Tanzania’s new leader pleases, alarms with dramatic decrees

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At first, Tanzania’s new president appeared keen on smashing corruption and wasteful government spending, capturing the admiration of many in this East African country with austerity measures like rarely traveling abroad.

Then came President John Pombe Magufuli’s more startling decrees.

He banned all opposition rallies until 2020, when the next election is due. He approved a tough new cybercrime law under which some Tanzanians have been charged with insulting him in WhatsApp chats.

Less than a year after his election, Magufuli has split public opinion with what some describe as undemocratic attempts to reform the government.

Others see them as exhilarating.

The 56-year-old Magufuli has left the country only twice, to Rwanda and Uganda, since he became president, saying the savings should be directed toward social services, such as health care, to the poorest Tanzanians.

Government officials must obtain his permission before traveling abroad, and when they travel within Tanzania, they must go by road — in a country more than twice the size of California. The administrative capital, Dodoma, is more than 500 kilometers (310 miles) from seaside commercial hub Dar es Salaam.

The bald, bespectacled Magufuli has made unscheduled visits to hospitals, where he has been known to fire absentee physicians, and he has urged public institutions to reduce the money spent on refreshments during meetings.

Such measures were so popular that they inspired a Twitter hashtag in East Africa for situations that required strong leadership, #WhatWouldMagufuliDo. In neighboring Uganda, some expressed longing for a president who would crack the whip on hefty per diems and fire corrupt officials.

But that initial warmth is slowly giving way to apprehension among some who are worried that Magufuli, who did pushups on the campaign trail to illustrate his fitness, may be just as impulsive as other African dictators.

“He seems to believe in the philosophy of accountability without democracy,” said Kitila Mkumbo, an independent political analyst and professor of political science at Tanzania’s University of Dar es Salaam.

“He always believes he is right,” said another analyst, Denis Mpagaze of Tanzania’s St. Augustine University.

Ordinary Tanzanians seem divided over what to make of the president, who is genuinely popular in rural areas and among the working class, who might benefit from his efforts to cut unnecessary spending and stem tax evasion.

The country was ranked 117th out of 167 countries in Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index last year.

Emanuella Pascal, a primary school teacher in Dodoma, said she was pleased with the president’s tactics, saying errant public officers are terrified of what might happen if they are caught.

“I love this man,” Pascal said, calling the lack of accountability among public officials a thing of the past.

Years ago, Magufuli earned the nickname “Bulldozer” because of his apparently corruption-free efforts to improve Tanzania’s road network as a government minister. He was never implicated in a corruption scandal despite being in charge of billions of dollars in contracts, a record that may have been key when the ruling party put him forward for president.

Jaffary Malima, a taxi driver in Dodoma, described the president as “a man of his word,” but expressed fear that Magufuli’s unilateral decisions and unorthodox tactics might destroy the country’s economy.

Some worry that Magufuli’s war on tax evaders might scare away foreign investors or lead to price speculation. The president recently warned that he would order the central bank to print new currency so that those who are hoarding cash suffer for it.

Tanzania has been a relatively stable, if impoverished, country in a region otherwise plagued by violent conflicts. Founding President Julius Nyerere, was known to be an authoritarian who nevertheless was beloved for his kinship with local people, a political style that some see in Magufuli.

But since Magufuli was elected in October 2015, the list of human rights complaints has been growing.

In August, authorities banned two private radio stations for broadcasting allegedly seditious material, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. It’s not clear what statements the government considered troublesome.

The live transmission of parliamentary debates has been halted, and dozens of newspapers have been taken off the streets for alleged licensing violations, the CPJ group said.

Although Magufuli has managed to restore public accountability, “he has not succeeded in promoting human rights, especially people and political rights,” said Helen Kijo-Bisimba, who leads Tanzania’s Legal and Human Rights Centre.

©AP

1 COMMENT

  1. Subject: “Tanzania’s new leader pleases, alarms with dramatic decrees” Oct 7, 2016

    Commentary, 7 Oct 2016
    Too good to believe it! We have seen it before. Uncontrollable harsh action, ostensibly for the benefit of the people, running wild without a sense of political fairness. Africa, with its multitude of scholars of the highest calibre from the best Universities around the Globe, is not yet lucky enough to extricate itself from its misery. But it can be reversed. Here is a quote about an extraordinary founding father of a country — the famous Lee Kuwan Yew of Singapore:
    Quote “Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at New York-based Human Right Watch, said Lee’s “tremendous” role in Singapore’s economic development was beyond doubt. “But it also came at a significant cost for human rights, and today’s restricted freedom of expression, self-censorship and stunted multiparty democracy,” he said” Unquote. Source: Google com

    President John Pombe Magufuli may turn out to be a savior of Tanzania and an example to Africa, in general. No doubt, he would serve himself immensely to remember the legacy of his predecessors, in particular the renowned energetic first President of Tanzania Mr. Julius Nyerere who came face to face with confrontation between VISION (sincere as it may have been) and practical REALITY on the surface where they did not bode well as desired.
    Another African leader too (whether we believe it or not) wanted to convert his newly liberated country into a Singapore of Africa. So far, after twenty-five years of governance, unfortunately, the country is transformed from “Bad to Worse” (*), resulting in mass exodus of the citizens out of the country at great risk — second to Syria!

    Coming back to the subject at hand, we wish GOOD LUCK to the fifth President of Tanzania, Mr. John Pombe Magufuli.
    —————————————–
    (*) The phrase is borrowed from the woes of a football coach when his new players were worse than the existing ones.

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