By LaBode Obanor
The Tanzanian president’s unceremonious death, John Magufuli, a bold, efficient, and sometimes abrasive leader, draws similarities to other revolutionary leaders in the continent. While his management style revealed an underbelly for conservative populism and authoritarian streak, his nationalist approach to leadership and love for Tanzania was undeniable. The former may have contributed to his undeserved demise.
A cursory look at his achievements in a few years exposes and shames the narrative that Africa survives on foreign aids. His massive rural electrification projects envied by his neighbors, which remedied substantial bottlenecks the country faced for decades, or his construction of a fashionable mass public bus transportation system in Dar es Salaam’s capital city, among many other laudable projects, all won international acclaim.
A combination of his devout to infrastructure, total reform, and hard stance did not rub some people the right way, but it did not matter.
He grew a staunch following, both in Tanzania and in the region. His approach inspired the hashtag ‘#WhatWouldMagufuliDo?’ a rallying call and criticism to other regional leaders.
Then came the bombshell of his tragic death right after rumors about his ill health floated for weeks before his prime minister, Kassim Majaliwa, reported the president was stern at work. It was disturbing news that left the country in utter dismay worrisome enough that many of his citizens cried foul, leaving the East African nation in an arrant quandary.
Magufuli’s passing seems to follow a pattern where headstrong African leaders meet precipitous deaths. Leaders like Amilcar Cabral of Guinea, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Patrice Lumumba of Congo, all met an early deaths when they challenged western dominance’s of Africa socio-political and economic sovereignty.
Cabral, assassinated in 1973, headed the west African liberation movement for the independence of Cape Verde and Guinea. Mehdi Ben Barka, a Morrocan opposition movement leader, kidnapped in France in 1965 and never found again. Cuban leader Fidel Castro had referred to Ben Barka as one of the most lucid and brilliant African leaders. Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso, an anti-imperialist army captain, shuns foreign aid, nationalizes all lands and mineral wealth, and ran a massive healthcare campaign for all Burkinabes. He was assassinated by his best friend Compaore, who quickly reversed all Sankara’s policies, rejoined the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, and resumed Burkina Faso’s dependent on the West. How convenient.
And the list goes on.
Magufuli styled his fiercely independent type of leadership after Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania. As a committed socialist, Nyerere distrusted the West and would not take any counsel from them. Magufuli trailed him undaunted.
Expectedly, this did not augur well with the imperialists, or ‘mbeberu,’ a term used during the struggle for independence, as they saw their foothold over Tanzania slips.
During his presidency, Magufuli never visited a Western country or any UN meeting. In contrast to his counterparts, who often relish the idea of a quick photo-op in one of these world meetings. Foreign Minister Palamagamba Kabudi best described Magufuli’s foreign policy outlook: “Tanzania would never beg for donors aid.” He stated to parliament indicating a deep-lying shift in Tanzania’s foreign policy.
According to the BBC, in 2017, Barrick Gold, a Canadian mining company, was slapped with a $190bn tax bill through its subsidiary, Acacia Mining, which the Magufuli government said it owed. As part of the settlement, Barrick agreed to pay $300m, dissolving Acacia and forming Twiga Minerals as a joint venture with the government. A new agreement was drawn up to split future proceeds in half to the benefit of Tanzania.
When it comes to Africa’s wealth beneath its ground, the West wrestles fiercely to maintain control over it. They often result in amoral tactics in the process, using indigenous people to achieve their flagitious aim. It is noticeable that Patrice Lumumba lost his life because Congo was too crucial for the West to lose control. It is also not surprising that Joseph Mobuto, Lumumba’s successor, was a U.S. strategic partner in the region.
Similarly, it can be inferred that Tanzania, as a resource-rich country, too vital for the West’s rapacious interest; thus, they will not allow it to slip away by one Magufuli. Wherefore did Magufuli die of natural cause? Or was this a deliberate extermination?
The troubling pattern where revolutionary African leaders with pan-African sentiments end up dead has become too clear to ignore. Not very long ago, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was killed supposedly by his people. He, too, was an agitator for Pan-Africanism. He proposed an audacious idea to unify the African military into one powerful force and a unified currency to challenge the dollar and Euro dominance. A few years later, he met his demise through an uprising famously tagged the Arab Spring instigated largely by the imperial West. (Bill Van Auken 2011)
Finally, with unmistakable inference, we can state that Magufuli’s death raises more questions than answers. We know that he was on course to fulfill the dreams in Tanzania that Lumumba had for Congo. We know that billions of dollars in gains for Tanzania resulted from his renegotiation with a major mining multinational. We know his firm grip on state affairs sent an unmistakable message to imperialists, foreign domineers, and plunderers that business would not be as usual in Tanzania.
Just as Lumumba knew that the road to freedom and dignity for Africa is long and rugged, the death of Magufuli adds to the long wait. However, many in Tanzania believe his death to be homicidal. In cohort with foreign despoilers, a Tanzanian, just as it is evident in other African leaders assassinated by her sons, probably had hands in it. If true, it underscores the naivety of the typical African who is subserviently ever willing to collude in the sacrificing its own at the altar of the imperialist “takers.” A distressful reminder of the state of the African mind. Gaddafi’s last words before his fellow countrymen shot him was, “what did I do to you?”
Why? Africa, Why? When will you rise from your internalized attitude of ethnic, cultural, and socio-economic, and political inferiority? Your children await. And the world watched on.
Labode Obanor is a Social Justice Advocate and Legal Scholar at Concord Law at Purdue University Global.