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The bulldozer — Tanzanian President stamps out corruption

Tanzania was on the brink of collapse. Then, President Magufuli was elected to the highest office and decided to put an end to corruption. Martin Mkoba SJ highlights some of the president’s success stories, arguing his is a model for African leadership.

John Pombe Magufuli, nicknamed “Bulldozer” is the president of Tanzania. He has been a hot topic of discussion in various media, within and outside Tanzania, for his efforts to transform the country’s economy. 

He was the candidate least expected to win the 2015 election, which gave him an advantage. Before becoming president, Magufuli served the country as a minister in various disciplines. He did fairly well in all his assignments, especially as the minister of roads and infrastructure. It is for this reason that he has come to be known as “Bulldozer”, because of his seriousness in following up the different projects of the government and making sure they ran smoothly and were free of corruption.

Before the 2015 Tanzanian elections campaign, Magufuli was a relatively unknown name within the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), which is to say, the Revolutionary Party. Surprisingly, he was elected as the candidate to the presidency through the CCM. He won and became the fifth president of the United Republic of Tanzania. 

From the outset Magufuli was determined to deal with corruption and the misuse of public funds. He sought to boost the agriculture sector, and to revive and start new industries in the country in order to improve the economy of the country.

From the outset Magufuli was determined to deal with corruption and the misuse of public funds.

As president, he stopped the Independence Day celebrations, admitting they were too costly and pointless. Independence Day became a public holiday dedicated to public cleanliness instead of squandering money on a celebration, littering the streets. 

The vast sums of money previously used for the celebration, were channelled to Muhimbili Hospital in Dar es Salaam to buy beds and other necessary things in the hospital. Many applauded the decision to redirect the funds which would otherwise have been consumed within a day by only a few people. 

But the president did not stop there. 

He reinforced a proposed Bill by the parliament of Tanzania, to start a special court to deal with corruption. This court yielded many positive results, prosecuting those suspected of corruption scandals and swiftly charging them. Since then, the levels of corruption has declined drastically.

Magufuli’s administration also uncovered more than 10,000 “ghost workers”, to whom the government was paying in excess of $2 million every month. Among those listed as “workers” were deceased and retired citizens. Still their salaries were flowing into “their” bank accounts each month. The president scrutinised the whole process and identified all participats in this dirty game. These scammers too, were arrested, tried, convicted and jailed. 

Another phenomenal piece of progress during Magufuli’s term of office is the construction of a new standard gauge railway. The project is expected to solve the problem of transport between Dar es Salaam and Dodoma, going via Morogore, which is a distance of approximately 500km, by establishing electrical trains, which are faster and more efficient than ordinary trains. If this project is completed it will certainly be a historic achievement in the country’s history.

If this project is completed it will certainly be a historic achievement in the country’s history.

Magufuli  also revived Air Tanzania, previosuly in a sorry state. 

He discovered that the airline basically owned a single old and ailing plane, and ordered the purchase of six new Boeing planes. Now, many are able to travel by air at affordable prices—an impossible dream before for ordinary citizens. This is especially true for domestic travel, which until then had been monopolised by private sector companies charging exorbitantly high prices. 

Though Magufuli may be seen as a hero and saviour to the poor in particular, many politicians and rich people hate him and will do everything possible to remove him from power and continually undermine his efforts. He is a persistent obstacle to those who used to loot and steal the resources of the state. 

Some say he is a dictator because he has limited the freedom of the press. The pressing issue here is whether the freedom of the press allows a journalist to discuss issues that jeopardise the nation. Magufuli has urged the press to come together to build the country and to refrain from lamenting and spoiling the country’s image in the media.

Africa needs presidents who are serious and dedicated, like Magufuli, to break the tradition of too much talk and not enough action. There are ways to express your feelings about the government, but don’t insult the president and expect you will be spared.  

Africa needs presidents who are serious and dedicated, like Magufuli, to break the tradition of too much talk and not enough action.

Africa needs leaders who are ready to sacrifice themselves for the benefits of the continent. And, democracy can sometimes be a soft way of paralysing our efforts towards development. Democracy is the consensus of the majority but the lack of consensus too often slows down development — even bringing it to a halt. Worse, it can even result in a serious regress. 

We need leaders who can reason and make decisions for the benefit of the whole nation. Let’s support the leaders who are determined to transform our continent so that one day Africa may be a force to be reckoned with.

* The opinions expressed here by Spotlight.Africa contributors and editors are their own and not official statements of the Society of Jesus in South Africa or of the Catholic Church unless explicitly stated.


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Martin Mkoba SJ
Martin Mkoba is a Jesuit scholastic from Arusha, Tanzania, currently completing his theological studies at Hekima College in Nairobi, Kenya. Prior to this he worked as Dean of Studies and as a teacher at Loyola Secondary School in Wau, South Sudan. He has completed philosophy studies at Arrupe Jesuit University in Harare, Zimbabwe. His interests include social justice, African culture and good governance.

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