“#WhatWouldMagufuliDo?” The Jury is Still Out

Ugandans are euphoric with the single story “#WhatWouldMagufuliDo”, which is trending on social media. Ugandan politicians and ordinary citizens alike want to be seen to be operating or buying into or promising to operate within the logic of the current president of Tanzania – His Excellency John Pombe Magufuli.

On social media, the trending single story of President Magufuli presents the President with messianic saintly tones. He is mostly depicted as a sort of Robin Hood. His presidential decrees which are seen as redirecting resources from the seemingly unethical greedy rich towards the poor are celebrated.

One such presidential decree, it is reported, cut the budget of the inauguration party of members of parliament from 250 million Tsh to only 15 million Tsh. Reportedly, by presidential decree, imported food items were cut out of the party budget and only local finger foods, juices, sodas, Tanzania’s Dodoma wine were served.

The savings of 235 million Tsh that resulted from this particular decree were reported utilised to purchase 300 beds, 300 mattresses and 1,695 bed sheets which have since been installed at Muhimbili national hospital.

President Magufuli, according to news reports, has decreed a cut down on international travel by government officials, instructing them to instead take more frequent trips to the rural areas of Tanzania. The decree has also set limits that if Tanzanian civil and public officials do travel abroad they must travel ordinary economy class and not first or business class.

Plenty stories in the news focus on how President Magufuli has decreed that a 54-year Tanzania tradition of commemorating its independence will not be done on 9th December 2015. And that instead the funds allocated for the commemoration will be used for a cleanup campaign, since there is a cholera outbreak in parts of Tanzania.

President Magufuli the saintly mover and shaker of things in Tanzania is the trending story of the moment. Ugandans on social media are full of adoration of President Magufuli. His social media profile has become larger than life itself.

His persona is now a trend with many justifying their choices – good or bad – as resulting from a reflection of #WhatWouldMagufuliDo. He is heralded as the kind of leader African nations need. He is considered totally awesome.

President Magufuli’s trending single story carries connotations that he should be emulated by other presidents of African nation-states – that is to say presidents of African nations should ‘efficiently’ and ‘effectively’ rule by presidential decree in favour of the poor. There seems, in fact, to be selective amnesia among Ugandans in particular and the global media, in general, on matters of African presidents ruling by decree in favour of the poor.

History clearly shows that President Magufuli is not the first leader of an African nation to espouse the ‘bulldozer’ mentality against the rich in favour of the poor. President Magufuli’s no nonsense results driven approach, which has earned him the nickname “Bulldozer”, has in the past been associated with other leaders of African nation-states.

Leaders, moreover, who eventually never leave up to ‘the messiah’ promised by the single story that heralded them in the media. Instead, in essence, it is the single story told of them that makes leaders tyrants, because they end up elevating the belief that they can simply rule by decree, and it is okay.

For context, read Africa Heralds Messiahs who Aren’t – Part I; Africa Heralds Messiahs who Aren’t Part II; and Media Helps to Make Africa’s Tyrants


One year after this post, reports of discomfort with President Magufuli’s leadership style began. For example:

VOA in “Tanzania’s new leader pleases, alarms with dramatic decrees,” published 6th October 2016.

Post last edited 9th March 2021

24 responses to ““#WhatWouldMagufuliDo?” The Jury is Still Out”

  1. […] Extracted, mostly verbatim with a few minor edits to ensure serialisation flow, from “Tundu Lissu’s Obituary on John Pombe Magufuli,” published by the Daily Maverick and shared on social media – Facebook. Tundu Antiphas Mughwai Lissu is a lawyer, politician and Member of Parliament. He contested against Magufuli in the 2020 Tanzanian Presidential Elections. We are sharing Lissu’s opinion within the wider context of the debate of Magufuli’s Legacy and his leadership style that trended #whatwouldmagufulido […]


  2. […] Extracted, mostly verbatim with a few minor edits to ensure serialisation flow, from “Tundu Lissu’s Obituary on John Pombe Magufuli,” published by the Daily Maverick and shared on social media – Facebook. Tundu Antiphas Mughwai Lissu is a lawyer, politician and Member of Parliament. He contested against Magufuli in the 2020 Tanzanian Presidential Elections. We are sharing Lissu’s opinion within the wider context of the debate of Magufuli’s Legacy and his leadership style that trended #whatwouldmagufulido […]


