Is Magufuli the Region's Next Kagame?

In one of the most contentious elections in Tanzania's post-colonial history, John Pombe Magufuli was elected as the nation's fifth president in October 2015.
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By Michelle DeFreese

In one of the most contentious elections in Tanzania's post-colonial history, John Pombe Magufuli was elected as the nation's fifth president in October 2015. His first 100 days in office bore witness to sweeping reforms, crackdowns on government over-expenditures, and austerity measures put in place to minimize the country's ailing budget. Magufuli, nicknamed the "bulldozer", controversially removed 150 senior officials from office in an effort to reduce corruption (Tanzania is currently ranked 117 out of 168 countries according to Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index). Since taking office, comparisons of the leader have oscillated between Julius Nyerere, Tanzania's first post-independence president, and Paul Kagame, president of neighboring Rwanda.

Nyerere, known for his novel brand of socialist political philosophy, introduced a number of reforms focused on egalitarianism and self-reliance. Magufuli, on the other hand, is not a true socialist though his reforms demonstrate socialist leanings. His general political ideology incorporates a mix of influences, leaving both his critics and followers unable to identify the new leader's views within the unique canon of what became known as African socialism under Nyerere. Labeled alternatively a reformer, for lack of a better categorization, Magufuli has by and large reinvigorated the nation's policy of self-reliance, originating from the Arusha Declaration, a political document that formalized African Socialism. Nevertheless, his policies are more akin to those of Tanzania's northwestern neighbor, Rwanda, which seek to improve bureaucratic governance while engaging the private sector to stimulate economic growth.

Nyerere's presidency promoted two concepts: socialism and self-reliance. While the goal of self-reliance was largely unrealized under Nyerere, as Tanzania was one of the top recipients of foreign aid during his presidency, his policies focused on transforming agrarian societies and artificially created locally administered villages to drive agricultural production and trade. Under Nyerere, ujama, or socially engineered farming collectives, were encouraged with controversial results. Magufuli's version of self-reliance on the other hand, aims to enable intra-regional trade, capitalize on the country's natural resources, and facilitate increased industrialization.

Magufuli appears keen to distinguish his presidency by harnessing Tanzania's resources to fuel economic growth. Tanzania is abundant in gas reserves that are estimated at 55 trillion cubic feet, the second-largest in the region after Mozambique. Under Magufuli's leadership, plans have been advanced for the construction of a 1,410 kilometer oil pipeline between Uganda and Tanga Port in Tanzania.

While some political commentators have looked to Tanzania's past to find corollary comparisons of their new president, others have found Rwanda's leader Kagame to be a more apt analogy. These critiques have spawned a wellspring of new vocabulary on social media describing so-called "Rwandanisation" or the "Kagamecracy" principles of the Magufuli administration.

Comparisons with Kagame arose shortly after Magufuli's announcement to cancel Tanzania's 2015 Independence Day celebrations in favor of a national day of cleaning, resembling the initiation of "clean-up" day under Kagame in 2000, where during the last Saturday of each month, three hours are devoted to cleaning the streets of Kigali and performing communal projects. During Tanzania's Independence Day this year, instead of fireworks and lavish ceremonies, shopkeepers and home owners alike could be seen outside tidying their yards in a nationwide display of umuganda, a term originating from Rwanda meaning global service or "coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome". Umuganda has also been used to describe the political mobilization characteristic of Kagame's two terms in office.

During Kagame's presidency, Vision 2020 - a program to develop Rwanda into a middle income country by 2020 - was launched to promote economic growth. Rwanda's economy has grown steadily in recent years in part due to policies initiated by Kagame. Reminiscent of Kagame's economic reforms, Magufuli's reforms have included cost-cutting measures to reduce the national budget such as suspending overseas travel for senior government officials in an effort to reduce government spending. Magufuli has pledged to double Tanzania's monthly revenue collection over the next five years and has promised to create more jobs and engage with investors and the private sector to accelerate economic growth. Magufuli has pledged to reduce corruption, improve healthcare and education, and move further towards modernization of the country's ailing transportation and manufacturing sectors.

Despite his short term, Magufuli has already made his mark on Tanzanian political philosophy and thought. Political discussions are peppered with his trademark campaign slogan, hapa kazi tu ("work and nothing else"). Magufuli's presidency has brought about a number of developments centered on catalyzing economic growth. While these achievements (coupled with austerity measures) have been viewed with optimism by some and trepidation by others, they are sure to bring about significant changes. Whether or not these will amass to the same dramatic level of economic revitalization as seen during Kagame's two terms (Rwanda's per capita income doubled under his leadership) remains to be seen. Nonetheless, the people of Tanzania, as well as those in neighboring countries, are hopeful that the long-term impact of Magufuli's policies will have a positive impact not only on the country, but the region.

Michelle DeFreese is a consultant with the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy (IMTD) based in Tanzania. She completed her Master's degree in International Relations at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID) and is an Africa Fellow at Young Professionals in Foreign Policy.

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