The Magufuli ‘bulldozer’ effect

Tanzania, which has long enjoyed a reputation for democratic stability, is taking an authoritarian turn
As Tanzania nears the 2020 election, its anti-corruption crusade seems headed to a one-man dictatorship. President John Magufuli, leader of the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), or Party of the Revolution, made waves when he took office in 2015. He purged thousands of ghost workers from public payrolls, fired incompetent bureaucrats and implemented targeted austerity. A bold move to abolish tuition fee in secondary education signalled continuity with the country’s impressive record of investment in primary schooling. Initiatives to reclaim lost revenues from extractive industries were seen as essential to financing economic and social reform programmes. But at the end of four years of his term, no institution has been spared Mr. Magufuli’s erratic, impulsive and brutal style of functioning. The President has done little to disguise his image as “bulldozer”, a nickname he was given in his previous role as public works minister. Tanzania had long enjoyed a reputation for political stability in a region notorious for military coups. Its periodic democratic elections contrast with states that tend to subvert fixed terms. A sense of national identity fostered over decades distinguished Tanzania from the bloody conflict arising from ethnic and religious divisions that has marred the continent. A climate of relative peace, coupled with its transition to a more open economy, is why Dodoma had been the darling of donors and investors.
The numbers problem
But the perception was dealt a blow by a law enacted to criminalise any dissemination of data that contradicted official figures. The World Bank froze its aid package to Tanzania in 2018, lifting the embargo only this September after the government amended the statistics law in June to remove the threat of jail. In April, an International Monetary Fund report was banned because it criticised the government’s policies as unpredictable and the statistics, unreliable. Dodoma’s recent denial of instances of Ebola in the country, without furnishing World Health Organization evidence, is thus no surprise. Another casualty of Mr. Magufuli’s whimsical style is the state of the economy. Investment in Tanzania’s mining sector has stalled over the last two years. Acacia Mining, Tanzania’s largest producer, was cleared only in April for the resumption of gold ore exports. Operations were crippled following accusations of underreported sales and unpaid taxes. The suppression of democratic dissent has been the biggest casualty of the Magufuli presidency. There has been a systematic assault on popular institutions. The ban on opposition rallies, discontinuation of live telecasts of parliamentary proceedings, and intimidation of journalists are proof that Mr. Magufuli has ripped up the democratic rule book. Tundu Lissu, a staunch government critic and leader of the opposition party Chadema, or Democracy and Progress, was arrested multiple times before he was wounded in a gun attack in 2017. Chadema officials have expressed concern that the attack was politically motivated. Under the prevailing political vacuum, the government has unleashed repression against the LGBT community and expelled teenage mothers from schools. Tanzania’s authoritarian drift may have to do with the growing challenge to the ruling CCM. The party’s vote share has steadily dropped from 2005 resulting in major gains for Chadema. Tanzania’s unity is also under strain, as tensions deepen between the mainland Tankanyika and the archipelago of Zanzibar, which were merged in 1964. An instance was the annulment of the 2015 polls for Zanzibar’s regional parliament, after the opposition Civic United Front (CUF) claimed victory. The CUF then boycotted the rerun, which CCM won with a landslide.
Given the promising country’s descent into authoritarianism, Tanzanians may feel some nostalgia for the founding President Julius Kamperage Nyerere, who is among Africa’s towering anti-colonial leaders.

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