  3. […] Extracted, mostly verbatim with a few minor edits to ensure serialisation flow, from “Tundu Lissu’s Obituary on John Pombe Magufuli,” published by the Daily Maverick and shared on social media – Facebook. Tundu Antiphas Mughwai Lissu is a lawyer, politician and Member of Parliament. He contested against Magufuli in the 2020 Tanzanian Presidential Elections. We are sharing Lissu’s opinion within the wider context of the debate of Magufuli’s Legacy and his leadership style that trended #whatwouldmagufulido […]


  4. […] Extracted, mostly verbatim with a few minor edits to ensure serialisation flow, from “Tundu Lissu’s Obituary on John Pombe Magufuli,” published by the Daily Maverick and shared on social media – Facebook. Tundu Antiphas Mughwai Lissu is a lawyer, politician and Member of Parliament. He contested against Magufuli in the 2020 Tanzanian Presidential Elections. We are sharing Lissu’s opinion within the wider context of the debate of Magufuli’s Legacy and his leadership style that trended #whatwouldmagufulido […]


  5. I must say these are brilliant brains I have learnt many things but however that does not guarantee that all those comments and analysis are completely true . thanks the writer. you see at some point term limits might not guarantee good governance but on the other hand they check on messes. for example people in government will protect themselves by enacting fake laws in their favour not citizens. this can be like in corrupting parliamentarians. term limits may help in regulating this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Laban, I think it a two edged sword. either way if it is not used correctly has its limitations and opportunities. it is also subjective depending on which society it is applied.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for shedding light on one of hidden myth that has eluded me for sometime. Thomas Sankara ruled by decree for most of his 3 year reign and was killed, Patrice Lumumba ended the same way and they we killed by the system they served because they did not take into consideration of building consensus among the people led. Now I truly understand the mistakes they made even though they had in making of becoming the greatest leaders Africa had ever seen. Decrees are good for they remove the bureaucracies created by the systems in place but are should be limited in a such a way the balances both sides of the equation. Leadership in Africa has not been stable like in any other place because of external meddling that continue to see this continent as their second hub of where they can collect extra cash. The would be great leaders find themselves in such positions where they have to protect themselves, the populations they serve from exploitation and in so doing tend to view themselves as saviors. To me we should celebrate our leaders rather than demonize them.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. 1. Magufuli’s decisions and pronouncements are not decrees by any definition of a decree. If I remember correctly, a decree has the force of law. A decree is a form of legislation. Not all decisions are decrees. To compare Magufuli’s decisions to Idi Amin’s decree is absurd. Magufuli is an elected president, on a ticket of a party that has proved that it can indeed respect the country’s constitution (regarding term limits for example) and not an unelected dictator like Idi Amin, or an unpopular dictator in office after manipulating the constitution and rigging elections. Whereas it is indeed problematic to ‘worship’ leaders and allow them to grow strong wings to enable them fly against the will of the people, the current Magufuli wave does not support the exact point you are making. It has been hijacked and ‘forced’ onto the thesis you want to make.

    2. The Electoral Commission figures cited in the post to measure Mr. Museveni’s and Mr. Besigye’s popularity have been challenged and indeed the Supreme Court has twice declared that presidential elections were held contrary to the law, even though they added that the irregularities were not substantial enough to reverse the total result, one can say that we can’t use those figures to determine a rise or drop in popularity of the two men. My problem with this post is in the ‘evidence’ it marshals.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bwesigye Bwa Mwesigire first I thank you for choosing to engage in this discussion.

      The definition of ‘decree’ that forms the basis of my analysis defines a decree as “a formal and authoritative order, especially one having the force of law: a presidential decree” here is the link to the source http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/decree.Therefore, all directives that President Magufuli gives in his capacity as the President of Tanzania are decrees ,for they come with the force of the law of Tanzania.

      It is exactly the fact that President Magufuli is a democratically elected president who campaigned on a ticket of a party that provoked my analysis. Why is he functioning in an individualistic populist dictatorial manner and not working through his party – consensus building so that the decrees are party decrees or through a cabinet so that the decrees are state decrees or through approval of parliament? Why is he functioning similar to how President Amin functioned? “Rule by decree is a style of governance allowing quick, unchallenged creation of law by a single person or group, and is used primarily by dictators and absolute monarchs.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_by_decree

      Whereas I am not of the legal community, my basic knowledge of the law tells me that unless the courts disqualified the election results and called for new elections to be held, the results and therefore the figures published by the Electoral Commission hold true. So the numbers from the Electoral Commission remain the valid historical records of the election results, particularly if the courts of law found that the “irregularities were not substantial enough to revers the total result”.


