Africa Opinion

Re-elected Magufuli could turn into ‘benevolent dictator’

By Aggrey Mutambo

President John Magufuli has been overwhelmingly re-elected for a second term.

Tanzania’s President John Pombe Magufuli is expected to be sworn-in for the second term this week, after completing one of the biggest victories for his ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) in the country’s multiparty era.

His landslide victory, officially announced on Friday night after the Wednesday election, has not pleased everyone and opposition candidates led by Chadema’s Tundu Lissu promptly rejected the vote count, even before the National Electoral Commission (NEC) of Tanzania declared the incumbent the winner.

Dr Magufuli had widely been expected to win, but given the 2015 vote when an opposition alliance polled 43 per cent, this race was expected to be tighter.

Yet Dr Magufuli, nicknamed “The Bulldozer” by some for his brash manner, scored 84.39 per cent of the vote when he collected 12.5 million votes.

His 14 challengers could not even attain a fifth of the total votes cast and his distant second contender, Mr Lissu garnered just 1.9 million votes as 13 others fell below 3 per cent of the cast votes.

The figures announced by the NEC showed Dr Magufuli and his CCM had completed a total dominance in domestic politics, topping on the controls established in the legislature from 2015. In the expiring parliament, CCM controlled 270 of 384 seats. The President had also nominated another set of MPs, usually not more than 10, to make the House to have 394 members. (Tanzanian traditions do not consider the Speaker of Parliament as an MP, meaning the House had 393 members).

CCM also won 81 of 85 seats in the Zanzibar’s House of Representatives, the local assembly on the archipelago.

Unicameral house

In this year’s results, the NEC showed this record had been broken, with CCM winning 262 of 264 constituencies in the unicameral house. The party had already won 28 constituencies before a vote after opponents were disqualified. With the law allowing another set of special seats to be nominated from party lists based on their representation in parliament, CCM could have as many as 388 members on the Floor.

The Tanzanian parliament, of MPs from mainland and Zanzibar, has 264 elective constituencies but the majority party still retains powers to nominate another 100 MPs, meaning that CCM could have more than 340 legislators on the floor of the new Parliament.

But if Dr Magufuli was enjoying domestic victory, his prospects for the region have worried observers. The election and the vote count raised “questions of credibility”, concluded the Tanzanian Elections Watch (TEW), a group of observers from the continent among them former Kenyan Chief Justice Willy Mutunga. They argued the arrests, beatings and reported irregularities required an investigation to clear the air. The NEC rejected claims of vote stuffing.

So how will Dr Magufuli’s second term look? Domestically, some analysts think he could further strengthen his control, continue reprimanding his public officials for graft and lethargy and keep pushing through some legacy projects such as the $3.4 billion oil pipeline recently agreed with Uganda and the new railway.

“Magufuli II will be tougher than Magufuli I. I don’t expect him to lessen restrictions against other East African Community (EAC) states especially Kenya,” said George Mucee, the Practice Leader at migration consultancy firm Fragomen-Kenya in Nairobi.

“Other EAC partners may not go the way of tightening screws because each State has its own interests to look after. EAC will continue to be as fragile and especially the relations between Kenya and Tanzania may get worse,” argued Mucee.

The unchallenged popularity for Dr Magufuli, however, could turn him into a “benevolent dictator” — affecting domestic politics in the long run.

“Let’s tell it like it is. When the ruling party “wins” 225 of 230 seats, you don’t have a meaningful multiparty system, but a one-party State masquerading as a democracy,” Prof Nic Cheeseman, who studies electoral cycles wrote on his Twitter page on Friday, before the final results.

Ousted from power

“In 20-years’ time, we will talk about Magufuli like we do Mugabe,” he said referring to the former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe who died in 2019, two years after he was ousted from power.

In Dr Magufuli’s first term, talk emerged from his party’s lieutenants suggesting they wanted him to stick around after his two terms end, which could signal constitutional amendments. That suggestion was quietened by Dr Magufuli himself, choosing to focus on the work at hand and promising to leave after his two terms.

In the region, Tanzania under Dr Magufuli has seen him focus more on domestic issues but engage in tit-for-tat moves with Kenya in particular.

In Nairobi, some government officials publicly expressed frustrations with Dar’s ‘win-lose’ policies on trade and movement of people, seeing them as retrogressive for the East African Community.

“A prosperous East African Community will require less of provincial mentality to attain any goals of transformation,” an integration consultant told the Sunday Nation, speaking in confidence as he has worked for the government in the recent past.

“The concept of win-win means you give and take. The hope is that the status quo (on policies) does not remain.”

In truth, Nairobi and Dar often retaliated against one another, sometimes stalling businesses for weeks.

Under Dr Magufuli, Tanzania and Kenya have bickered in flight landing rights, tour van access to airports, importation of chics and rules of origin on things like sweets. They also bickered on validation of Covid-19 certificates and movement of citizens across their borders.

In August, Tanzania cancelled landing rights for three more airlines, AirKenya, Fly540 and Safarilink Aviation after Kenya insisted Tanzanians arriving in the country from any of their airports have to be quarantined for 14 days. Dr Magufuli’s administration has largely not imposed even the most basic public health restrictions against the virus, declaring there was no Covid-19 in the country.  The ban was lifted more than a month later.

Compulsory quarantine

Nasong’o Muliro, a lecturer of International Relations at the Technical University of Kenya argues, however, that most of the turf wars in the EAC result from too much focus on trade and security issues, and are poor in disaster management, which may explain the disjointed response to the pandemic.

Uganda and Kenya have faced the challenge of recognising Covid-19 certificates from one another while Tanzania protested Kenya’s bid to require compulsory quarantine from Tanzanians.

Dr Kigen Morumbasi, a lecturer of International Relations and Security at the Strathmore University says the tiffs could be persistent as long as countries focus on own interests rather than integration.

“The current situation produces a loss for all since the region comprises of developing countries that need to support each other to become globally competitive,” he said.

“The best way to overcome these shortfalls is to expand interests beyond domestic and regional ones to view the international system as a whole and, therefore, seek policies that would benefit the region. The strengthening of a common identity is the only way the African dream of integration and prosperity can be achieved.”

A common identity, however, may require a review of historical ideologies which have often been in opposing ends between Tanzania and Kenya, for example, experts say. – Nation Africa.

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