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Magufuli wins Tanzania presidency

Iddi Ssessnga
October 29, 2015

Tanzania's ruling party candidate won presidential elections with over 58 percent of the votes. But who is Tanzania’s next president?

John Pombe Magufuli
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/K. Said

Dr. John Pombe Magufuli was not even considered by pundits to be among the five forerunners in the race to succeed President Jakaya Kikwete after the October 25 elections in Tanzania. But behind the scenes, many saw him as a wildcard contender among the over 30 original ruling CCM presidential aspirants. This was at a time when the party was seeking to redeem its image tarnished by a chain of corruption scandals and its government’s perceived slow pace in delivering social and economic development.

A loyal member of CCM since 1977, the 55-year-old teacher-turned politician has always been on the spot. He was first elected to parliament in 1995 representing Biharamulo East Constituency, now Chato. Upon his election, he was appointed deputy minister of construction (now works), a position he held until 2000, when he was promoted to a full cabinet minister in the same docket.

In 2005, under Kikwete, he was appointed minister of lands, housing and human settlements development, which he served for three years. Following which he was appointed minister for livestock development and fisheries between 2008 and 2010. After the 2010 elections, he returned to the ministry of works, a position he has held up to now.

Both friends and foes have publicly expressed their admiration of his performance in these ministries, often referring to him as "Jembe"- meaning a hardworking person.

"It's not a shame to acknowledge a positive development regardless of which party spearheaded that development," said Freeman Mbowe, the national chairman of the main opposition party Chadema during an occasion to launch a newly constructed road in his Hai constituency, which was officiated by Dr. Magufuli.

He is a no nonsense man and when he sets out to get things done and he makes sure they are done to perfection. He is on record for having rejected a newly constructed road, courtesy of the Japanese government, citing sub-standard work, and neither the government nor the people complained. He could not even hesitate to order buildings belonging to government entities to be brought down whenever it emerged that their construction flaunted the laws of the land.

Some are concerned that the Magufuli presidency will be high-handed given his record in government, but many supporters also feel that Tanzania in its current state needs not only a tough talking but also a man of actions who will help tackle some of the country’s endemic problems, including grand corruption and stagnated growth.

The politician

During his campaigns, Magufuli has often acknowledged the fact that he is a tough man, but he is quick to add that his tough stance will only be to ensure things get done. "I will be a dictator, especially when it comes to delivering development," he said on his campaign trail, while promising to ensure Tanzanians benefit equally from their natural resources.

A close confidant of former president Benjamin Mkapa, sources within CCM say his decision to pick presidential nomination forms was mostly influenced by the nation's third-phase president, who has never hesitated to support and defend one of his favorites in times of need or trouble. Former President Ali Hassan Mwinyi also heaped praise on his party’s candidate, likening him to a lion at one moment.

Dr. Magufuli is a man of numbers, he has a photographic memory and when it comes to giving figures, he has no problem giving out exact numbers when asked by either journalists or during events to launch road projects.

During the 2010 CCM General Assembly, Magufuli was tasked by Chairman Kikwete to explain how the party and the government was doing in the area of road construction. He responded in specifics by revealing the exact number of those under construction, completed. He did not stop there, he named the location of the roads, i.e. region, village, and district.

Like the opposition coalition, Magufuli ran a campaign of change. He promised to tackle most of the daunting challenges facing the ordinary people – including redistributing unutilized land, developing agriculture which is the backbone of the country’s economy, protecting the interests of petty traders and dealing with lazy civil servants among others.

History of party corruption

He has promised to tackle corruption from the roots, noting that one his very first tasks as president would be to establish an anti-corruption court to handle cases of that many blame for the country's economic woes and stagnated growth. This despite the immense natural resources the country is endowed with.

"I am vying for this position not as a trial, but because I want to work and serve Tazanians," said Magufuli in one of his campaign rallies, noting that he understands the challenges facing Tanzanians and he is the man with antidote.

He has however received some flak for his decision to auction off state-owned housing to staff and the public. Some also fault him for making speedy decisions which at the end of the day cost the government. Many citec an instance when he apprehended a large foreign fishing vessel for allegedly catching fish illegally – only for the court to rule it was fishing legally and ordering the government to compensate the owners a sum of 2.8 billion Tanzania shillings.

At some point Magufuli has also crossed paths with his bosses, defying an order by Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda in 2013 regarding regulations of axle weights, noting that the prime minister’s directives were unworkable and not in the interest of the country's roads.

Magufuli has received numerous awards within and outside Tanzania and has authored a number of books and journal articles in his career. Having beaten two women to the flag bearer's spot, Magufuli made it up to one of the country's largest voter base by choosing Samia Suluhu Hassan, the minister in charge of union affairs, as his running mate, creating the possibility of having the first ever female vice president in Tanzania’s history.

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