Monday, December 7, 2015

MAGUFULI, THE SOCIAL MEDIA PRESIDENT

Last month Dr John Magufuli took office as the President of the Republic of Tanzania after a hotly contested campaign against Edward Lowassa, a defector from the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party.

Whereas some observers held out that Lowassa had a real chance of overturning the CCM’s half a century hold on power, Magufuli beat him handily polling 58 percent of the votes.

Sworn in as president on November 5, Magufuli lost no time in making his presence felt. Days into his presidency he visited Muhimbili Hospital, a major referral hospital, and finding it in a deplorable state fired the administrator and gave the staff days to get some vital equipment up and running or risk going the same way as their boss.

He was not done yet.

He then slashed the budget for a celebrations for MPs and used the savings to buy beds and mattresses for that same hospital.

"What some might have dismissed as kasigiri and thought would burn out as soon as it erupted were sorely disappointed...

Magufuli then took an axe to foreign travel trips for officials, dictating that Tanzanians embassy staff will represent the country abroad. The savings for this he has earmarked for social services.

Unfazed by the grumbling of government bureaucrats, Magufuli questioned the wisdom of the paying public servants allowances for work they were supposed to do anyway.

The coup de grace – until the next one, Magufuli scrapped this year’s independence celebrations which fall on 9th December, wondering how the country can spend millions on these celebrations when cholera is running amok in some places. He has directed that instead Tanzanians will engage in public cleaning of their surroundings.

And oh yes! He has also stopped the sending of Christmas cards by government offices staring this festive season.

They may look like tokenism, even grand standing from afar, but h they have succeeded in setting the tone of his presidency and sending out the message that it will not be business as usual with the good doctor of chemistry.

Two things have managed to swing the regional and international spotlight on Magufuli.

People who know Magufuli are unsurprised by the devout Catholic’s willing ness to overturn the status quo but even they express surpise at the speed and extent of what he has done.

He has held several ministerial briefs under his predecessor Jakaya Kikwete, including the lucrative works ministry, where some of his contemporaries vouch for his clean reputation.

Magufuli is no political novice, after all you do not capture for yourself the leadership of the CCM by being a wall flower, but the explosion in social media means that his exploits were being broadcast in real time to networks of thousands even millions finding its way across the world before the TV bulletins, something that was impossible even five years ago.

"Of course it helped that he served as breath of fresh air into an ossified political landscape and played to an audience – around the region, used to government fat cats living  first world lifestyles amidst their dehumanising poverty...

If anyone had any doubts about how social media can be a game changer the Magufuli phenomenon has to have put those to rest.

Two things can happen.

Buoyed by the groundswell of support Magufuli can ride it to do a much needed clean-up of Tanzania’s politics and carry the momentum to introduce other unpopular measures, like the complete opening up to the East African Community and the unlocking of this sleepy giants full potential.

Or he can succumb to the blow back from the rattled beneficiaries of the status quo, who are undoubtedly burning the midnight candle to subvert his “people’s revolution” and return things to business as usual.

On a purely sentimental basis I hope Magufuli beats back his detractors and continues on his pro-people crusade, but I fear that the inertia of Tanzanian bureaucracy, which is the slowest in the region anyhow, will bring the bulldozer – a soubriquet he earned while for his indomitable spirit in the face of obstacles in his previous ministries, to a grinding halt.


In the latter case I would love to be wrong. Time will tell.

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