First and foremost, I extend my sincere condolences to the people of the United Republic Tanzania for losing an iconic leader. It has been a difficult time to take in the sudden demise of president Magufuli, a man who appeared strong and healthy a while back. Every time I have watched clips of his body viewing process, I can feel the pain Tanzanians are going through as they mourn their fallen hero. Ms. Janet Magufuli’s emotions can’t go unnoticed as she faces the reality of her husband's absence, it is a sight of pain and sadness.
Dr. John Pombe Magufuli the 5th president of the United Republic of Tanzania, was born in Chato. He was named Walwa which means (alcohol) because when he was born, his grandmother was making alcohol and that’s how the name Pombe came about. It is evident that he thrived in his academics and earned the highest level of education, a PhD in Chemistry in 2009 from the University of Dar es Salaam and an honorary doctorate from the University of Dodoma, for improving Tanzania’s economy. He proved that education can truly make one powerful and is a great equalizer in our society.
As a citizen of the East African Community (EAC) and an aspiring ambassador, I have always been keen to follow and understand the current affairs of our region. EAC has been blessed with unique leaders, and I remember once making a joke with my friends in the International Relations field, about our heads of states being father figures. The following were the possible scenarios; Kenya’s dad was the chilled kind and if you needed to go out for partying, he would very much agree and even give you money; Uganda’s dad would be the kind that is strict but still allows you to go out as long as you recognize he’s the head of the family and lastly Tanzania’s dad was the kind that was strict, and when one needed to go out, he would serve that hawk eye side look that would send you back to your room and wait for mass on Sunday. Other EAC members include South Sudan, Burundi and Rwanda.
In our love hate relationship, arising from bilateral tensions which are not new to this era, president Magufuli did not hesitate to take action whenever he felt Kenya had interfered with Tanzania’s affairs be it through ordering the burning of 6,400 chicks allegedly imported to Tanzania illegally (We may seem okay as Kenyans but deep down we know our luhya brothers and sisters are still recovering from that act, given their love for chicken) or auctioning 1,300 cows belonging to the Kenyan Maasai community. In response to a protest letter by Kenya over the issues, president Magufuli said and I quote “Tanzania is not a feeding farm for animals from other countries and that is why we have stated that we are going to take action as per the law.”
In Spite of these diplomatic tensions, what stands out is the willingness of both leaders from Kenya and Tanzania to resolve their differences through diplomacy, with the most recent being the peacock diplomacy. Magufuli was open to listening, resolving and recognising the brotherhood between him and Uhuru Kenyatta. Diplomatic tensions are not unique to Kenya and Tanzania only, and therefore we have to embrace that, it will not always be rosy, these are inevitable challenges of neighbours as they seek to advance their economic and political interests. However, from these, solutions have been created to better and improve partnerships. There is no manual for being a leader. Magufuli’s style was unique just as those of other presidents, it worked for his people and not forgetting to mention that democracy is tailor made and works according to how it fits one. A true champion of Pan Africanism, he advocated for Africa to be independent both economically and politically, a dream Africa will achieve through the Africa Continental Free Trade Area( AfCFTA). That is a legacy that should be used to empower every African country as they work to achieve intra African trade, under the agenda 2063 of ‘The Africa we want’.
President Magufuli was loved and hated in equal measure, accused of being a dictator in his country but also a hero to many Tanzanians and a true pan Africanist. He fought corruption and fearlessly dismissed any official who did not deliver project results as expected. He believed that Tanzania had enough resources to build and grow its economy without depending on aid, infact other countries created #WhatwouldMagufuliDo as a way to challenge their governments to take action on issues such as corruption and also prioritize their countries interests. He was viewed by his fans as a president of the people, one that would accord citizens ‘common mwananchi’ to express their grievances and he would provide solutions through policies and other reliable means.
Magufuli’s demise came as a shock to many, with no information of his whereabouts, alot was speculated about his health. It is unfortunate that to some, his time will be defined by this season of covid 19 as the president who denied its existence. I will remember him for arousing my interest in following Tanzania’s affairs, a move that I appreciate as I seek to understand how best integration will work for Africa. I wish he had taken caution and protected his citizens from the adversity of covid 19, which is not a respecter of anybody despite his firm stand against the Western world. He had influence over the masses and this meant trust, but trust could also be a trap that may cause irreversible harm. He will however, be remembered fondly by many for the great impact he has had in Tanzania and Africa, for his legacy of ‘hapa kazi tu’ one that should be embraced by other pan African leaders in the continent.
As I conclude I am left with the question: Does Africa need strong women and men or institutions? And where do we draw the line between a global challenge i.e., Covid-19 pandemic and pan Africanism?
Rest well late president of the United Republic of Tanzania, John Joseph Pombe Magufuli.