In November 2015, John Magufuli assumed office as the President of Tanzania, perpetuating the dominance of the Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party who have been in power since the 1970s. At the time of his election most considered Magufuli to be representative of political continuity within Tanzania. Now, almost three years later, it is clear that Magufuli has disrupted the status quo.
The President has come to be known as ‘the Bulldozer’ for his unapologetic approach to tackling corruption and curtailing excessive spending within government. He gained this reputation right at the beginning of his presidency when he cancelled the usual opulent Independence Day celebrations. Instead, that money was redirected towards street cleaning. In the same way, he doubled down on excessive expenditure on ceremonies, meetings and travel of government officials and civil servants. He ensured that everyone was aware that being a government official was not synonymous with luxury or privilege and that fraud and corruption were not to be tolerated. This was achieved by tough measures and the dramatic firing of many civil servants. It has been reported that in his first three months as President, Magufuli fired an average of one civil servant a day.
‘The Bulldozer’ has shown his toughness in industry and economics too. He has drawn a hard-line by protecting and taking ownership of Tanzania’s resources. Most recently, a 24 kilometre wall with one secure entrance was erected around the tanzanite mines near Mount Kilimanjaro as a way to stop the smuggling of this precious stone. This is just one of Magufuli’s moves to regulate mining. He has gone head-to-head with foreign mining companies with the goal of gaining maximum profit from national resources. Magafuli’s main aims have been to improve efficiency across the board in Tanzania, to harness the nation’s wealth and to do so for the betterment of the country. He has enjoyed popularity and praise as a result of his hard-line response to these issues and many see this as a promising signal for a fairer and more prosperous future. The tough stance he has taken on issues such as corruption and excess has been applauded both by Tanzanians and the international community.
However, criticism has definitely been expressed by some, especially those who see his policies and conduct as aggressive. Most notably, Magufuli’s stance on democracy cannot be ignored, indeed it is in need of serious attention. He has stifled freedoms of expression. Those who have expressed political opposition or criticism have been subject to harassment, arrest and detention. Tundu Lissu, the leader of the opposition party and an open critic of Magufuli, was severely injured after being attacked in September of 2017. Opposition parties have been banned from holding public meetings and rallies. Both the press and the broadcast media have also been subject to the same threat. News outlets have been shut down for lengthy periods of time, journalists have been arrested and several have been reported missing.
This increased control over the public domain and freedoms of the people has been formalised. A new law signed in March 2018, the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations, now demands an astronomic fee of over $900 for those wishing to publish online content in Tanzania. This includes bloggers, as well as those operating online radio and television services and impacts regular users of online domains and social media. Content considered to ‘cause annoyance’ or ‘public disorder’ will result in the revoking of these $900 licences. This is not just applicable to political topics; Diamond Platnumz, one of Tanzania’s most famous singers, was recently arrested for posting a video of him kissing a woman. He subsequently issued a public apology for such content. Freedoms within the public and private spheres are deteriorating in Tanzania and it is important that this is not ignored. These new constraints on democracy are dangerous and the rights of the Tanzanian people need to be upheld and respected.