Adveline Minja
18 min readApr 1, 2021


John Pombe Magufuli was the president of the United Republic of Tanzania from October 2015 to March 2021. Magufuli served as the 5th President of Tanzania from October 2015 until his sudden and controversial death which was announced on March 17th, 2021 by his Vice President Mama Samia Hassan Suluhu after 21 days of silence, secrecy, and speculations about his health and whereabouts. He ruled for five years and five months with hopes, sorrows, and fears.

Tanzania under Magufuli was the only country in the world to openly deny the existence of the coronavirus disease, the COVID-19. As a COVID-19 denier-in-chief, he put over 58 million Tanzanians at health risk by downplaying the coronavirus and claimed Tanzania has overcome and eliminated the virus by the grace of God and traditional alternative medicines.

People ordered to defy the wearing of masks or social distancing instead ordered to go on with their daily routines as business as usual. Also, Tanzania never locked down its economy or followed any of the WHO recommended COVID-19 guidelines to protect against the infectious coronavirus and its transmission under the Magufuli rule.

Even doctors ordered not to make diagnosis or testing for coronavirus or declaring a person to have suffered from the infectious virus. Doctors could lose their license to practice, their private medical facilities closed, and or face jail if they defy the orders. With that, there was/is no reliable data for coronavirus in Tanzania.

As people ponder Magufuli’s sudden, yet controversial death they see it as due to his own worst enemy of his defiant behavior for becoming the world’s number one COVID-19 denier, at the same time, he has underlying heart problems, which could have been exacerbated by the virus and cut short his life and of course, his second term in office on March 17th, 2021. However, we may never know the real cause of his death given the 21 days of silence and secrecy before the announcement of his death.

Following Magufuli’s death, Mama Samia Hassan Suluhu was sworn shortly after to become the 6th president of Tanzania earning her a historical record of a third female President in the EAC (East African Community) and the 9th female president in Africa. Also, a relief and a renewed hope for a better future in Tanzania.

How John Pombe Magufuli Rose to Power

Tanzania constitution gives two terms of 5 years each for president through the national general elections-Act №15 of 1984 Art.9 40 (2). No person shall be elected more than twice to hold the office of President. General elections at the national level elect the president and the members of the National Assembly/parliamentarians. The president appoints his Vice President, the Prime Minister, and the cabinet members and Ministers of various government ministries.

Like many presidential elections in African states, Tanzania’s recent elections have been accompanied by allegations of fraud, irregularities, and voter suppression. CCM party formerly known as TANU has been the ruling party since Tanzania’s independence in 1961, 60 years in power!

Unlike his predecessors, John Pombe Magufuli was neither expected nor seen as the CCM’s party’s strongest presidential candidate that his party would pick from the shortlisted names.

However, the scramble within the CCM party elites and the pressure set by the increasingly growing powerful opposition party challengers, particularly the CHADEMA party, has recently gained strong popularity across the country enough to threaten the CCM party’s survival. The X-factor in the CCM party’s presidential nominee played its role to deliver a candidate who could intimidate the opposition party and instill fear in those who dare to question him, instead of a person with leadership traits. Leadership traits such as integrity, honesty, ethics, respect, or empowerment are alarmingly suffered deficiency in African leaders.

It is worth noting that John Pombe Magufuli’s work experiences made him fit the criteria of a person who could aggressively wrestle with the opposition party. So, was picked by NEC (National Executive Committee) as a CCM party presidential candidate for 2015 to the astonishment and distress of many from the get-go!

For one, he was unknown to many. However, he has held different positions in the government, including Minister of Works, Transportation, and Communication from 2000 to 2005, Minister of Lands and Human Settlement from 2006 to 2008, Minister of Livestock and Fisheries from 2008 to 2010, and a Minister of Work for a second time from 2010 to 2015 all of which shaped his career experience and eventually earned him a reputation of a “doer who walks the talk”.

In his first year of presidency, he was known as a Bulldozer, following his immediate Executive Orders he issued to set the tone that a new guard has arrived. On one hand, he inspired people to be tough and be you are own person, but on the other hand, he lacked the disciplinary restrain of leadership.

Presidential Elections in Tanzania

Elections, in general, are known and expected to have some irregularities whether in the developed countries or developing countries, but more so in the less-democratic-countries. Tanzania has been known and considered as the most democratic liberal country in Africa.

Tanzania became a multiparty system in 1992 and by 2015 a strong opposition party ready to challenge the CCM party which has been in power since independence, 1961 has emerged, the CHADEMA party under their presidential candidate Tundu Lissu who survived death after an assassination attempt under the Magufuli administration that forced him to live in exile.

