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Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli has captured global attention for his zealous pursuit of accountable and reformist government. But Magufuli is no revolutionary. His many years as a key minister in a neoliberal Tanzania tied to the apron strings of Empire speak volumes. Some of his current policies support the private sector while in fact pushing the poor deeper into destitution.

Tanzania’s Magufuli: An enigma?

Once again, Tanzania has got a president who is the envy of the world. Like that of Julius Nyerere, the first President of Tanzania, John Pombe Magufuli’s popularity has gone global. “Where did this guy pop up from?” a Ugandan fan of Magufuli asked in a Facebook comment, after he had requested Tanzanians to lend them Magufuli for a week to fix Uganda.

Indeed, where did Magufuli “pop up from”? A president who cuts unnecessary government expenditure in order to fund social services for the poor is indeed a rare species in today’s Africa. Does he have the courage of Fidel Castro? How many Che Guevaras are in his cabinet? asked veteran Kenyan politician Koigi wa Wemwere in admiration, as he commented on Prof Issa Shivji’s analysis of Magufuli’s policy direction.

Magufuli is anything but a Fidel Castro. His cabinet is full of neoliberal zealots with no genuine socialists like Che Guevara. Fidel Castro and Che Guevara are products of revolutionary struggles. Magufuli is not. He was a minister for two decades and actively participated in robbing the poor through the draconian neoliberal policies implemented by the regimes of William Mkapa and Jakaya Kikwete. As a minister of works, Magufuli privatized government houses and his relatives and close associates were among the beneficiaries. This background is crucial in understanding where Magufuli may take the country. The fact that he has not repented for these sins should raise our eyebrows. He is likely to repeat them! “Jasiri haachi asili,” the Swahili say.

Nyerere’s revenge on the IMF?

In the 1980s, Tanzania was forced by the IMF and World Bank to abandon its socialist policies in order to embrace neoliberal policies. This meant the withdraw of the government from the provision of social services to the poor as well as the opening up of the country’s economy to predatory foreign companies. Nyerere protested the IMF measures. The IMF, he screeched, is not an “international ministry of Finance”! He made it clear that Tanzania “is not prepared to surrender its right to restrict imports, by measures designed to ensure that we import quinine rather than cosmetics, or buses rather than private cars for the elite. My government is not prepared to give up our national endeavor to provide primary education for every child, basic medicines and some clean water for all our people.”[1] The World powers – the US under Reagan, the UK under Thatcher, and the IMF – perceived Nyerere to be arrogant. They withdrew their aid and forced other donors to follow suit.

The disappointed Nyerere voluntarily relinquished power in 1985 leaving his country’s economy in shambles. His successors went to the IMF hat in hand, apologizing for the arrogance of the Founding Father. Mwinyi, and after him, Mkapa and Kikwete, signed every document the without pretense of reading and implemented every order from imperialist countries and their missionary agencies, the IMF and World Bank. In the words of Jenerali Ulimwengu, when the US “says jump, and Tanzania’s leaders promptly ask, ‘How high, boss?’”

The poor were told to carry their own burdens for the government would no longer provide them with social services or subsidies. Millions of artisanal miners and peasants were forcefully evicted from their land to give way to multinational companies – the new owners. The State House, which was to Nyerere “a holy place”, was turned by his successors into “a cave for racketeers”!
A few months before his death, Nyerere revealed that he still carried the Arusha Declaration with him and read it. He saw nothing wrong in it. “I still think that in the end Tanzania will return to the values and basic principles of the Arusha Declaration”, he said. Tanzanians have been gambling after every five years in a bid to get a president who would bring back the Arusha Declaration.

“And then Magufuli came”

Unlike the Gandhi described by Nehru, Magufuli did not “emerge from the millions of Tanzania”. But, like Nehru’s Gandhi, Magufuli “speaks their language and incessantly drawing attention to them and their appalling condition”[2]. He praises Nyerere’s unquestionable integrity and commitment to the cause of the poor. Even though he does not attack imperialism verbally, he seems to pursue reforms aimed at freeing Tanzania from predatory and exploitative relations by foreign countries. He wants economic independence.

The progressive measures taken by his government include:

1. An end to tax holidays: Previous governments granted tax holidays to multinational companies and turned a blind eye to smuggling activities. Magufuli has vowed to end this bonanza. It is the turn for the poor to enjoy tax holidays, he says, and the rich to pay. Internal revenue collection has gone up.

2. Reverse austerity: The austerity measures imposed by the IMF and World Bank were aimed at punishing the poor. Cutting government expenditure meant government withdrawal from provision of services to the poor. Government elites continuously grew their bellies as their mega-salaries and numerous handsome allowances surged. Magufuli is trying to reverse the situation: it is elites who should pay the cost of austerity. Their per diems in local and foreign travels, disturbance allowances and the ridiculous sitting allowances have been scrapped. Our high commissioners shall represent us in foreign meetings, Magufuli told the National Assembly. The aim is to save money to be used in development projects and providing social services to the poor.

3. Nay to financialisation, yea to industrialisation: The policies of privatisation and foreign investment killed local industries. Government-owned factories were privatized. The new owners – most of them foreigners – simply fired the workers and turned the factories into warehouses for storing imported goods. As factories closed down, the number of financial institutions – banks, microcredit institutions, investment funds ballooned. Financial speculation became the centre for profit-making. Magufuli is reversing the situation: to revamp industrial production, he has ordered owners of privatized companies to start production lest the government repossesses the factories [3]. To end the casino economy, government institutions will have to deposit their savings with the central bank!