  8. I generally tend to agree with some of your comments but your analysis and comparisons are totally wrong and somehow out of place based on facts surrounding Uganda’s political history that was temporarily marred Idd Amin military coup d’état and its aftermath, a background that cannot be compared to that of Tanzania which has been lead democratically through the ballot box for 54years since independence, I mean since independence. Tanzania has developed a legacy and culture of handing over power to the next president after a two term period of 5 years each for a total of 10 years following Miserere’s retirement from politics in 1985! Uganda is still led by I do not know what system and to get to where Tanzania is may take Uganda a milestone. Julius Nyerere, tried to help or advise Uganda to build a culture of democratic rule through the ballot box and relinquishing power after a certain period of time but that did not work for Uganda just like its having some hurdles with Burundi! I appreciate your admiration for Honorable J P Magufuli’s style of leadership but it is a serious and collective business behind a people who are tired of false promises, exploitation and continued corruption by a few government leaders that has given energy to Magufuli’s current style and strategy, in order to ensure that corruption and tardiness is taken off the gates of government leadership! God Bless Uganda!

    Liked by 1 person

    • John, first I thank you for engaging. Second I ask that in this kind of discourse you have the humility to appreciate that because you have insufficient knowledge on the subject does not qualify you to render one’s analysis as “totally wrong”. The gist of this analysis was not so much about change of power from one leader to another, but rather I used the example of how certain leaders have broken their promises to the people and have clang to power just because their egos have been inflated by a single story that has allowed them to believe that they are the only ones with abilities. This post is about leaders governing outside of the very societal norms – democratic principals – that are the basis of what is considered best practice world over and then being celebrated for it. I clarify, I have no admiration whatsoever of President Magufuli’s style of leadership, particularly his bulldozer, dictator, rule by decree style. To me a good leader is one who is able to build consensus and have the humility to work within the prescribed societal norms and practices. If the societal norms and practices are the problem, then my kind of leader would together with others fight to change them, but not self-aggrandize oneself in messianic tones as he has done with his populist stunts. As for me the jury is still out on how President Magufuli’s leadership will strengthen or not the democratic institutions of Tanzania.


      • Norah, I agree with you in many cases, but as far as President Magufuli’s style of leadership, particularly his bulldozer, if that is what it takes to get the job done (i.e. for and in the interests of the people), I am for it.

        In regards to “To me a good leader is one who is able to build consensus and have the humility to work within the prescribed societal norms and practices,” I wonder whether or not a leader who builds consensus working within the law and where by legislatures of his/her nation democratically keep on increasing their salaries such as those in Kenya, would be preferable to you than President Magufuli’s style of leadership, particularly his bulldozer, e.g. if he were to cut those parliamentarians salaries and does it unconstitutionally.

        Sometimes what is done within the law in Africa without bulldozer style of president, could turn out to be this – “Kenyan legislators have been ranked the second-highest paid lawmakers in the world, beating their counterparts from the developed economies of US, Britain and Japan.” – http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Kenya-MPs-come-second-in-global-salary-ranking-/-/539546/1924534/-/24knfiz/-/index.html

        Or this – http://www.blackseer.com/uganda/52613-dear-president-yoweri-museveni.html

        And then says that an increase for teachers is not a priority – See more at: http://www.teachersolidarity.com/blog/ugandan-teachers-fight-for-living-wage/#sthash.DAJSfa5G.dpuf

        Leadership, particularly this type of President Gen. Buhari bulldozer is arguably what is needed in Africa, because it works, and saves human lives – http://www.osundefender.org/no-mercy-for-fraudsters-buhari-orders-arrest-of-his-brother-in-law-over-alleged-scam/

        If I may, I would like to share with you the kind of changes that were made to deter corruption when a corruption scheme within lobbying was discovered in the U.S.; perhaps it will help you understand why Donald Trump is leading in polls:

        Jack Abramoff, the notorious former lobbyist at the center of Washington’s biggest corruption scandal in decades, spent more than three years in prison for his crimes. Now a free man, he reveals how he was able to influence politicians and their staffers through generous gifts and job offers. He tells Lesley Stahl the reforms instituted in the wake of his scandal have had little effect.

