Almost a year after Pombe Magufuli took over leadership, questions are arising as to where he is taking Tanzania, one the most respected countries in Africa.
Recent events show the President of the East African country is gradually but surely moving towards the realm of despotism.
He is suppressing press freedom, muting criticism, and strangling the opposition. Two months ago, the managing editor of the Mwananchi, a daily Kiswahili newspaper, and a reporter under him, were summoned by the police for interrogation after publishing a story criticizing law enforcement. That move has thrown journalists into a state of panic, forcing them to self-censor for fear of reprisal.
In April, the President shut down broadcast coverage of the National Assembly proceedings making it impossible for Tanzanians to follow and audit their members of parliament through House debates that for years were disseminated by the national broadcaster, the TBC. The government blamed rising costs of broadcasting as the reason for ending the coverage, but analysts think the closure had everything to do with Magufuli’s disdain for press freedom.
The recent decision to ban opposition activities outside Parliament is another misstep on the part of Magufuli. Consequently, the opposition cannot now mobilize, raise funds, or hold rallies until the 2020 elections. In effect, Magufuli is killing the opposition.
Although Tanzania was known to be intolerant to criticisms even during its socialist days, Magufuli’s current adventure threatens the nation’s political stability as the opposition warns of civil disobedience.
And that is not all. Magufuli is also fighting a cyberspace war against bloggers and commentators who are bashing his government. At least one person was recently convicted for calling Magufuli “an idiot” on Facebook. Many are already calling him a dictator.
In all the matters mentioned above Magufuli is wrong. He is not only violating basic freedoms of association, media, and expression, but he is also moving the country too far to the left, taking the country backwards when the rest of Africa and the world are moving forward towards entrenching democracy.
Of course, the Tanzanian leader must be commended for coming out strongly against corruption, ineptitude, and indiscipline in the civil service, but the reputation he is building for himself is of man who is striving hard for populism. That he is a diehard Nyerereist is not in doubt. But even Julius Nyerere himself was moving away from the constrictive socialist policies in the years prior to his death in 1999.
Last week, Magufuli went on an attack against an unnamed super-power for involvement in Syria, Libya, and Somalia, a move analysts say was quiet undiplomatic. Everyone knew he was talking about the United States.
And he was not addressing a learned group of people at a forum, but to wananchi (ordinary citizens) who would rather want to hear about “bread and butter” issues than matters of geopolitics that add no ugali (maize meal) to their lunch plate.
Two weeks ago, eyebrows were raised when Magufuli failed to attend an important meeting in Nairobi, the Tokyo International Conference on African Development which was attended by 34 heads of state and business leaders across the globe. He did not give any reason for non-attendance at the conference just a few hundred miles across the border, which had much to do with trade and development than with international politics.
The Tanzanian President skipped the all-important World Trade Organization conference in Nairobi last December; the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) also in Nairobi, as well as an African Union meeting in Addis Ababa in January and the 27th AU Summit in Kigali in July. In the region he has visited only Rwanda and Uganda.
If Magufuli wants to help his people prosper, he must abandon isolationism and join the rest of the world which is now a global village.
Joe Khamisi is a former journalist, diplomat and Member of Parliament. He is also the Author of ‘Politics of Betrayal:Diary of a Kenyan Legislator‘, a political memoir about the situation in Kenya between 2001, when the ruling party of President Daniel Arap Moi, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), merged with Raila Odinga’s National Development Party.
The book also narrates cases of corruption in Parliament and in the Media and records Senator Obama’s visit to Kenya in 2006. As a friend of Barack Obama Senior, the author also remembers the times and tragedies of the American-educated economist.
Joe Khamisi’s second book, a biography, ‘Dash Before Dusk’ is also now on sale.
Joe’s latest book is ‘The Wretched Africans: A Study of Rabai and Freretown Slave Settlements‘ which has recently been published and is now available to purchase.