Can Tanzanian President John Magufuli sustain his fight against Africa’s greatest enemy – Corruption?

Africa's newest leader John Magufuli embarks on a fight against corruption. Can he win where others with similar ideas failed?
Africa’s newest leader John Magufuli embarks on a fight against corruption. Can he win where others with similar ideas failed?

Business is slow at Hamisi Haruna’s cafe in Tanzania’s commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, because the civil servants who used to while away the hours there now stay at their desks for fear of angering the man known as the “bulldozer” – President John Pombe Magufuli. There are no customers,” the 26-year-old man said in an interview at the restaurant on Sokoine Drive on the eastern fringe of the coastal city. “This place used to be full all the time.”

Since his inauguration three months ago, Magufuli, 56, has canceled Independence Day celebrations and barred civil servants from sending Christmas cards as part of a campaign pledge to tackle graft and curb waste of public resources. The money- saving measures generated a meme on Twitter that asked #WhatWouldMagufuliDo? Tanzania, Africa’s third-biggest gold producer, ranks in the bottom half of Berlin-based Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, below other African nations such as Ivory Coast and Mozambique. Per capita income in the nation of 49 million people is $955, well below the sub-Saharan African average of $1,638, World Bank data shows. On his first day at work, the president conducted an impromptu tour of the Finance Ministry’s offices, where he demanded to know the whereabouts of officials whose desks were unoccupied. While Magufuli is soft-spoken, he earned a reputation as a hard-driving boss and was nicknamed “tingatinga,” Swahili for bulldozer, in his previous position as the country’s minister of works. “Who sits here? What is his name?” Magufuli asked officials at the ministry in Swahili, footage aired on the Tanzania Broadcasting Corp., the state-owned broadcaster. “You’re the boss here, where are the others? They’ve gone to drink tea?”

Magufuli fired at least seven government agency heads since coming to office Nov. 5, including the head of the country’s anti-corruption body, the chief of Tanzania Railways and a top immigration official. The dismissals signal the president’s intent to stamp his authority on the new government, said Ahmed Salim, a Dubai-based analyst with Teneo Intelligence. Under Magufuli’s predecessor, Jakaya Kikwete, perceptions of corruption in Tanzania increased over the past four years, according to Transparency International. He is “trying to distance how his government will do business compared to his predecessor,” Salim said. “However, because corruption in Tanzania is a systemic issue, it is unclear how the high-profile sackings will translate to a real decrease in corruption in the public sector.” Magufuli’s efficiency drive has also focused on tax collection. Takings exceeded 1.4 trillion shillings ($643 million) in December, beating the government’s target by 12 percent, according to Finance Minister Philip Mpango. In November, the president suspended the head of the Tanzania Revenue Authority and ordered a probe into hundreds of shipping containers with goods worth 80 billion shillings that went missing at Dar es Salaam’s port. About two dozen port employees were fired or suspended.

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