In Memoriam: President John Magufuli By Martins Agbonlahor

President John Pombe Joseph Magufuli of Tanzania was a man who courted controversies in every shape, form and fashion – and they dogged him to the very end. Reported to have died of a heart attack on Wednesday, 17 March 2021, he gained infamy as a ruler who never believed that Coronavirus was real and in this vein, forbade his countrymen from wearing face masks or embracing other preventive measures. This, amongst others, was my gripe with the ruler, as seen in my previous article: While the country is thrown into mourning, not everyone believes the official version of his cause of death, as many still hold the view that he died from complications relating to Coronavirus.

The late president’s mode of governance was a far-cry from his predecessors, as he reduced Tanzania to his own play-thing, tossed around at whim. Foreign observers were banned from the country during his reign, freedom of speech discouraged and dissenters sent to prison. With this weird style of his, it was clear that this once-peaceful country was being steered towards an abyss. He was Mr Know-all, the ‘Bulldozer,’ who brooked no opposition and took no correction from anyone, as if imitating the late Robert Mugabe who believed that Zimbabwe was his alone to govern and needed no one to tell him what to do. President Magufuli’s death has created a vacuum set to be occupied by his VP, a certain Ms Samia Suluhu Hassan, who I must congratulate for being the first female president of the country. My felicitation is extended guardedly, I must say, in view of the prevailing eerie and sombre occasion. But again, she did not hanker after the position. The mantle of leadership only happened to have fallen on her shoulders by divine providence, as some would argue. But what I want to say without mincing words is this: Samia, you must show the sterner stuff that women are made of, and break free from this culture of Covid-19 denials that has caused Tanzania so much hardship and made her a pariah amongst the world’s constellation of nations. The country must now open up to the World Health Organisation (WHO) by submitting her actual coronavirus statistics. Tanzania would gain immeasurably from this.

In addition to the foregoing, all COVID-19 preventive measures, including maintaining social distancing, washing of hands on a regular basis, and wearing of face masks must now be made compulsory amongst the people. I make bold to say too that the four youngsters arrested for allegedly ‘spreading false information’ in regards to the late president’s illness should be released forthwith. In short, the new president should eschew bitterness and shun the dictatorial ways of late President Magufuli. On another note, I felt my heart drop when I listened to a recent clip of the country’s Health Minister, Ms Dorothy Gwajima, announcing to the world that Tanzania had no plans to receive vaccines for COVID-19. Whether she had said this out of conviction or in fear of the late Covid-denying president who wielded the big stick, is another matter. In any case, the last vestiges of the late president should now be consigned to the rubbish bin of history, and Tanzania must wake up from its deep slumber. Many African nations including Nigeria, Ghana, Angola, Kenya, DR Congo and so on, have received consignments of the COVID-19 vaccines via the COVAX initiative. Tanzania, too, must avail itself of this opportunity and apply as a matter of urgency to get this vaccine, as the number of people infected in the country is still unbelievably shrouded in secrecy.   

It is said that the frequent repetition of a statement creates belief in that statement. Late President Magufuli was the high priest of the big lie so much so that he perfected the spinning of spurious anecdotal reports and infodemics of misleading tittle-tattle, especially in relation to coronavirus. And his fellow citizens were swayed in the wrong direction. In view of this therefore, the misled people now need to be redirected – and the onus is on the incoming female president to do this. Enlightenment programmes, committees and centres from Dar es Salaam to Tanga, West Lake to Zanzibar should be set up as soon as possible, to teach the people to reorient their minds and psyches into accepting that coronavirus is real and that it kills very fast. It isn’t going to be an easy task though as old habits die hard, but with persistent teaching, the programme will see daylight.    

While I call on God Almighty to rest the ex-president’s soul – the new president – Ms Samia Hassan must resist being carried away by the allure of power like her predecessor. She is no more under the shadows of John Magufuli – and must therefore show her true mettle. There should be transparency in governance as well as unalloyed respect for the rule of law. Intelligent and able-bodied Tanzanians scattered all over Europe are more than ready to come home and contribute their quotas towards the betterment of their country if an enabling environment is created. A stable and democratic Tanzania will also attract foreign investors. Those of us who love the country are waiting with bated breath to see which path she is led.

Martins Agbonlahor is a criminologist, journalist and author based in Manchester. His new novel: Another Poor Cow – the Dangers of Tradition in Rural Nigeria is available in Amazon and all online bookstores.

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