        After the scandal, Congress instituted a package of reforms, making what Abramoff did – like plying members of Congress with free expensive meals – illegal. But he doesn’t see the new reforms as being very effective.

        Abramoff: The reform efforts continually are these faux-reform efforts where they’ll change, they’ll tweak the system. They’ll say, “You can have a meal with a congressman if they’re standing up, not sitting down.”

        Stahl: Is that serious? Or are you joking?

        Abramoff: Oh no, I’m not joking at all.

        Stahl: So, it’s okay if you pay for lunch as long as you stand up?

        Abramoff: Well, it’s actually worse than that. You can’t take a congressman to lunch for $25 and buy him a hamburger or a steak of something like that. But you can take him to a fundraising lunch and not only buy him that steak, but give him $25,000 extra and call it a fundraiser. And have all the same access and all the same interaction with that congressman. So the people who make the reforms are the people in the system.



        Liked by 1 person

  9. I know less of Ugandan presidential term knowledge. But what Magufuli is doing is who he is as a leader for the people of TZ. For Uganda to compare with Magufuli’s administration is wrong. We used to have major opposition party CUF with an opponent for over 20 years yet he quit. And that opened a room for not a new in politic man Lowasa from the ruling party CCM. That tells alot, once if Uganda needs to change people mindsets for a better Uganda why not letting new names in presidential rally that way viters might think that we are moving on. My thoughts. Having one leader for so many years is not progressive. Because leaders must groom new minds. I believe that Uganda has a potential in becoming one of EA greatest nation. Museven had to use decrees as UG moved from Amin regime. What Magufuli is doing is what most opposition wanted. And he is supported not by 100% by opposition but he gets that. And it was supposed to be his doing as he was to clean the system before establishing his ground and he never hid these moves he is making during presidential rallies.
    I am trying to air my views.
    I like the post as it taught me a lot more than I thought I knew.


    • Peter, thank you for engaging and for appreciating that this post has been a source of learning for you. I will focus my response using your own words: “Leaders must groom new minds.” How is President Magufuli’s bulldozer, dictator, rule by decree style grooming new minds? And no, I disagree that President Museveni ever needed to rule by decree nor does President Magufuli. Tanzania has had 54 years of nation building during which democratic decision making structures have been established. If those who are occupying positions in the structures are not functioning well you deal with it in processes which allow them to reform and/or exist but without weakening the institutions per se. Both Uganda and Tanzania are now full fledged nations which should fight hard not to allow total state capture by the individual occupying the position of President. Our systems must be able to check those individuals and to have the power of censure over them – similar to what happens in the United States of America, for example. And what does the Constitution of Tanzania say about situations when a President has the power to rule by decree? I doubt highly that such situations if there are any are currently present in Tanzania to warrant President Maguguli to rule by decree. My understanding of rule by decree is premised on such definitions as provided by wikipedia here is the link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_by_decree


  10. Thank you for sharing. #whatwouldmagufulido has been created by social media this time. Previous creations were through mainstream media. This will therefore be keenly monitored by the general public and not mainstream media which has an agenda and is regulated. I am concerned that my newest East African President is not being given the respect he deserves. Single story narratives by media do inform the thinking of the public and can be manipulated by good PR. How sustainable is this? The President must be seen to deliver on IMPORTANT promises. What is important to the public? Stability and security is top. Economic growth, Education, Infrastructure – ICT, Water, Electricity, Social services etc. Are we now looking at term limits as a single story narrative? Is it the only criteria for a good leader – he stood down after 10 years? Mandela was supposedly great because he stood down after 5 years? Would he not have been a better leader than those that followed? Lee Kwan Yew – how many years did it take to create the successful Singapore we see today? The public decides through the vote – is it fair that term limits prevent them from choosing #whatwouldmagufulido for President in 2025 if he does deliver on what is important to the voters sustainably?

    Liked by 1 person

    • @Maggie, You have some points, but on the other hand one doesn’t wait for the game to end before cheering. When a new player steps on the field and scores a goal, he is cheered.

