Surely Magufuli achieved more in five years of his presidency than his three predecessors achieved in 30 years

By Robin Makayi


The world woke up to a terrible morning on March 17, to hear the shocking news of the demise of John Pombe Joseph Magufuli, PhD, President of the Republic of Tanzania.

His death robbed Africa of a rare and pragmatic Pan – Africanist, a beacon of development, a visionary technocrat and perhaps one of the hardest working presidents the continent has ever produced. The cause of death of President Magufuli remains officially heart failure (cardio myopathy) although some suspect he had contracted Covid-19.

Many will recall Deacon Magufuli as an unapologetic ultra-nationalistic dictator whose rise to power was dramatic yet celebrated by the populace. Many Tanzanians showed little antipathy to his autocratic rule as his leadership was largely viewed as benevolent. This then begs the question- is benevolent dictatorship an answer to Africa’s myriad of problems.

Great visions are easier to conceive than implement. Many good ideas died with their owners as those privileged enough to offer support often rejected them.

Surprisingly four out of every five revolutionary ideas were successfully implemented only by dictators. Dr Thomas Resane once observed: “If you want your vision to succeed, give it to a dictator”.

Surely Magufuli achieved more in five years of his presidency than his three predecessors achieved in 30 years.




John Magufuli had a strong and unwavering character that helped propel Tanzania high up on the global economic scale. Son of a peasant, Dr. Magufuli became a Catholic Deacon, school teacher and later Minister of Transport before ascending to the highest office in the land.

The charismatic leader rose to power by portraying himself as an alternative to two major factions vying for power inside Chama Cha Mapinduzi. Delegates during the 2015 elective congress naturally chose this “white horse” as he was seen as uncaptured and somewhat neutral.

Upon election, President Magufuli quickly implemented his skills for statecraftmanship learned during his 15 years as a politician and time as Minister of Transport.

He consolidated power in a country where the military and security apparatus still play a key role in domestic affairs. President Magufuli embarked on a developmental spree and dramatic policy review underscored by his deep nationalistic views.

He introduced affordable healthcare for most Tanzanians and stocked drugs in medical facilities without bias. That remarkably reduced infant mortality rate (IMR), child mortality rate (CMR) and maternal mortality rate (MMR), key indicators of the vitality of any health care system – especially on a continent where such rates are key indicators of the state of the health.
National death rate lowered to 6.1 per 100 000 down from 7.4 to 100 000 and life expectancy increased to 65 from 59 when he in office.




On the economic front, President Magufuli’s government grew the Tanzanian economy to middle income economy with a GDP of US$63 billion. It is under President Magufuli’s administration that Tanzania witnessed massive infrastructural development that earned him the nickname: Bull dozer.
He pioneered multi-million dollar projects and numerous smaller ones including but not limited to Rufiji Hydropower, Nyerere Memorial Hospital, Musoma Airport.

In 5 years Tanzania had made infrastructural progress equivalent to that achieved in 25 last years.
During his term of office, he remained an advocate of the weak, accountable, disciplined and a national servant.

His self-assuredness however, would lead him to make one of his blunders of his presidency – the lukewarm response to global Covid pandemic, despite glaring evidence of its threat and fatalities.

On a balance scale, President Magufuli must be weighed as an able leader who walked the talk and delivered what the people needed, rightfully using an iron feast.

Africa has lost one of the finest visionaries of our time, and a strong man who balanced power with delivery. He was no pure democrat yet sincerely allowed elections to fullfill the formalities of a democratic system.

Those agitating for pure democracy forget that that there has to be a dictatorship which imposes a democratic system sometimes against the wishes of a rightfully offended majority.


Take the United States for instance, as one of the oldest democracies in the world which in 1787, had the founding fathers drafting a constitution and proclaiming it upon the masses against a populist tide.

The US majority of the time wanted civil war perpetrators of inhuman suffering to be brought in for retribution. But the founding fathers prevailed.

Thus the US constitution itself is a dictatorship that has produced a democratic culture, relative peace and massive development for well over two centuries.

Looking here at home, Africa is no exception. The South African Constitution was so unpopular to black majority as it provided political and economic amnesty to apartheid criminal networks.

But in order for it to prevail, Nelson Mandela had to rein over on his comrades thereby saving the nation from collapse and
violence, creating peace, stability and development we later witnessed under that Rainbow nation.

Though Mandela would later be viewed as a democracy architect, it is his autocratic and intransigent approach during the ‘Sunset Days” that delivered the much sought after freedom and democracy many envy today.
Africa today will need the likes of Magufulis in at least half of its countries.

We had Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, Muammar Gaddafi of Libya and today Paul Kagame stands out as a excellent leader under an autocratic system.

Autocracy if effectively and correctly used, can create peace, stability and development and eliminate elements otherwise impossible to decimate in an open society. Yet we have the largest number of dictators in Africa.

What Africa is suffering from is not dictatorship, but insufficient benevolence.

Rest in peace Deacon Magufuli, a painful end of era and a beginning of an uncertain one.

Robin Makayi is a current affairs commentator. he writes in his personal capacity. Email for feedback





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