Tanzanians Shouldn’t Be Fooled by Magufuli

With most African countries having not gained their independence until the 1960’s, it was difficult for many of them to feel such a strong identity with their nation or a trust in their government that they could be described as nationalist. Since Tanzania’s independence in 1961, nationalism has been a driving force of democratization and freedom from authoritarian rule. Julius Neyere, Tanzania’s first president after the country gained its independence, used nationalism as a tool to encourage a prosperous future for Tanzania. He “emphasized Tanzania’s need to become economically self-sufficient rather than remain dependent on foreign aid and foreign investment” which promotes economic growth rather than the dependence of foreign aid. 

Tanzania’s current president, John Pombe Magufuli, and his party, Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) or “the Party of the Revolution”, have creatively developed a variant of nationalism. Separating it from most forms of nationalism, it focuses on a past order, Nyerere’s Tanzania. This movement dedicated to development was only in a formative stage and never was set in place. It is Magufuli and his party CCM’s goal to restore this previous order and resume the developmental path to a new future for Tanzania. Having been implemented to justify the authoritarian turn which began in 2014 this variation of nationalism may not prove to be of any help for the citizens of Tanzania. Magufuli’s disingenuous promise of restoring Nyerere’s Tanzania for the people’s benefit has instead revealed itself to be a ploy for regaining authoritarian control. In March, 2018, Mr. Magufuli declared, “I want you Tanzanians to believe that you have a real president, a real rock. I cannot be threatened and I am not threatened”, pinning his form of  nationalism as  parochial and populist.  He has prevented political opposition, which was already a problem with Tanzania having only a one-party system. 

Magufuli has also interfered with the ability of his citizens to organize, participate and communicate with each other freely and without hindrance, and in doing so, influence the political and social structures. Nicknamed “the Bulldozer”, Magufuli didn’t stop his bans there. On top of banning political rallies, Magufuli made it his mission to ban foregin travel, live parliament broadcast, and metallic mineral concentrate exports. This is all being done while he cracks down on the media and increases surveillance. His distrust of other world leaders particularly those in the West has prevented many deals from being made such as the construction of Tanzania’s first electric rail, which would have linked the main commercial city Dar es Salaam to the capital, Dodoma. Another deal canceled in part due to his nationalistic ideals was the construction of East Africa’s biggest port in Bagamoyo, once the capital of German East Africa. Mr. Magufuli was quoted saying only a “madman” would accept the financial terms negotiated for the port’s construction  by his predecessor Jakaya Kikwete. Magafuli claims that he is putting the nation first and is protecting his people from the failures of the selfish leaders who came before him. Magufuli has brought back the use of the word “beberu” which literally means “a male goat” in Swahili. But the significance of this word goes beyond calling someone a goat. It was frequently used to refer to “Western imperialists”in the time of British colonial rule. Magagfuli is tactfully using the past distrust of foreign aid and control and is employing nationalism to give the illusion that he is putting the freedoms of his nation’s people first, but much evidence would suggest he has ulterior motives.

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