Swearing in of President of Tanzania John Magufuli in November 2015President John Magufuli has been on a campaign to clean up government since he was elected in 2015 [photo: Rwandan President Paul Kagame]

 

The Tanzanian president, John Magufuli, ordered the dismissal of nearly 10,000 civil servants in April after checks on academic qualifications found many state employees had forged school and college certificates, Reuters reported.

His first months in office won him widespread approval for policies such as cancelling Tanzania’s independence day celebrations and instead using the funds to battle a cholera outbreak. Magufuli himself began cleaning up rubbish outside his official residence. He banned unnecessary foreign travel for officials and reduced the number of cabinet ministers from 30 to 19. After witnessing patients sleeping on the floor at a state hospital in the capital, Magufuli fired the director. His energetic pragmatism sparked the internet meme #WhatWouldMagufuliDo?

Public servant purge

Magufuli’s campaign to clean up government since he was elected in 2015 previously led to the dismissal of the head of the state anti-corruption organisation, the tax authority chief and the head of the port authority among others. Another purge in March 2016 found more than 19,700 ‘ghost workers’ on the public payroll, Reuters reported. The Kenyan Star reported that the assets of Godfrey Gugai, chief accountant of the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau, which were frozen by court order, included six vehicles, 40 properties and prime plots of land in Dar es Salaam.

‘We have been working hard to create new jobs while there are people in government who hold fake degrees,’ Magufuli said after receiving a report on qualifications fraud in the civil service. The government had been losing 238bn shillings ($107m) a year to ‘ghost workers’, he said. Tanzania still has some 550,000 civil servants at national and local levels. ‘They are thieves like any other thieves,’ said Magafuli, the Citizen reported. ‘They robbed us just like other common criminals.’ He said the audit also found that more than 1,500 civil servants’ qualifications were used by several employees.

In late March, the popular Tanzanian rapper Emmanuel Elibariki, better known as  ‘Nay wa Mitego’, was arrested for releasing a song that allegedly insulted the president. This was a few days after Magufuli sacked the information minister, Nape Nnauye, according to Bloomberg. Nnauye’s perceived fault had been to speak up for press freedom by investigating why a regional commissioner, linked to Magufuli, had tried to force a broadcaster to show footage about a paternity case involving a political rival. Magufuli then issued a warning to the media: ‘Be careful. If you think you have that kind of freedom – not to that extent.’

It is an ominous sign when a populist leader begins to curb ministers who are just doing their job. A year ago the opposition politician Zitta Kabwe, leader of the Alliance for Change and Transparency (ACT-Wazalendo) party, declared that Magufuli was ‘sowing the seeds of a dictatorship’. The Citizen reported him saying: ‘Tanzania may be gradually turning into a police state.’ It would be little short of a tragedy if a presidency that promised so much valuable change began to take on the worst tendencies of office-holders in the region.

Oren Gruenbaum is the Editor of Commonwealth Update.