Alagi Yorro Jallow
Mamudu: Watching the send-off that Tanzanians are according to President Dr. John Pombe Magufuli, you get the impression that he was very well-beloved of his people, and they might so soon demand the Pope to beatify him. The dirges that have been composed in his wake are moving and tug at the heartstrings.
As a post-modern liberal thinker, writer, and sociopolitical commentator, I am at a loss on view and eulogize a man with a legacy so checkered. Historians will have a hard time defining Dr. Magufuli’s legacy for its sheer complexity. His legacy has so many strands, and historians will have to go through them one by one to paint the complete picture of a man who was loved and reviled perhaps in equal measure. He projected himself as a staunch Christian, who held himself to the highest standards of conduct, but the picture painted of him by detractors runs counter to this. The picture painted by his implacable detractors is that of villainy.
Dr. Mgufuli was a fiscal conservative, shielding his people from the weight of foreign debt, and is said to have hated corruption to the core. A micromanager somewhat went out of his way to visit government departments unannounced to ensure officials were working. He regularly descended on the grassroots to hear concerns directly from Tanzanians, a rare thing for African leaders.
However, he was accused of leading with an iron fist and constricting civil liberties. How do you eulogize such a man? As a hero or a villain or a melange of the two?
On the one hand, he was brash and imposing, bulldozing his way through government institutions, characteristic of a strongman. On the other hand, he meant well for his people, was committed to public service, ensured austerity measures that saw the budgetary allocation for recurrent expenditure shrink with unnecessary foreign trips banned and obscene luxuries courtesy of the public kitty stopped. He was down-to-earth, Pan-Africanist, anti-corruption, and a fighter that was bent on rescuing Africa from its jinxed relationship with the western capitalist, a troubled relationship manifesting in Africa’s colonial, neo-colonial, and meta-colonial experiences.
As late as early this year, I waxed critical of him, ruing the possibility of a renaissance of dictatorship – a specter I hoped would vanish with President Yewori Museveni’s and Paul Kagame’s impending exits from power. My concern has always been that all dictators start well. They mean well. They are popular, loved, and pampered at first. Then, along the way, they begin to view themselves as messiahs, thanks to the praises that are generously lavished on them by their populaces. They begin to see themselves as an essential and indispensable cog in the functioning and stability of their countries. Lapping on the unending praises, they morph into monsters, fall out of favor with their people, and begin to the lord on them. Those that knew President Yewori Museveni in 1986 knew him as an altruistic, humble servant leader that would chart a new path for Uganda. Now he is a nuisance whose butt is stuck on the throne, and they slowly realize that only God can depose him by “calling him yonder.”
In Rwanda, the peace and stability, and progress that a small nation is making is not tenable, according to some pundits, as it is built on the quicksand of repression and fear. Paul Kagame is the cornerstone of that stability as a strongman. He has anchored the country in his person. Furthermore, the day he breathes his last or descends the throne, all that will fall apart like a deck of cards. That is because, unlike institutions, personalities wither and die. Moreover, however well-meaning a leader is, if they emasculate institutions to bolster their personalities, they do their countries an injustice. It is against that backdrop that we come to see that benevolent dictatorship is merely self-heroic and myopic.
Mamudu: The leadership style of Magufuli was that of a benevolent dictator. It is the case that benevolent dictators are revered at home and loathed abroad. Nevertheless, reverence does not always spring from love and awe but fear and dependency. Having sapped all legitimacy from institutions, the benevolent dictator remains the only anchor of his people’s hopes and aspirations. Just as a captive comes to identify with the captor and genuinely grieve when he departs, the subjects of a benevolent dictator, stripped of all agency, are almost always sad and blue when he departs, for, with his departure, they lose the hope that he had beguiled them to put in him. It is a classic case of Stockholm Syndrome.
They are shedding real tears in the streets of Tanzania. We have been made to believe, Magufuli was melodramatic, undiplomatic, undemocratic, idiosyncratic, and lately alchemistic and voodooistic. To Tanzanians of all walks of life, he was pragmatic, energetic, enthusiastic, programmatic, nationalistic, actionistic, patriotic, anti-corruption. That is why. They are mourning in villages and Tanzania’s streets, for they feel a profound, deep loss.
Mamudu: As I see Tanzanians weep and carpet the roads with their garments, I ask myself if it is healthy for any country for the death of one person to be so disruptive.
Alagi Yorro Jallow