If we have seen national presidential elections malfunction-inconsistency, unfree, unfair, widespread fraud and voters suppression in Tanzania’s recent memories, is the 2015 election between John Magufuli (CCM) and Edward Lowassa(CHADEMA) and, again, the 2020 election between John Magufuli (CCM) and Tundu Lissu (CHADEMA).

As it turned out, in both elections, the ruling party CCM claims to have won the elections which reaffirmed the longstanding intention of CCM to hold on to power by any means, including violation of the constitution and the democratic processes Tanzania has enjoyed before the Magufuli era.

In the 2015 elections between John Magufuli and Edward Lowasa, even though the elections were done under a cloud of chaos and were flawed with irregularities, Lowasa seized the momentum he had cultivated after his departure from the CCM party and had received majority votes. But CCM aggressively overturned his votes. Magufuli was declared a winner with 58% of the votes, a considerable decline compared to the 2005 elections in which the CCM party won 80% of the votes.

In some ways, the CHADEMA party’s failure to challenge the election results of 2015 was the biggest mistake on the opposition party. The CCM party stole their victory and gave an opportunity lesson for the CCM party to flex their muscles under the leadership of John Pombe Magufuli, who assumed total authoritarian rule aimed to dismantle all the democratic institutions in Tanzania including crushing down the opposition party.

With the increasing radical policies of Magufuli on the horizon, Tanzania’s democracy was drifting away and no longer considered a peaceful and stable country as it has generally been known. The government affairs were conducted under strict rules and orders, rule of law did not exist, and many atrocities were committed under the Magufuli rule.

Under the Magufuli rule, police harassed people simply for their party affiliation, people in business were hijacked, blackmailed, tortured, killed; and some disappeared without a trace, but the president remained silent as people cried out for help. Even when his security apparatus repeatedly implicated, he remained silent, no condemnation or acknowledgment of any sort.

Then, there was the attempt to assassinate a member of the parliament Mr. Tundu Lissu, who happened to be on the opposition side! That too was not condemned by the president, not even looking for those who commit such atrocities. Instead, Magufuli governed with absolute power defying the rule of law and the constitution.

By the election of 2020, and five years in power, Magufuli has established and consolidated a dictatorial leadership using the police and the army to manipulate, intimidate, and harass whoever dares to criticize or question him. His relatives and friends filled his top government positions. Nepotism and tribalism in Tanzania reached the pinnacle during the Magufuli rule.

It was not a surprise that the 2020 general election was worse than 2015 in terms of voter’s intimidations, violence on the streets, unwarranted curfews intended to cause fear and threaten people from turning out to vote, and other voter suppression and electoral manipulations.

Even with that level of threat people craved for change and were willing to get out and vote. Mr. Tundu Lissu has inspired and empowered many Tanzanians with his charisma and unwavering strength arguing to fight back for their freedom, democracy, and justice which have been eroded by the five years of Magufuli’s authoritarian style.

Many Tanzanians believe that the CCM party will not give up power; instead, they want to change the country back into a single-party system. The results of the 2020 elections were proof that the CCM party has no intention to uphold the rule of law, respect the constitution, or the democratic process that has been in place, but to adapt the totalitarian form of government.

Furthermore, in the election results of 2020, people were threatened by the uniformed law enforcers to stay home and not be seen on the streets. Three days heading to the voting day police and army were dispatched and patrolled the streets to scare voters from turning out to vote. A night before the election’s day, Tanzania was shut down from the outside world-no internet, WhatsApp, or International calls in and out of the country- a violation of freedoms of expression, free speech, and free press which are the core foundation of democracy were in jeopardy.

Moreover, on the election day, police spotted carrying with them bags of pre-counted ballots heading /entering the polling stations, fights broke between police and some parliamentarians from the opposition parties after denied access to the polling stations; it was a chaotic election displayed in daylight and with no remorse on the CCM ruling party using police and army to their advantage to harass and intimidate voters and the members of the parliament from the opposition parties.

Under the control of the CCM party, the Election Commission was the sole election monitor and observer as other third parties and International election observers were denied permission.

Unjustifiably, Election Commission disqualified dozens of opposition parliamentary candidates and remove them from the ballot forms.

It did not end there, those who managed to stay on the ballot forms were stripped of their victories and replaced by the CCM party candidates.

By all accounts, the 2020 presidential elections lacked even the minimum standards of credibility, domestically and internationally. When the election results were announced, we knew that the CCM party will declare itself the winner. They declared themselves the winner even before casting the vote.

