February 18, 2016
Tougher times ahead for Tanzania's Magufuli
Tanzania’s popular president John Pombe Magufuli is facing growing problems as the rerun of the elections in semi-autonomous Zanzibar is approaching, NAI researcher Sirkku Hellsten says.
Magufuli, who took office last November, was elected on promises to reduce corruption, cut wasteful spending and improve public services.
His popularity rose quickly when he canceled expensive independence-day celebrations in December to use the money fight a cholera outbreak, and encouraged citizens to come together and clean the streets. The event was seen by some as a symbol for the President’s determination to tackle corruption.
Hard on business
Since then he has travelled frantically across the country to root problems. He has even come down upon businesses connected to former president Jakaya Kikwete’s wife and son and several other high level members of the ruling CCM party, insisting that these companies also will pay taxes.
“Magufuli has created an optimistic atmosphere among ordinary people that one person can make a change and companies can be forced to pay taxes. His apparent determination to end waste in public spending and improve tax collection from businesses are both very important issues. His biggest challenge is: can he really bring a longer term change within the current political structure? It is not the President’s job to run all over the country for surprise visits to hospitals and ports, but the accountability has to be built in the system”, says NAI researcher Sirkku Hellsten.
The President is also known for using authoritarian measures to enforce his policies.
“Some describe him as something of a benevolent dictator. Even those who support him would admit that some of his measures might even be illegal, like demolishing houses in order to pave way for constructing roads. And some means he uses in his fight against the wasteful spending, he hasn’t taken through parliament,” Hellsten says.
There are other concerns about democratic development of the country. In January the country’s information minister, announced a permanent ban on the printed weekly Mawio (a Kiswahili-language newspaper). The government banned Mawio for “inflammatory” reporting. The articles were about the political stalemate, where poll results in the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar were nullified after accusations of “irregularities”. Many believe that the real reason was potential victory for the main opposition party in last year’s election.
Although part of Tanzania, the people in Zanzibar vote not only for a national Tanzanian president, but also for a Zanzibar president and assembly. So far, the post of the Zanzibar president has always been occupied by a member of the same party, which is also ruling the Union.
In fact, for the ruling party, CCM, which has been in power since independence, controlling Zanzibar is key for keeping the union together. Historically there has been tensions between Africans and the Arab descendants in Zanzibar. This makes the current stalemate potentially explosive.
“On one hand, Zanzibar has not been content with what it gets from the mainland, and on the other, the government on the mainland feels it does not have enough control over Zanzibar. In addition, there are these ethnic dimensions. Therefore, constitutional reform is very much needed in Tanzania. ”
Opposition to boycott
The rerun of the Zanzibar elections is scheduled to take place on the 20th of March. The opposition has vowed not to take part in the elections this time around. Instead they claim that their candidate already won the elections.
“This effectively makes the rerun of the elections a totally futile exercise,” says Sirkku Hellsten ‘the results are clearly known beforehand’.
It is paradoxical, she says, that Tanzania often is presented as a democratic success in the region.
“People point to the election as a sign that things are going forward, yet Tanzania has a totally undemocratic situation in its own territory. It is a real test for president Magufuli to solve this political impasse.”
Similarly Tanzania is hailed as a country, which has not fallen into ethnic divisions like neighboring Kenya, Somalia, Rwanda and Burundi. An assessment that excludes ethnically divided Zanzibar.
“In reality Tanzania is facing serious challenges in terms governance and national unity, and there is also a need for the international community to follow the situation closely.”