Alagi Yorro Jallow
Mamudu: Following the death of President John Pombe Magufuli, every day, social media pundits have been consistently pontificating plaudits and criticism about his chequered reign in Tanzania. Dr. John Pombe Maghufuli was a highly educated man. He was a teacher of science. The man comes complete with a Ph.D. in Chemistry. Nevertheless, by way of survivalist and populist politics, Dr. Maghufuli, by executive authority, usurped science as Africans cheered.
Before President Magufuli died, I thought about history and how stimulating and the world’s response to the death of a man hailed by his people as a moral giant and an influential, courageous, and profoundly good human being that any of us will share with on this earth and described as “a colossus.” Magufuli life gives Tanzanians the courage to push forward development and progress towards ending hunger and poverty.
I recently watched CTGN’s Faces of Africa, and I noticed something not entirely peculiar but quite enlightening. The documentary episode is a perfect construction, attempting to explore and humanize Late John Magufuli and not demonize him, but portray his achieved success, impact, and legacy of his politics, leadership, governance style as well characterize his imperfect and biggest mistakes. John Magufuli was no different in his mistakes, all of which history shows he ultimately was human and fallible capable of failing.
Those memorable characters interviewed in the documentary, primarily senior officials in his government and some of his critics and members from civil society community and by omission or oversight, the documentary has painted a perfect color of who President John Magufuli was. They even absolved him of notable crimes during his reign. Other people featured in that documentary are journalists and political activists. However, nothing in the documentary says anything wrong Magufuli did. They gloss over some of his misdeeds, and they used his old age to protect his legacy some of his poor choices. The documentary was produced in Tanzania, and the producer, I think, is/was from East Africa. I wonder what if the producer is from outside Tanzania.
Mamudu: The late President Magufuli was an honest man. So natural was Magufuli that he could not keep quiet even when his opinion might have been wrong in the public eye. In a video, I read and watched him order government officials not to admit girls who got pregnant back to school, and I saw a form of naivete, only espoused by sincere humans.
I have also watched a video in Swahili but translated into English urging the Tanzanian Church leader in Dar salami’s capital to help raise funding for the Muslim community to construct a Mosque. This was what he said in the Video ” And if you allow for me and I beg you for this (Baba Skofu head of the Church), then let us use this day also to raise money for our Muslim brothers so that they get mosque. ” President John Magufuli. The Muslims of Tanzania will never forget how he made them feel under his leadership.
Nevertheless, that was not his undoing. His main weakness, in my view, was the failure to calibrate his beliefs based on emerging evidence. When the Covid-19 pandemic landed in Africa, and African police started beating curfew-breakers like donkeys, I initially thought John Magufuli had a better view of the situation, not empowering law enforcement officers in the state of emergency powers to further oppressed citizens in the form of police bestiality and police brutality everywhere in Africa.
Mamudu: I remember we once stepped out with my wife from an old clinic, and she was wearing a face mask. Everyone was staring at us, for the only place they had seen one wearing a face mask was on television, in Bangkok, Beijing, or Singapore. I politely told her that I felt embarrassed to walk with her in a face mask, and she presciently said to me that a day was coming when those not wearing masks would feel naked.
As evidence trickled in about the Covid-19 pandemic, so did our beliefs and practices change. When I started seeing people running out of breath, I quickly knew it was time to believe. However, President John Pombe Magufuli, holding the highest office a human can have on earth, did not think it wise to calibrate his thoughts. In the face of overwhelming evidence, he introduced braggadocio and machoism into a deadly situation. Perhaps it was his lack of humility or his enduring belief in whatever he believed in. Sadly, his actions came at a painful cost to his people and perhaps to other East Africans.
However, maybe this was his destiny, for we have seen how the future drives men to do the peculiar. Especially when death is calling, humans always run very fast towards it. History will mostly remember him for his stance against lethargy and laziness and his love for instant solutions in a behemoth called government. The few complaints about him will die with time. When nostalgia hits home, and when new leadership comes in, fond memories will outdo the bad.
Mamudu: In mind, Ghanian founding father Kwame Nkrumah, as eloquently stated by who died in 1972 a former shadow of the liberator he was. Over the years, a new breed of Ghanaians has grown fond of his exploits and glossed over his failings. I also watched another documentary about Kwame Nkrumah. Few stories in the world are as tragic as that of Kwame Nkrumah. The father and symbol of anti-colonialism in Africa and one of the foremost defenders of pan-Africanism started well and ended up like John Magufuli.
From what we know, almost all African countries have traveled the same path. You get independence, and the first president becomes a dictator, the country becomes a one-party rule, the opposition is beaten like crap. Then the leader goes to attend some useless summit in Asia or the OAU, and he is dethroned and forced to spend the rest of his life in exile. This was common among Anglo-African countries. In the Francophone part, assassinations were pretty standard, and it is a stain successive French governments have carried.
However, on the Kwame Nkrumah documentary clip, objectivity comes to play. There are two main men in the show: a Nkrumah defender and another Nkrumah critic. The defender views Kwame Nkrumah’s actions within the independence-era context and absolves him much of what he did. The critic thinks Nkrumah was full of it, full of himself, and deserved what befell him: the coup, dying in exile, and he reveals that his death did not stir much in Ghana.
Mamudu: It would be interesting to know the ethnicity of the two. However, for the record, the critic was jailed in Ghana as a suspect of Kwame Nkrumah’s assassination attempt and borne the brunt of the dictatorial bit of Nkrumah before he was ousted out of power by what some say was the CIA hit job because Nkrumah was going to bed with Communists.
Often, historians or mainstream media rarely judge our founding fathers and their actions and their fates in the Cold War context. Enter late President John Magufuli. There will be those who will remember his anti-corruption crusades, telling of China when we are in Beijing with begging bowls, his infrastructural projects that were not exaggerated as in many African countries. As a true technocrat, those who favor the idea of a ‘benevolent dictator’ cheered him for this.
And then he started jailing journalists and infringing on human rights, which quickly erased his legacy in the eye of others. His denial of Covid-19 and being an anti-vaxxer further soiled his reputation. I remember other leaders saying that it is better, to be honest about Covid-19 than deny its existence as an indirect attack on Magufuli’s stance.
Two sides to the story. The internet has allowed us to get both sides of the story. However, every leader is a hero in the eyes of some and a villain in the eyes of the other. Governments in charge of education can sanitize history, and children who receive the education may never know the whole truth.
Mamudu: If, for instance, the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party continues to rule Tanzania, they may want to protect the legacy of President Joh Magufuli. They may not dwell on the way he handled Covid-19 and human rights. At best, make the bad aspects of his legacy a footnote and elevate the good deeds. Also, does history factor in the human element in the leaders? Alternatively, it is the scientific recording of events and facts. Is it possible for history to merge with Psychology and Literature? Think of Trump.
Alagi Yorro Jallow