But what surprised many were that no opposition candidates in the parliament. All opposition candidates were said to have lost the election and were unseated by the ruling party, the CCM. And there were no ways to verify the election results, a mockery to the democracy!

Expectedly, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) declared the populist incumbent John Pombe Magufuli to have gathered 84% of the flawed votes and earned him a second term of presidency.

Although the opposition party of CHADEMA which was expected to win should the rules of political engagements were equal, and fair, contested the election! However, the Tanzanian constitution does not allow challenges to presidential election results…Tanzania’s constitution states that once a presidential candidate has been declared the winner by the electoral commission “no court of law shall have any jurisdiction to inquire unto the election of the candidate.”

This embarrassing reality show was brought to the attention of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights ( AfCHPR) which had ordered Tanzania to amend the section of its constitution which bars any court from probing the election of a president after a winner is officially announced-“necessary constitutional and legislative measures, within a reasonable time” to ensure that the disputed section of its constitution was aligned with the charter provisions so that to eliminate the violations that exist now.

Suppression of Freedom of Expression and Press.

Tanzania’s freedom of expression and free press deteriorated drastically under Magufuli with the new laws regulating online content and deliberately targeting free speech and media. Journalists were targeted for reporting the truth, some were detained, stripped of their passport and phones, and interrogated by government agents.

Tanzania, once known and considered to be the most democratic liberal county in eastern Africa if not the entire African continent for exercising her freedoms without fear of censure or retaliation, was no longer. Freedoms of speech and press which was found anywhere, anytime, and by anybody, from radio, newspapers, cartoonists, to political satires and TV outlets were free to air anything, but now all restricted or disappeared under Magufuli rule which considered a media an enemy because he could not stand criticism or be challenged.

As Magufuli rule the country as a one-man-show/power consolidator-in-chief, Tanzania witnessed a remarkable decline in respect for freedom of expression, association, and assembly. People back down and seek solace in silence and fear as threats and harassment intensified day in day out. It reaches a point that if you called your friends or relatives in Tanzania and brought up any topic about the government or by just asking how the politics in Tanzania is today, they will beg you to change the subject or decide to end the conversation altogether! They feared their phones were bugged and or are being listened to by the government agents.

People of oppositions were frequently targeted, attacked, and harassed by the police. The authorities violated their rights, top up with the increase of the implementation of new laws which limit freedom of expression, press, and accessible communication, which has been routinely tempered with and impacted a significant portion of the population.

Women were constantly mocked, the president’s jokes in public were mainly directed towards women, which undermined, embarrassed, and humiliated women. Girls who got pregnant while in school or young mothers seeking to continue with study faced discriminatory policies or banned in schools according to Magufili’s 2017 law and order.

Many events and laws passed to ensure Magufuli assumes total control and consolidates power while undermining the rights of the citizens and the country’s constitution.

The Magufuli Massive Ambitious Public Project

For Magufuli to be nicknamed “The Bulldozer” is a testimony both for his massive ambitious public projects and his reputation for defying the economic rules of engagement as he pushed through his policies and directives regardless of whether they were equitable or liability; or who he targeted and hurt in the process.

Magufuli came to power with the promise to eradicate corruption and to create sustainable economic progress in Tanzania.

In doing that, he engaged in aggressive and ambitious public projects such as infrastructure-building of tarmac roads, expansion of roads and highways with flyovers, build bridges, revived the trains that once were crisscrossing the country’s regions and the neighboring countries before the same CCM ruling part grounded them.

Notably and very controversial, he revived the Air Tanzania Company Limited (ATCL), 100% owned by the government, and over the years served a variety of domestic, regional, and intercontinental destinations running with a deficit which later grounded its operation.

In 2016 Magufuli ambitiously revived it by purchasing two new Bombardier Q400 for a national carrier. By 2018 four more aircraft were purchased for the national carrier, and Magufuli had promised to purchase five more Air Tanzania planes if re-elected to continue his presidency till 2025.

As of now, Tanzania has a total of eight aircraft-Four Dash 8-Q400, two Airbus A220–300, and two Boeing 787–8 Dreamliner, but so far what is known as accounts of auditing come to live this airplanes project is running on a deficit and has about $60 billion loses.

All these eye-catching projects-mesmerize people and transfix them while earned him huge but superficial credibility as a “doer” while “dictator” fits his personality and temperament best.

Nevertheless, Magufuli projects are not without many flaws and massive financial mismanagement that will cost the government billions if not trillions of money. As the proverb goes, si vyote vinyaavyo ni dhahabu, not all glitter is gold.