The Hausmannization of Dar es Salaam

The rise of Magufuli may be likened to that of Louis–Napoleon Bonaparte, who ruled France between 1848 and 1870. Bonaparte came to power after the people of France revolted against the regime of Louis Phillipe. During Louis Phillipe’s rule, financial speculation was the main economic activity. “The July Monarchy,” Karl Marx wrote, “was nothing other than a joint stock company for the exploitation of France's national wealth… Louis Philippe was the director of this company.”[4] That is how Tanzanians felt about Kikwete’s leadership.

Bonaparte had a dream of transforming Paris into a modern city. This was a family dream. His uncle, Napoleon I, wrote while in exile, “If only the heavens had granted me twenty more years of rule and a little leisure one would search vainly for the old Paris; nothing of it would remain but vestiges” [5]. Bonaparte appointed Georges-Eugene Haussmann to demolish the old Paris and build a new one. Working class shacks were demolished and the poor found themselves homeless. The whole project benefited capitalists like the Emile and Isaac Pereire whose bank, Credit Mobilier, provided finance in exchange for land for real estate development.

As minister for works, Magufuli was Mkapa’s and Kikwete’s Hausmann. The Hausmann of Tanzania is now in power. Speaking to the elders of Dar es Salaam on 13 February 2016, he could not hide his dream of transforming the city: “Dar es Salaam is the image of Tanzania. Without Dar es Salaam there is no Tanzania… I want to promise you that Dar es Salaam will change.” He went ahead and provided a list of construction projects, flyovers, bridges across the ocean and six-lane highways that will transform the old city to a new one. All of these infrastructural projects are financed by loans from the World Bank and other developed countries.

For instance, the World Bank has provided Magufuli’s government with Tshs.7 billion to construct a three-level interchange at Ubungo. Once it is completed, “I am sure my joke mates, the Wazaramo, will be going there to tie the knot”, Magufuli said humorously.

The Wazaramo – who are said to be indigenous to Dar es Salaam – were pushed out as the city expanded. They have already paid the cost by being thrown out of the city. Under Magufuli, it is the poor who will have to pay the cost of the current wave of debt–financed construction. It is already happening.

As soon as Magufuli got into power, he demolished a handful of mansions, which were said to be illegally constructed. There was jubilation among the poor. But the real target of demolitions was not the rich but the poor. In a blink of the eye, Magufuli’s bulldozer shifted to the slums of Dar es Salaam and flattened thousands of shacks without resettlement or compensation. Magufuli’s bulldozer is not only hungry for cement, timber and iron sheets. It has an unquenchable thirst for blood. Like a vampire, it has sucked the blood of Dar es Salaam slum dwellers and took away 33 lives [6]. Many more have been left with permanent diseases like hypertension and pneumonia.

The original plan was to demolish 8,000 shacks. The number increased to more than 10,000. Officials in the Ministry of Land have declared 80 percent of Dar es Salaam residents illegal land occupants. Thus more than 3.6 million people are to be evicted and their houses demolished as the new city master plan is getting implemented [7].
As expected, the World Bank is behind this dispossession of homes: it has provided funds for demolitions as well as for new city projects. In place of the shacks along the Msimbazi valley will be constructed a “public recreation park”. Which “public” is the recreation park built for, if the majority of city residents have been rendered homeless? Dar es Salaam City officials have revealed that the plan is to turn the city from a commercial centre into a tourist centre [8].

An Enigma?

From the above discussion, it is evident that Magufuli’s reforms are both pro-poor and anti-poor. The driving force of his economic vision is the private sector. Not foreign investors but local ones. No one can better summarize Magufuli’s direction than Mwĩreri wa Mũkiraaĩ, a character in Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Devil on the Cross:  “We, the national experts in theft and robbery, should not join hands with foreigners to help them seize our national wealth and carry it back to their own countries, leaving us only a few crumbs, the price of the heritage they have taken from us… every robber should go home and rob his own mother”[9].

The quest for economic independence will curb exploitation and dispossession by foreign companies. But it will not end internal exploitation. The alliance of peasants, workers, and petty traders in Ngugi’s novel did not accept that there are only two paths of development, one of dispossession by foreign capitalists and another of exploitation by local capitalists. Both paths lead to the home of the Devil who feeds on the sweat and blood of the working poor. They fought a third path, a revolutionary one, through which workers and peasants take over the economy and ensure equal distribution of resources.

Will the working people of Tanzania force Magufuli to take the revolutionary path? Hausmann’s demolitions triggered the Paris Commune which was an attempt to realize the revolutionary path. Will Magufuli’s demolitions lead to the Dar Commune?

* Sabatho Nyamsenda is a faculty member of the University of Dar es Salaam, Department of Political Science and Public Administration. He is currently pursuing his doctoral studies at the Makerere Institute of Social Research (MISR), Kampala, Uganda. This article previously appeared in AwaaZ Magazine.
[1] Julius K. Nyerere, “The IMF Is not an International Ministry of Finance”, 1980. In Freedom and a New World Economic Order (Dar es Salaam: Oxford University Press, 2011).
[2] Jawaharlal Nehru, Discovery of India (Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1959), 274-5.
[3] Guardian on Sunday, January 3, 2016
[4] Karl Marx, “The Class Struggles in France, 1848 – 1850”. In Selected Works, Vol. I (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1969)
[5] Jonathan Glancey, “The Man who Created Paris”, BBC, 26 January 2016. Retrieved March 5, 2016 from
[6] TanzaniaDaima (Dar es Salaam), January 8, 2016 & January 13, 2016
[7] Guardian on Sunday (Dar es Salaam), December 27, 2015
[8] The Guardian (Dar es Salaam), January 8, 2016
[9] Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Devil on the Cross (Essex: Heinemann, 1982), 166 & 171
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