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Lessons from Life of Late Tanzanian President

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AFRICAN NATIONALISM AND PATRIOTISM: LESSONS FROM THE LIFE AND DEATH OF LATE TANZANIAN PRESIDENT JOHN POMBE MAGUFULI.

The outpouring of grief and tributes from all over the world to the late Tanzanian President, John Pombe Magufuli, is in apparent negation of the Shakespearean adage that the good that men do is oft interred with their bones. The flood of emotions transcends a mere fidelity to the universal obituary policy of “Nothing but good about the dead”. Millions at home and across Africa are still mourning a leader who is acclaimed to have achieved more for the socioeconomic transformation of the East African nation in five years than many others have done within similar periods in power.

So, in Chato, in the northwest of the country, the artillery boomed a twenty-one-gun salute and fighter jets flew over his family home as the mortal remains of the departed Commander-in-Chief of the Tanzanian Armed Forces were lowered into their final resting place there. This climaxed a week-long funeral during which the glass-and-wood casket bearing the body of the fifth President of the Republic was borne across the length and breadth of the country for citizens to pay their last respects. That farewell lap also went across the Indian Ocean to the composite yet semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar, where the departed President was laid in state. Newly inaugurated President, Samia Suluhu Hassan, led a grief-stricken nation of 60 million people and a shaken Continent to mourn the 61-year-old leader who was described by Malawian President Lazarus Chakweraas as not just an icon but a hero. Nicknamed “The Bulldozer” for his cost-effective efficiency in delivering quality projects as well as his sustained campaign against corruption, Magufuli, was to his former Vice-President and successor, Samia Suluhu, “the Champion of the Poor”. He died on March 17 from what official reports attributed to complications from a heart condition.

In an era of COVID-19 so rife with conspiracy theories of manufactured viruses and 5G mobile technology, Magufuli’s death hasn’t been spared a lot of rumour-mongering too. This has been especially so, since opposition politicians were up and about with stories of his illness and death from COVID-19 in an Indian hospital, after two weeks of his absence from public life. Government officials denied those claims and even had four people arrested for spreading false rumours of his illness. The vehemence of those claims, however, was not without cause. Magufuli had caught international attention –even notoriety, in certain quarters – for being a COVID skeptic. A devout Catholic, he had championed prayer, God’s protection and natural remedies as means to combat the disease. The WHO complained about Tanzania’s failure to report any coronavirus data since May last year when the case count was put at 509 with 21 fatalities.

Tanzania ceased disclosing disease data shortly after Magufuli, a former chemistry lecturer, demonstrated what he found to be a prevalence of “false positives” in tests results, when he used test samples taken from fruits and animals. For those rather unorthodox approaches to arrest the spread of the virus reported to have swollen hospital admissions and accounted for irregular statistics about COVID-19 in Tanzania, Magufuli was perceived as slack in the fight against the disease. He was vilified and called names, especially in foreign publications. That may have been because, described in the words of Uhuru Kenyata, President of neighbouring Kenya, as “unapologetically African”, Magufuli was principled in his opposition to any unfair foreign imposition on the Continent.

Indeed, the term, “Magufulification of Africa”, derived from his name and policies, purvey the philosophy of “No aid, no imperialism and instilling discipline in children by the biblical rod.” Kenyata’s former Prime Minister, RailaOdinga wrote of his fond friendship and fruitful working relationship with Magufuli. He affirmed that Magufulin grew through the ranks of Tanzanian’s dominant Chama Cha Mapinduzi party and embraced some of independence leader Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s ideals on patriotism, nationalism and self-reliance for his country.

Magufuli transformed Tanzania’s highways, ports, decongested Dar es Salaam by creating Bus Rapid Transit and delivered impressive sustainable growth rates, all because he cracked down on corruption. There was a downside of heavy-handed intolerance of dissent in his later years. In spite of all these, his legacy that is likely to endure for years, should his successor continue along a similar path, is that of unity, hard work and discipline. In Tanzania today, people report to work very early and do not just sit there: they do what they are paid to do, and even more. That is their conscientious response and adoration for the love of nation and selfless leadership Magufuli gave them as President in nearly six years.

As we heed the charge in American writer, Samuel Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, A Psalm of Life, to “be up and doing, With a heart for any fate, Still achieving, still pursuing”, may we not only “learn to labour and to wait” for our moment in the shining sun, but also be mindful to not suffer again the irreverent fate of not knowing and appreciating the visionary leaders God blesses us with, time and again like John Pombe Magufuli – till only when we lose them. Fare thee well, Mount Kilimanjaro Bulldozer”!

By Raymond Tuvi (Media and Development Consultant)

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