      I believe President Magufuli has already scored a goal or two in the most crucial sector and that is reallocation of resources. Case in point: The thoughtful move of turning alcohol and plates of food expenses on independence celebrations for a day into fighting cholera and new beds and equipment for hospitals. Those beds will be there for tax payers to use even ten years after he has left office.

      If Uganda did such a thing as this – “A state dinner for the official opening of the country’s parliament, for example, was going to cost 300m Tanzanian shillings (£92,500). Magufuli slashed the budget to 25m and ordered that the rest of the money be used to buy 300 hospital beds and 600 sheets.” http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/01/tanzania-cost-cutting-president-john-magufuli-twitter

      Then we wouldn’t be reading this – “How Nairobi and Kenyatta became Ugandan hospitals” – http://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/OpEd/comment/How-Nairobi-and-Kenyatta-became-Ugandan-hospitals-/-/434750/2428472/-/3t8pm8/-/index.html

      Or this: “Upgrade local hospitals to save sh377b spent abroad on treatment” – http://www.newvision.co.ug/mobile/Detail.aspx?NewsID=643231&CatID=4

      At this rate of performance, if President Magufuli decided to retire after 5years, stating that his job is done, people would understand. Even if Mr. Mandela had stayed beyond one term, in fear that those after him might do worse, unfortunately as they did, would that have stopped the less capable guys from coming into power for ever?

      There are two kinds of leaders, those that do their best knowing that their time in office is limited, and others that keep telling the masses that they need to be re-elected to finish the work they started. In other words, a Catch-22 situation – http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Catch-22


    • Prof. Maggie thank you so much for engaging in this discussion. You raise valid points for consideration. For me my most important take home from your contribution is the need to unpack the norm. Yes, good question: have term limits become the single story narrative through which the performance of Presidents of African nation states are judged? I must admit I am one who strongly believes that term limits do not necessarily add value to good governance. My one strong example is the United Kingdom where there are no term limits and where the electorate is strong in voicing their judgement through the ballot. For me the United Kingdom is closer to the ideal of democracy than in many states that are celebrated as democratic because they have term limits in place. In this post I used the example of President Museveni and President Kagame ‘instigating’ changes in the constitutions of their respective countries on the basis of them being too good a leader to ‘loose’. I also wanted to focus attention on the fact that they had initially made promises not do so, at least that was the single story narrative that dominated in the media. I wanted to convey the danger/power of the single story narrative – messianic saviour leader – which blinds us from holding leaders accountable – they made a promise and did not keep it.

      With regards to social media versus main stream media, I do not think that one can make a clear cut distinction between the two. I do not know of any mainstream media house that does not have multiple social media accounts through which they shape discourse on social media. In fact it is quite feasible that social media has indeed helped mainstream media to further their agenda and to side step regulations. This could be an interesting area for research.


  11. Two key differences. One is that Magufuli, reputation and all is merely a cog is democratic system that ensures change of leadership within a maximum of ten years. Museveni, as you may well know better than I do, is was, and could very well is the system itself, which Uganda runs on.

    Second difference, Idi Amin is…well Idi Amin.


    • Thank you for engaging. You actually confirm the gist of my blog post – the power of a single story. The single stories that were told of each of the three men generate exactly you response. The tendencies to find the difference and to justify autocratic and authoritarian behavior as good some of the time, even though autocratic and authoritarian behavior is just that.

      How will President Magufuli’s leadership weaken or strengthen democratic rule in Tanzania within the maximum ten years that he will serve? How will his rule enhance or not participatory decision making as it should in Tanzania? These are the questions that we should be debating; questions that are not being taken care of by the current single story. This is the gist of my argument.

      History has it that when President Museveni came into power he did so through a ‘liberation’ war that decried the past regimes of Uganda. Then a Constituent Assembly was constituted which assembly placed term limits for one not to serve more than two terms of 4 years each – that is to say a maximum of 8 years.

      As with the recent case of the Rwanda Parliament removing any impediments for President Kagame to continue being president, this was the case with the Uganda Parliament and President Museveni. The rationale for lifting term limits in both cases was the individuals are now much larger than the very institutions and the office – president – under which they serve. The single story that justified the change in constitutions of both countries was that the leaders are too good to retire.

      So in essence this post is about debating reputations of individuals holding the office of president versus the social institutions that govern the office of president, other public offices and the civil service of a particular nation.

      Liked by 1 person

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