There were more to his mega-projects such as the mega-size sports stadium, the largest stadium in Africa while our two nations soccer teams hardly make it to the continental competition tournaments. Also the state-of-the-art bus terminal one of the largest bus terminal in the East African region at Nzuguni about 20 km from Dodoma city center en-route to Dar-es-Salaam under construction since 2018 with a wishful expectation that will bring together the services of 200 upcountry buses, 600 medium-sized passenger buses, and an estimated 300 taxis.

Other projects like hotels, shopping malls, food vendors, and other shops expect the project to cost trillings of money on such mega structures.

While all his mega-projects earned him praise, and rightfully so, it was how he was funding the projects, the massive wasteful of public funds without the auditions’ accountability, and all geared towards impressing the voters first and foremost while neglecting other equally significant social services infrastructure investment-education, housing, healthcare, and agriculture.

During his tenure, he crisscrossed the country by road to be seen by the voters, often making stops to listen to the complaints of the locals’ citizens/Wananchi. He gave the “on-the-spot” solution by ordering the local leaders to fix the wananchi’s problems ASAP. At times, he provided help directly to the staged and sometimes upstaged Wananchi facing all sorts of economic hardships. For those people, Magufuli was their God.

Domestically his popularity and admiration of a no non-sense man meaning he did not take anyone’s advice or ideas grew and so as the fears.

The much-talked corruption curbing by exposing some people in public, “tumbua majibu”, slug “poke-diagnose boils” was a phrase that implied exposing and shaming people in public especially the government officials for poor management at the same time firing qualified personnel and replace them with the unqualified person(s) all, in public for the whole world to see and hear!

Also, the much-corruption curbing slogan was not without flawed activities that were deceptively conducted. The business community was targeted and demanded to pay ransom money in the name of taxes more than what they made or owed. The actors from his administration blackmailed people in business forced them to give money or face jail; false accusations against certain people as a way of retaliation for refusing to cooperate. Some prominent businesspeople were abducted, some were killed or disappeared to the unknowns; it was a work of a mafia!

How could one be combating corruption while engaging in corruption? How could one question a Bulldozer?

The one-man rule and increasingly radical policies created the corruptor-in-chief who not only quarreled with the opposition parties for underplaying the coronavirus disease-COVID-19 that was killing Tanzanians silently. Also, Tanzanian did not shut down her economy as a strategy for second-term re-election.

Moreover, Magufuli made the international community skeptical about the handling of the coronavirus pandemic by declaring Tanzania a coronavirus pandemic free while the Wananchi were suffering, dying, and fearful about their future. There is not COVID-19 testing, no mask-wearing mandate, no social distancing, no lockdown, disregard of WHO orders and Guidelines, and no plan for vaccines.

Social Services Infrastructure Investment Under Magufuli

Magufuli’s economic key signature was the investment in mega economies and infrastructure projects. The projects ranged from reviving massive tarmac roads constructions, bridges, reviving railways and expand the railway road to different regions, reviving the national airline, Air Tanzania; power infrastructure, and completing the moving of the capital from Dar-es-Salaam city to Dodoma region and stressing the Tanzanian ownership over national resources-notably land, agricultural products, and mining, and other 30 infrastructure projects that were underway, all geared towards his political legacy.

According to the 2019/2020 World Bank report, the public projects have created a growth of the economy that propelled Tanzania from a low-income country to lower-middle-income economic status. Also his slogan, “Hapa Kazi Tu”, “Here Works Only”, had played a role in cementing his political intentions of convincing the Wananchi that he can manage massive state projects through fighting corruption (before he intimidated, blackmailed, and demanded money by force from the business community), strong work ethics (before he filled his administration with friends and family members). Even the relationship with some neighboring countries like Kenya was stained repeatedly prompting the closing of the borders of the two countries.

The international community including, the World Bank, EU, and multilateral partners with Tanzania quickly declined. The World Bank supports Tanzania’s growth through policy analysis, grants, and credits with a focus on infrastructure and the private sector but withdrew that support due to the increased violation of human rights and the authoritarian rule of Magufuli.

Despite the massive economic undertaking, many parts of the country and many people suffered greatly under Magufuli’s economic policies. Lack of the same ambitions on social service infrastructure investment, i.e. aggressive policies designed to strengthen people’s skills and capacities and support them to participate fully in employment and social life-policies in education not just universal-free primary and secondary education but also a learning environment that supports effective learning and academic achievements.

