Out of Africa’s current leaders, none has earned great acclaim like visiting Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli. The tremors from Mr Magufuli’s earnest war against the status quo (where red tape, corruption and lethargy are its hallmarks) are reverberating beyond Tanzania.
In Tanzania, Magufuli has been given the moniker ‘the bulldozer’ for his style of leadership. When he started out, many thought it was raw zeal fired up by the excitement of new office. Some even lampooned him as the new African demagogue afflicted by the Big Man Syndrome (what with those roadside declarations). And that the energy and drive would fade away once the rigours of office kicked in.
Alas, that has not happened. Nearly a year after he was voted in, time has proved that he meant business. Perhaps recognising the grave effects corruption and inefficiency cost Tanzania, Mr Magufuli is slowly but surely dismantling the corruption networks. And that is working: in the last quarter, at 7.6 per cent, Tanzania’s economy grew the fastest across the region, inflation stood at 4 per cent again the lowest and tax compliance, once termed “an Achilles heel” for East Africa’s most populous country by the World Bank, is impressive. By waging a relentless war on corruption, Tanzania has attracted substantial foreign direct investment (upwards of $2.5 billion), making it the first FDI destination in the region.
Evidently, there is a lot that Kenya and Africa can learn from Tanzania. For far too long, high-level corruption that feeds off red tape and bureaucracy has been the continent’s undoing. Many countries including Kenya are mired in corruption that undermines their economies, security and betrays the dreams and trust of millions of the citizens.
Mr Magufuli’s example is that action must match words. Within no time after assuming office, Magufuli fired senior officials in the Tanzania Revenue Authority including the Commissioner General.
He also sacked Edward Hoseah, the long-serving Director General of the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau, due to the slow pace of the fight against graft. He also banned inessential foreign travel for politicians and business-class flights for all but the most senior figures in the Government.
Over the months he has sacked many other corrupt officials and moved to rein in public expenditure.
No, the presidency is not as powerless as some would have us believe. President Magufuli has proved that a good leader must act on his words.
He has proved that fighting corruption starts right at the top. He has proved that the institution of the presidency is powerful and with goodwill can set a nation on a good path.
His efforts have not escaped the notice of his peers. During a visit to Rwanda, his counterpart Paul Kagame commended his fight against graft and cutting public spending.
“Your consistent message on fighting corruption is very refreshing,” Mr Kagame told Magufuli. Guinean President Alpha Condé recently remarked; “corruption… corrodes the political processes and undermines evolving democracy. It impedes change and opens the door to frustration and political tension.”
If only action could match those words, Africa would be the better for it.