Magufuli’s ‘Pombe’ is intoxicating the world

John Magufuli
Tanzania's President John Magufuli      AFP PHOTO / DANIEL HAYDUK

Football fans might remember events leading to the France FIFA 1998 World Cup final. The two teams in the match were France and Brazil. Les Bleus, as the hosts, had capped a remarkable performance to lead them to that stage where they were to play against one of the best Brazilian sides ever.

But something happened. On the eve of the match, Brazilian talisman Ronaldo had a convulsive fit. French press went ballistic, saying the mere fact that the Brazilian was off form was enough to guarantee the French victory. Every hour, every news update was full of news about the continued failing health of the much adored Samba boy.

On match day, reports in and around Stade de France were that the man would not even make the Brazilian bench. Of course, all this was pre-match hype. The Brazilian was added to the starting line-up just 72 minutes before the start of the match. By then, the psychological impact that the 24-hour attention had caused was enough to put the Brazilians off balance and they eventually lost convincingly.

Moral of the story? Throughout history, wars have been won away from the battlefield. They are won on perceptions and opinions before even a single bullet is fired or a sword unsheathed. They are won first in the hearts and minds of the warriors.

The 5th president of Tanzania knows this all too well. Barely months into his first term, John Pombe Magufuli continues to win every one over with his anti-graft messages and actions. He storms hospitals and government offices to see if everyone is pulling their weight. Those who don’t are sacked, or threatened with the sack.

But the perception among Tanzanians is that finally, someone high up the leadership ladder is walking the talk. The raft of austerity measures the president has so far instituted have saved the East African nation trillions of Tanzanian shillings and for once, the country of some 50 million people seems to outclass her egotistic neighbour Kenya, while hogging the international limelight for all the right reasons.

But will Kenya’s big man sit pretty and watch the man across do in a few days what he has been promising Kenyans for years? Before we thought of what Magufuli would do, we saw what he did. So before we think of what President Uhuru would do, we need to think of what he has done.

Undeniably, he has travelled, 43 trips in all, together with a larger than average entourage for most of these, and counting. The dear president’s handlers say these trips are aimed at improving the country’s economic diplomacy.

In a nutshell, this means Kenya is globe-trotting to make sure her economic interests come first in a completely fluid political climate. This might make sense, but the perception out there is that the president is barely in the country to understand what goes on within his jurisdiction.

And when he hangs around long enough, nothing new or revolutionary comes out of the decisions he makes, a situation that Cord leader Raila Odinga has exploited time and again.

“There is no commitment to fight corruption by the top Jubilee leadership. The cancer continues to spread, but there has not been any attempt to address the matter since the Jubilee government took over,” said Odinga.

On November 8, Kenyatta warned that an impending anti- corruption purge will be painful.
“Let us now stop the rhetoric and focus on action against corruption. When the action happens, it will be painful. Let us not hear people claiming that they are being picked on when we act...” he said while addressing the United Nations Global meeting on corruption.

His intentions might be noble. The perception? Been there, done that. Before his ‘war against corruption will be painful’ statement, Kenyans had heard about Ringera’s ‘small fish, big fish’ theory and Kanu’s ‘no stone unturned’ mantra.
The perception remains all talk, little action. It continues to be business as usual as suspects embark on yet another round robin, day out in court cycle.

No public servant has been convicted and sentenced over financial crimes during the three years Jubilee has been in power, despite the fact that some of the most heinous economic crimes have happened within this window.

But can Uhuru pull a Magufuli and make unilateral decisions on the fate of some of his officers already condemned in the court of public opinion? He can’t. In his way stands the Constitution with the little matter of ‘innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.’

Even in country where the judicial process is not above reproach and has been known to issue more than suspect judgments, the Constitution reigns supreme. So, individuals are suspended or urged to step aside. Not sacked.

Perhaps, the national good hasn’t overridden personal interest as in the case of Tanzania. In Kenya, when billions of shillings meant for the improvement of society are proven to be stolen, the looters sit pretty, waiting for decades-long court processes that in most cases they wiggle out of in equally dubious out-of-court settlements.

But all is however not lost.

From his numerous public statements, it is clear that Kenya has a president bent on ridding his people of corruption.

Maybe it is time he went slow on the rhetoric and acted, even if it is for something as trivial as national pride.

Kenyans are generally brought up believing they are better than Tanzanians. We beat them at everything. It is painful to see Tanzania beat Kenya on something as important as fighting graft. It is the only war that matters. The only war that if won, will define the well-being of future generations.

Sadly though, Kenya currently finds itself in Brazil’s position, 17 years ago. Uhuru Kenyatta has all the stars in his team, but finds his government 3-0 down when it matters most.