Two-and-a-half years into President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration, Kenyans are waking up to the reality that hashtags and selfies do not a government make. Even before he has settled in long enough to change the drapes at State House, new Tanzanian president John Pombe Magufuli has done more tangible work than Uhuru.
Turns out “he’s such a cool president” is not an acceptable response to questions on tangible deliverables for a government. This truth was hiding in plain sight mostly because the other East African leaders are either objectively terrible, or had fallen out of the radar of constant scrutiny.
Every day a new announcement or directive has come from our neighbour to the south, cementing President Magufuli’s image as a true reformer hell-bent on eliminating waste and corruption in the government.
Anybody who doubted him should have stopped waiting for the “just kidding” caveat when he cancelled Tanzania’s Independence Day celebrations, the first time in 54 years.
The president believes it would be “shameful” to spend huge sums of money on the celebrations when “our people are dying of cholera,” state media reported.
Shocking as it might be, it is still a practical step because independence day celebrations are needlessly expensive yet do little for the average citizen.
There seems to be a handbook that is followed by every country and every government to make the things painfully boring and predictable: once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.
The fact that #WhatWouldMagufuliDo has blown up on Twitter represents a tacit admission by Kenyans that extreme buyer’s remorse is seriously kicking in. Lots of people are looking again at the menu of options that were available in 2013 and thinking that maybe they should have given them a chance, or at least listened a little more attentively to what they were offering.
This is made worse by the fact that Magufuli is essentially an establishment candidate — like Uhuru in 2013? —from Chama Cha Mapinduzi, which has ruled Tanzania longer than anyone cares to remember. He was supposed to represent the status quo, all that was broken about leadership in the country.
They won’t admit it, but there are people who have looked into the possibilities of changing citizenship, or at least finding loopholes that would allow Magufuli to run for president in Kenya after finishing his term.
President Kenyatta, the 47 governors and all the other overpaid elected representatives were the big ticket items we bought in 2013. We were immeasurably proud of our purchase for a time, convinced that we had made the right decisions and invested judiciously.
But then the shine wore off and we started to look around and saw this new item our perennially under-achieving neighbour bought called Magufuli and we want it. Except we can’t have it because Product Magufuli was a limited edition item that sold out as soon as it was available.
“I wanted to travel the US but then thought to myself #WhatWouldMagufuliDo so I got the accent instead!” tweeted Faith Mulungi. “President’s shock therapy wins over East Africa,” wrote The EastAfrican on the hashtag and its universal appeal across the region.
“I bet the Pope had a #WhatWouldMagufuliDo moment before deciding to ride in that simple Honda,” wrote another user, Osir Ojok. Among the former works minister’s “greatest hits” are cutting foreign travel for government officials, scrapping workshops
and seminars in expensive hotels and banning sitting allowances for officers who earn a salary. It is the age of austerity in Tanzania and President Magufuli “The Bulldozer” is not sparing anyone.
If he keeps it up, the entire Tanzanian government is going to be cheaper and more efficient to run than one Kenyan county.
“I wonder how much debt burden would have been avoided, how many businesses would still be alive & thriving if we asked #WhatWouldMagufuliDo,” wrote Lilian Katiso on Twitter.
A lot, Lilian, a whole a lot. African governments are unnecessarily large and embarrassingly wasteful. There are no private sector-type checks and balances and everyone is on the take anyway, so just about anything goes.
That is why Magufuli’s radical approach seems so revolutionary when it should be the norm.
As for Kenyans and their buyer’s remorse, there’s an election not too far away. Maybe this might be the season you really interrogate the candidates, their manifestos, histories and what they’re offering and settle on some promising choices.
Tanzania has led the way in electing a living, breathing leader that many Africans believed was a myth. It is still early, so everyone should be cautiously optimistic that he will keep this up for his entire term but the early signs all point in the right direction.
Your move, Kenya.
IN LAGOS, YOU $50 FOR A $25 VISA, NO KIDDING
“You don’t say ‘Welcome to Lagos’. That’s for tourists. You say, ‘This is Lagos!’” some friends told me over dinner when I narrated my visa experience earlier that day. Kenyans are allowed a visa on arrival in Nigeria, but the process is not that straightforward. When I got to the immigration clearing queue, a man wearing a badge but no uniform was asking pre-screening questions. After he ascertained that I wanted a visa on arrival, he directed me to a particular counter where my passport and yellow fever vaccination card were examined. He then took my passport and landing card and paced around like he was in some kind of shady movie. I sat and watched him in amusement because I knew how this would end. He eventually led me away to a separate part of the terminal where he handed me over to another man.
Turns out there is a Visa On Arrival Lounge at the Murtala Mohammed Airport. “Visa on arrival: 50 bucks,” he said. I gave him $100 and he took out a wad of notes from his pocket to give me my change. He took me to a customs official who stamped my passport as he disappeared. “Visa fee: $25,” was written on the bottom left.
ANOTHER SHOOTING IN THE US, YET MORE EXCUSES
Anybody above the age of seven agrees that America has a gun problem. The Second Amendment, they’re quick to point out, allows them the right to keep and bear arms without infringement.
Fifty-seven-year-old Robert Lewis Dear, a white man, shot up a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, ostensibly because he didn’t agree with their reproductive healthcare and sex education mission.
Three people were killed and at least five others wounded but American news outlets won’t call him what he really is, a terrorist, because of the colour of his skin.
If it was a man of colour, the talking heads and think-pieces would not have stopped theorising about his motive and how his background led to all this. But white shooters are almost always “mentally disturbed lone rangers” in need of understanding and
support from society. Terrorists aren’t just those Uncle Sam is dropping bombs on in Syria; sometimes they’re card-carrying defenders of the Second Amendment.
Feedback: On whether former CS Anne Waiguru should have resigned earlier
Government positions are not earned but given either for political reasons, or to repay friends’ loyalty. This is why it is hard for a public officials to step aside to allow for proper investigations. The appointing authority is often aware of most of the corrupt dealings.
Our integrity and moral thread was eroded long ago, when we turned government positions into avenues for enriching ourselves instead of serving the people.
Corruption in our country will only end when we separate public governance from politics and stop thinking of ourselves but of our country.
You are right; Waiguru should have stepped aside much earlier. John Oraw
I agree that Kenyans should encourage those in public office to resign if there is a serious matter thought to be wrong in their docket. When there is something good, they are first to claim credit!
Resigning means accepting moral esponsibility. James
There was no face to save for Ms Waiguru. She saved the ministry’s and the government’s facesby unearthing corruption in her docket. The media have been misinforming the public about the whole story. Kenyan media are never objective.
When anchoring the news, why do you want to evoke feelings in the audience. Anchoring the news is not like reciting poetry, in which you portray the emotions of the content. Just inform and educate the public and let them decide.
In short, Waiguru has been humiliated by the media, which focused on her than the problem at hand. What became of the Eurobond, for instance? No one cares.
Ms Waiguru was the best minister. If only insecurity could be tackled with the energy tha was wasted on her. Peter Gitau
As a new reader of your articles, I must say I like their intuitive nature and non-biased approach. However, assuming I were Waiguru reading the article, I found it lacking in options that could be taken, going forward. The article was a little inclined to what has already passed and did not offer a solution to the way forward.
All the same, it was a good read. Audrey