Can Magufuli balance State with regional interests?

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There is a new sheriff in the United Republic of Tanzania and his name is Dr John Pombe Magufuli. The bespectacled 56- year old former Chemistry teacher defied the political undercurrents in the ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), to rise to the highest office in the land, succeeding Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete.

Through his election, Magufulli, who has been nicknamed the “Bulldozer” owing to his zeal in building roads during his stint at the ministry of Works, clearly has his work cut- out.

CCM, the ruling party, came into existence after the Tanzania African National Union (TANU), the party that led Tanzania to Independence under the founding father Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and the Afro-Shirazi Party (ASP) which were the sole operating parties in mainland Tanzania and the semi-autonomous islands of Zanzibar respectively merged.

As such, CCM is not only a political party but an institution. It’s “independence” is perhaps exemplified by the fact that Magufuli, a rank outsider even in the party hierarchy, could be chosen to fly the party’s flag in the elections at the expense of Edward Lowassa, who had been deemed to be the blue- eyed boy of the country’s political set up.

From a humble background, Pombe Magufuli rose through his career faster than anticipated, culminating in his election on October 29 as the fifth President of the United Republic of Tanzania.

In the hotly contested polls, Magufuli garnered 8,882,935 votes translating to 58.46 pc of the votes cast, while Edward Lowassa of the Ukawa party came second with 6,072,848 – 39.97 pc.

In his book, “The Prince”, Italian political theorist Niccolò Machiavelli argues that a leader must combine the attributes of a fox and a lion. Simply put, for one to be a successful politician, one must be cunning and brave– the standout traits of a fox and a lion respectively.

Machiavelli believed that if a leader had these traits, he was half-way through the murky waters of politics. Machiavelli also argues that the state is supreme and nothing should supersede it.

An analysis of the recently concluded CCM presidential primaries and the subsequent election which saw Magufuli, 56, triumph over Lowassa, 62, one gets the impression that Magufuli, who is by all standards a scientist by training must have read “The Prince” and mastered the tricks as advocated by Machiavelli.

Aware that absolute ambition hurts, he became cunning like the fox, handling one political problem as it came. He used his stint in the Works, Land and Human Settlement, and Fisheries ministries to analyse the trend and voting patterns of the electorate and also warmed his way into the hearts of the voters.

Aware that diligent performance, more so in public service, would be the trump card to winning an election, he built his reputation as a no-nonsense minister, pulling down structures built on road reserves hence the origin of the nickname “Bulldozer”.

In every multi-party democracy, Africa being no exception, the fight for power is always fierce. The dynamics and trends keep changing while the real power holders – the incumbent presidents in many cases than not play major roles in determining who succeeds them.

In Kenya, for instance, Uhuru Kenyatta’s ascendancy to State House was largely dictated by the real power holders – former presidents Daniel Arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki  who,were not comfortable with having opposition chief Raila Odinga get into State House.

And just like Tanzania, the real power wielders in this case were Presidents Jakaya Kikwete and Benjamin Mkapa. Although not too active in the day-to-day politics, Mkapa still wields immense power and influence within CCM.

Lowassa, himself, a brilliant leader with a good track record, had become too ambitious and forgotten the fact that the wings he had used to fly high did not necessarily belong to him. Viewed as a possible successor to Kikwete, he had the courage to run for the top seat after defying the party chiefs, but lacked the cunningness to land the party ticket.

This proved costly as Kikwete threw his weight behind Pombe – a fringe force in the party ranks; the silent nod of Mkapa helped to tip scales in his favour.

Having been handed the tools of power, Magufuli will quickly realise that leading East Africa’s most populous nation is no walk in the park. The need to glue a party that has been torn down the middle after fiercely contested primaries which saw Lowassa quit to run on an opposition ticket, the pressure to expand the economy and the need to work together with other East African states to fulfil the East African Community dream are some of the challenges that he will face.

Kikwete was seen by other East African leaders as a stumbling block to the full realisation of the EAC dream and though Magufuli may not be the best of friends with his regional counterparts, he faces the acid test of projecting a different image of Tanzania as well as being seen not to fear competition from member states.

It remains to be seen how the student of Machiavelli will juggle the interests of an expectant nation with the need for an “open EAC”.

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