While Magufuli pride himself on his massive projects, the education field has been crumbling down. Yes, many people have been able to access schooling, by registering many students but in many schools around the country, classrooms are not conducive for learning because the schools’ structures have deteriorated to accommodate students without risking their safety.

In some schools, classrooms are overcrowded with about 100 pupils per one teacher in the classrooms! In other schools, students take turns to seat in class with desks and some classrooms without desks while other seats outside. Schools’ infrastructure needs immediate renovations and expansions to accommodate the students’ demands and afford students a decent learning environment.

Likewise, the shortage of libraries and books is another area in the fields of education and public investment intended to strengthen people’s knowledge and skills, training job opportunities/employment, yet ignored. As citizens, we dare to challenge our African leaders to divert the massive public funds and or tax payer’s money they use to build themselves impressive big private homes /castles instead invest that money in building libraries in their honor. In that case, they have killed a thousand birds with one stone and herewith a proudful, prideful, and impactful legacy.

Another area of social service infrastructure investment such a health care-hospitals and medical facilities receive more attention in some urban regions but not in the countryside. Community housing too has been for a long time neglected. Affordable government housing projects initiated by previous presidents were abandoned for his mega ambitious economic projects.

Erosion of Democracy Under Authoritarian Government of Magufuli

Magufuli refused to bow down to any pressure from the opposition parties or the International community for its radical and oppressive policies affecting the Tanzanian population. As a result, the World Bank, European Unions, and other multilateral organizations withdraw their support due to the deterioration of human rights and erosion of democracy in Tanzania. Tanzania’s freedoms, peace, and unity drastically declined under Magufuli who assumed a totalitarian form of government.

In most cases, African leaders come to power as patriots but often leave the office (if they do leave willingly) as dictators or tyrants.

In many ways, African leadership is like a revolving door, a cycle of re-cycling the past to build the future that seems never to work.

The radical unproductive policies and laws, poor leaderships in government governance are the continuing struggle in African states. No one so far seems to break this chain. The curse of reproducing, cultivating, and captivating on the same mantra, the West are the problem and the worse enemy of African economic development, but not for their lack of a cohesive and consistent path to true democracy that is people-centered rather than leader-centered approach.

Magufuli claimed to have been tough on democracy because he believed democracy must have boundaries. With that, did he supported democracy by suppressing it because of the boundaries he thought democracy must-have? Or was he cleaning the corruption with corruption?

Tanzania was on life support for the past five years of Magufuli rule who will be remembered mostly for the most violent and dictatorial leader in Tanzania. The crackdown of the media, free speech, and freedom of association, the directives and laws that oppressed people; violation of the rule of law, and disrespect of the constitution, instill fear and division,n all of which violated the core principles of democracy.

One can not build a prosperous economic democracy in any society by alienating some members of the community or by destroying the private sector or business community.

Although at times he managed to capture the imagination of the Tanzanian population with his unusual zeal yet deceptive ways for saving the government money he was a divider-in-chief and a corruptor-in-chief too. In five years he managed to divide Tanzanians than any of his predecessors.

Magufuli cultivated on creating fears than hopes in public and private sectors but also in his people. He wanted to be viewed as a savior, a messiah who will lead his people to the promised land-the land of opportunity and prosperity, free of corruption and entanglement from the West. However, he failed as he led his life to the grave, cutting short his second term of the presidency due to his defiance and denial of science in handling and dealing with coronavirus disease-COVID-19.

It is worth mentioning that what many African people don’t understand about the Mabeberu, Swahili slung for Imperialists, or Westerner ill intentions for Africa’s political and economic development is from time immemorial, they are fed lies by their leaders. Lies that the West Imperialists are still the worse enemy of Africa, than the African leadership itself. The African leadership has suffered from mismanagement of their government resources, corruption, and waste of public funds, but hardly admit responsibility and accountability.

In many cases, African leaders want to have it both ways-accept donor countries’ funds but mismanage the fund without accountability! If the funds exchanged were an agreement intended to establish and uphold democratic economies or democratic institutions, but instead adapted an autocratic rule. In this case, the donor country has the right to pull out their support to your country. When donors withdraw their consent to the country, it may affect many things planned, including hurting their citizens, and in turn, instilling in their mind that the West is against Africa’’s developing countries; and or the West continuing crippling the young and developing economies and its people, particularly African leaders.

John Pombe Magufuli, like many African leaders, entered into the president captured the imagination of its people, and was revered as a patriot but by the time of his death, with five years and five months as president, he left rebuked as a tyrant.



Adveline Minja

I am an educator. I am a woman. I am a parent. I am passionate about teaching and learning things that made us whole and great!