tanzania the past few days have been overwhelmingly of a nation in grief.
Human rights are very important and essential and must never be brushed off, as an avid reader of this column reminded me this week. But that outpouring of grief was testament that tangible development and the fight against corruption resonate with people more.
So what I am saying, really? All I am saying is that if Chakwera is to become the leader that will usher real change in this country, he should tap into the good of Magufuli and combine with his good traits, namely, the belief for stronger institutions and respect for rule of law.
To be very raw, he must get dirty and consider Malawi’s development, an urgent national crisis and that taking the Malawians out of poverty and under development, matters more than anything else.