The Day Africa Wept: Life of An African Patriot In An Unprecedented Time

The News:
Today marks a week since news of the death of President John Pombe Magufuli was announced. Since the announcement the world has not rested; Africa, in particular, has not. President Magufuli’s death came as a surprise to millions of Tanzanians and non-Tanzanians alike. And from all around the world, clouds of reactions have been formed; some with heartfelt eulogies and others with condescending criticisms. With an immediate swearing in of his successor Samai Suluhu Hassan, we must all cease from our emotions and examine a man who will be missed by millions if not billions of people both in and out of Tanzania and whose politics will forever remain a point of debate.

The Man:
Popularly known as the Bulldozer across the East African Region, President Magufuli was a rare type of leader. He was an unconventional thinker whose decisions and approach to events were different from the rest of his counterparts. Unarguably, his most radical decision was choosing to approach Covid-19 differently from the rest of the world. It is not a secret that the president had little to no belief in the existence of the virus. If he did at all, it was through a skeptical lens. He is on record for once saying, Coronavirus, which is a devil, cannot survive in the body of Christ. It will burn instantly”. And just as the rest of the world was closing up and becoming ever more vigilant in the combat against the virus, he went on to declare Tanzania Covid-free in June of 2020. For most, this was his gravest of sins, for which he will be scorned even in his death. In the worlds of the BBC, it is a mistake that will forever colour the way he will be viewed. But for the man who took the decision, what exactly was it? Was it really a mistake? Could there be other reasons for his decision other than mere skepticism? Without being an apologist, it’s only logical to contend that there were other sides of his decision. Among the many that exist, the most likely reasons could be to signal to the rest of the world that Africa, Tanzania specifically, will no longer accept just any science because it is from certain regions or institutions or the world as it has been in the past. Why?

The Context:
For the longest, Africa has been used as a laboratory for foreign scientific experimentations. Think about the 1894 research by Patrick Manson that collected African blood to investigate a boon on zoological and medical science. A boon on zoological science experiments on Africans. Similarly, think about a request by the British High Commission for Central Africa (Harry Johnston) the same year as Manson’s to promote in Central and East Africa racial miscegenation between South Asians and Africans. Just like the zoological boon and the miscegenation experimentations, think about the studies of AIDS that were conducted on sex workers and ordinary civilians in Africa in the 1990s. Also consider the false and pseudo scientific experiments such as the ones done by the French in Algeria which “scientifically” concluded that the Algerians were not fully human and could not think as other normal Europeans do because they didn’t have frontal lobes (read Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin What Mask). Are these stories familiar? In each of the cases, it was the rest of the world, mostly the West, experimenting on the Africans under the guise of science. So perhaps, Magufuli, who belongs to a generation that witnessed these pseudo scientific experimentation, might have felt that it was time to stand and do business differently than usual. Hence, his skepticism in Covid and his refusal to share its data with the World Health Organization and it’s proxy vaccine states; some of whom have used data collected from the continent in similar cases for sinister purposes. This is not to say that Magufuli’s approach was the best. Neither is it to support Covid-denialism. Admittedly, the president’s approach was faulty. A scientist himself he could have handled it way better than he did. But what should also be admitted is that for people who have been repeatedly subjected to outbreaks and pseudo scientific experiments in the past, denialism is the least of what they can do. So was it with the late president. With that, it’s important to establish that Covid-skepticim was not all that Magufuli did. Beyond the virus, he did better things for his country and his people.

Beyond The Covid Trap: Did Magufuli Do Anything Else?
Critics would make one think that all the president did was to deny covid. But far from it, he did more than remarkable. A son of a peasant and a former classroom teacher, Magufuli took Tanzania from near collapse to near prosperity in just five years. Ransacked by corruption, bad governance, incompetent civil service, and foreign debt, he inspired his nation towards change in attitude and committed to measures that would lead to better living conditions for ordinary Tanzanians. Among many things, he banned unnecessary foreign trips and tax exemption for government officials and didn’t travel out of African himself. He cut down extravagant public spending that often sucked the country’s covet, clamped down on absenteeism at public offices, and cancelled the country’s independence day celebration to cover expenses in public hospitals both in 2015 and 2020. “Hapa Kazi Tu”, he would often say in his speeches (Work is My Only Focus). Indeed work was his only focus when he made Tanzania to a middle-income status country in 2020. All these he did without reliance on foreign aid nor foreign expertise as it is for most African countries. But as the Roman politician Mark Anthony once said, “the evil that men do lives after them. The good ones are but often buried with them”. So it is for President Magufuli that of all these achievements, only covid is upheld by his critics.

What Will The Late President Be Remembered For?
President Magufuli may be departed but not without a lesson. During his time he showed that a better Tanzania is possible and that Tanzania must not settle for anything less. He also showed that corruption, which has been the country’s greatest challenge, can be fought and won. On the African front, he showed that no can be an answer to the rest of the world and that in everything we do, we must seek our interest first and seek it with all our heart. For these, he will be remembered as an incorruptible leader who did what was right, an incurable optimist who saw opportunities in every challenge, a radical visionary whose approach to socio-economic governance was disruptive, and a selfless nationalist who went against all established norms or set patterns to make the lives of his people better, and an Afro-optimist who believed in the dignity of Africa and her right to self-determination.

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