There is something akin to the surreal about what Tanzania President John Magufuli is said to be doing and achieving since he assumed office in November 2015.
He seems to be a breath of fresh air on a continent where the relationship between ordinary citizens and their elected leaders is poisoned beyond redemption. He seems like he is on a one man mission to put all other African leaders to shame.
But Magufuli is missing a trick and I doubt he will last the distance.
I heard a tale—ridiculous as it sounds—that Magufuli had the nerve last year to cancel that country’s independence celebrations. Instead, he ordered officials to use the money for a cleaning up campaign. Such absurdity would never be allowed in some African countries such as Malawi. In Malawi, we worship our celebrations. And independence celebrations are not the occasion to be missed or messed up with, whether someone points out, as Magufuli did, that “It is so shameful that we are spending huge amounts of money to celebrate 54 years of independence when our people are dying of cholera.” Where is the shame in celebrating? Whether we celebrate or not, people will still die of cholera.
As for sprucing up the environment, that is exactly the reason we prudently set up the National Aids Commission. It has done a marvellous job throwing money around like confetti to obscure, politically-connected organisations, which have short, if not unstable, life-spans. Beautify Malawi is doing splendidly in cleaning up and beautifying Malawi, isn’t it? Now, what, really, does Janet Magufuli do, apart from letting her man loose upsetting the balance of African politics?
I thought, foolishly it appears in retrospect, that the cancellation of independence festivities was his nadir, but I understand his spite knows no bounds. When someone suggested they throw a 300 Tanzania shilling (about K100 million) state dinner to, well, celebrate that Magufuli had opened that country’s parliament (some achievement that it is!), that newbie of a president threw a fit and slashed the budget to a mere 25 million shillings. In a very unpresidential manner—in the African sense—he ordered that the balance, a whole 275 million shillings, be directed towards purchasing beds, mattresses and bed-sheets in hospitals. He missed another trick here! Perhaps, he should make a habit of sauntering over to Malawi every now and then to learn a lesson or two.
In Malawi we throw parties, especially when government has just had its budget approved by a recalcitrant opposition in Parliament. And we still have fervent believers in Marxism and its credo of “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” So, we borrow ‘idle’ beds from one hospital and give to those in need.
Magufuli also allegedly slashed a delegation of 50 people to Commonwealth countries to four. What nonsense! The government of Malawi cannot, to date, explain how many people attended the UN General Assembly and why. What we got, instead, was some ‘nonsense’ dressing down by President Peter Mutharika. I hear Magufuli also banned first and business class travel for all but himself, his vice and the prime minister. What selfish man does that? In Malawi, even personal assistants travel first class and damn the consequences.
I take all this as hearsay, no normal African president would do that, even if his stated purpose is to reform a nation riddled with corruption and inefficiency. Mutharika knows a thing or two about reforms, and as he stated on Tuesday, patience is the word.
But if Mutharika wants to leave a legacy as a reformist, he must up his ante. He may not perform the Magufuli way, but his approach has been lethargic and uninspiring. Malawians have been patient since independence and that’s not what anyone needs now. A little dose of the Magufuli way cannot be harmful. Or to quote your brother, shake things a little bit. n