President John Magufuli swept to power on a wave of popular support and won continental and global approval for his anti-corruption measures and the slashing of unnecessary public expenses. However, what his critics perceive as growing autocracy has set him at odds with both donors and some Tanzanians. Analysis by Tom Collins.
Tanzanian President John Magufuli choose a warm Saturday afternoon this November in Dar es Salaam, the country's economic capital, to dutifully inspect 75 trucks belonging to the national army, the Tanzanian People's Defence Forces.
Yet this was no run-of-the-mill military parade. In fact Magufuli has gained a reputation for reining in unnecessary expense, implementing an unpopular ban on Tanzania's annual military parade to celebrate independence from Britain. On this occasion, the soldiers were awaiting orders from Magufuli to disperse into the countryside and buy the country's entire cashew-nut crop at almost double the market price, after farmers complained of decimated profits amid a price tumble.
While this may dismay committed free market advocates, it does show where Magufuli's heart lies. Faced with immediate distress for the country's million-strong smallholder farmers, he decided on a novel way to ease their plight. At one stroke of his executive writ, he allayed their fears and ensured they and their families could sleep soundly at night.
Make no mistake, Magufuli has been doing what he pledged before becoming President--he has slashed government spending and perks for public servants, he has invested in education and has carried out a relentless campaign against corruption both within and without government. Impromptu raids on businesses to check their accounts and tax declarations have increased tax revenue and any form of 'magendo' (corrupt practice) has become hazardous, where once it was seen as part and parcel of daily commerce. His drive earned him the nickname of 'The Bulldozer'.
The abrupt shift in culture has left many discomfited as their 'alternative' lines of income have dried up, with consequent damage to their often lavish lifestyles. Unsurprisingly, a well of resentment against him has been growing in some quarters, with strong rumours circulating that political cabals have been forming around former government ministers to ensure that he is a 'one-term President'.
Nevertheless, there is little doubt that his style is perceived as authoritarian in a country that has got used to the 'softly, softly'...