The Tanzanian public has gone wild for its new President John “The Bulldozer” Magufuli.
After sweeping to victory in October 2015, Magufuli has embarked on a remorseless purge of corruption - an issue that has plagued the East African state.
In 2014, donors suspended aid to the East African state after senior politicians lifted over $100 million from the central bank. Tanzania languishes in the bottom third of Transparency International’s corruption index.
Shoddy governance partly explains why, despite abundant natural resources and being the second-largest aid recipient in Sub-Saharan Africa, poverty remains endemic in Tanzania, with 70% of the population living on less than $2 a day.
The new broom
The new president made his intentions clear in his first speech to parliament.
“I’m telling government officers who are lazy and negligent to be prepared: They were tolerated for a long time. This is the end,” Magufuli warned.
The Bulldozer was as good as his word. In the weeks and months since taking office, he has declared war on corruption and waste, including:
- Slashing the cabinet from 30 to 19 posts, merging some ministries and dispensing with others.
- Firing tainted officials such as Ports Authority Director General Awadhi Massawef and anti-corruption chief Edward Hoseah.
- Banning inessential foreign travel for politicians, and business class flights for all but the most senior figures.
- Personally visiting ministries to ensure that staff are at their desks.
- Cracking down on lavish state events. He even banned independence day celebrations in favor of leading a street cleaning campaign to address the nation’s cholera outbreak.
What would Magufuli do?
The President’s reforms have inspired one of the country’s most enduring and popular hashtags - #WhatWouldMagufuliDo - as social media users mimic his no-frills approach for comic effect.
The hashtag spawned dedicated accounts:
It also inspired a new verb, to “Magufulify” - defined as: “To render or declare an action faster or cheaper; 2. to deprive [public officials] of their capacity to enjoy life at taxpayers’ expense; 3. to terrorize lazy and corrupt individuals in society.”
There was jealousy abroad, particularly in neighboring Kenya - where President Uhuru Kenyatta is known for his jet-setting lifestyle.
Magufuli’s popularity may be the start of a new trend for hands-on governance:
But not everybody is getting carried away.
Local commentators point out that Magufuli’s Chama Cha Mapinduzi party has itself been mired in scandal, and that many previous leaders have presented themselves as crusaders against corruption before eventually succumbing to it.
The Bulldozer may struggle to maintain his stratospheric popularity long term - but right now Tanzania’s action man is the hero of the hour.