Is Pombe Magufuli of Tanzania a threat to Kenya?

June 23, 2016 OPINION/NEWS


Joe Khamisi

When I worked in Dar-es-Salaam as chief editor of the Express and then the Business Times in the late 1990s, John Pombe Magufuli, now the President of Tanzania, was just a junior minister in Benjamin Mkapa‘s government.

And while he had been a member of the powerful Chama Cha Mapinduzi party since 1977, he was not well known beyond his Chato constituency on the shores of Lake Victoria, having been overshadowed by older and more dogmatic members of CCM, many of whom had worked with the founding president Mwalimu Julius Nyerere before Magufuli became a member of Parliament in 1995. However, it didn’t take long before he was appointed to a full Cabinet position; moving from the Ministry of Works to Lands and Settlement, to Livestock and Fisheries, then to Works again, before his party became sufficiently convinced he was ready for higher office. In the meantime, he waited patiently – without openly showing ardent ambition – as Jakaya Kikwete – his political senior – made his way to State House ahead of him. So when his name was pulled out of the magic hat during the CCM’s selection process, Magufuli was ready for the big challenge, more perhaps than anyone else in the country’s history. And on the election day in October 2015, he easily beat his opposition rival, CCM defector Edward Lowassa.

While his predecessor Kikwete brought military finesse and diplomatic charm to the presidency, Magufuli came with a demeanour of a school teacher and an intellectual composure of a chemist, which he is. His facial personality exudes the characteristics of a no-nonsense man who looks at the cane as an instrument of necessity. And he has had no problem applying that instrument – indiscriminately and fastidiously – as he strives to rid his government of corrupt and lazy elements. Even those who worked with him closely in previous years now shiver in their pants whenever he opens his mouth or shows up unannounced at their places of work. He has sacked more civil servants than any of his predecessors, saved millions of public shillings through sweeping austerity measures than any leader in the region, and is vigorously fighting corruption, improving the country’s fiscal health, attracting investments and providing better living standards for the citizens more than any of his predecessors.

But even more significantly the man who earned the nickname “bulldozer”, because of his track record of supervising mega road projects free of corruption, has shamed previous administrations and exposed them as weak and inefficient. Had they done what Magufuli is doing today, Tanzania would probably have overtaken Kenya a long time ago to become the region’s economic giant.

That the other members of the East African Community now appear nervous about Tanzania’s sudden reawakening and renewed assertiveness is not in doubt. Recent allegations by elements in Kenya that Tanzania is among neighbouring countries plotting to overthrow Uhuru Kenyatta‘s government attest to that. The allegations are most likely based on the fact that Magufuli and Raila are close friends and that Raila has in recent weeks been politically restive and even belligerent against the Jubilee government.

But that is not a valid reason to implicate a neighbor in a coup plot. For the record, Raila was the Works Minister in Kenya when Magufuli was holding a similar portfolio in Tanzania. They became friends and have maintained that friendship up to now. The two have visited each other in their rural homes and always treat each other with profound respect. Also, both Magufuli and Raila come from the shores of Lake Victoria and speak Dholuo, a common language there. That’s why such inimical allegations should be dismissed with contempt. My only fear is that what was said in Nairobi may have put a blob on bilateral relations between the two countries and raised suspicions in the region.

What is required now is for leaders in Kenya and Tanzania to avoid utterances or actions that could worsen the situation. In a nutshell, a mechanism must be put in place to level-up the situation. But more importantly, Dar-es-Salaam must accept that Uhuru Kenyatta – not Raila Odinga – is the President of the Republic of Kenya. Magufuli must not send signals suggesting he prefers to work with Raila than with Uhuru. And that is my say.










Joe Khamisi

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.


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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.


In addition to the above books, read Joe Khamisi blog. For media enquiries Joe can be reached at [email protected]

(This article is courtesy of Joe Khamisi and was originally published at the above blog on 22nd June 2016)


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