John Pombe Magufuli, war and idiosyncrasies of leaders

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Col. (Rtd) Joseph Owuoth 

What is the background story?

In the early evening of Wednesday 17th March 2021, Tanzania’s president John Pombe Magufuli (JPM) passed on at Dar-es- Salaam hospital after suffering acute heart attack. During his short stint in power, President Magufuli was admired by followers for his hostility to corruption and waste but also equally regarded by his foes as an irascible authoritarian intolerant of dissent and of muzzling the media. Every person has some level of idiosyncrasy but becomes much more pronounced when a person is in leadership.

So what is a leader’s Idiosyncrasies?

Google defines idiosyncrasy as a word borrowed from ancient Greek for “one’s own.” An idiosyncratic person is someone who does things in his own way, a peculiar characteristic only common to the individual. JPM’s main idiosyncry was a no-nonsense approach to issues, a shoot from the hip administrator whose populist announcements occasionally extremely weird underscored his unconventional leadership style. In extreme cases, such kind of idiosyncrasy could lead countries to full blown hostilities.

So, JPM, blatant statements and remarks could have led to hostilities regionally?

Indeed. An institution is an extension of a leader’s personality. Some of JPM remarks were uncalled for and the follow up action led to open hostilities among the citizenry. Cases in point:

  • “Our neighbours have been in so called Lockdown and hence have had poor harvests. Sell them our farm produce at exorbitant prices, very exorbitant”.

Such remarks championed a near hatred campaign in TZ against Kenyans for nothing.  A wag had mentioned that Tanzanians think they are poor because Kenyans are relatively richer.

  • JPM denied that there was Covid-19 and poured scorn on the neighbouring countries “faithlessness” and “prayerlessness” on their attempts to counter the pandemic. Such remarks when amplified by the regional leaders heightened the frosty relation between TZ and the neighbours.
  • When neighbouring Kenya denied Tanzanian flights to land in Kenya due to noncompliance to Covid-19 protocols, JPM ordered that all Kenyan flights be denied landing in TZ.
  • JPM without attempting some diplomatic solution auctioned 6,000 head of cattle from Uganda and 2,000 from Kenya at a throw away prices claiming the cattle had strayed into the country without proper documentation. He also seized 10,000 head of cattle from Rwanda saying Tanzania is not a grazing field. This came three months after he had ordered the burning of 5,000 newly hatched chicks whose owners had crossed over from Kenya to sell them to TZ poultry farmers.

So JPM could easily have led his country to war with the neighbouring countries?

Poverty and political, social, and economic inequalities between groups predispose nations to conflict and outright hostility. But then they are always nudged to that direction by the leadership. In the bipolar age, JPM could easily have done that.

But relative peace has been experienced in TZ?

At face value the country was at peace thanks, partly due to the strong arm tactics of the intelligence service. More recently, though, the JPM had lost his fame drastically due to his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, alleged disappearance of people, punitive tax regime and the switching off of the internet during the general election period.

What are the final thoughts?

We have to admit that this was an industrious leader pious and a true patriot who wanted the best for his country. His soul shall surely rest in peace. Buriani Magufuli!

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