Following the death of former Tanzanian president John Pombe Magufuli, the PSC Report spoke to Prof. Tim Murithi, head of peacebuilding interventions at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation and extraordinary professor in African Studies at the University of the Free State, South Africa.
Firstly, what do you think were Magufuli’s contributions to leadership on the continent?
I believe John Magufuli came in with an agenda to really address the corruption in the governmental structures of Tanzania. He immediately began to root out so-called ghost workers in the system; these were people who were somehow receiving a salary from the state but in fact did not exist. There had been some corrupt practices taking place and he was very forthright in addressing that issue, so perhaps we can acknowledge his leadership role in addressing and tackling the issue of corruption head on. I also think he did find a level of governmental decay or gaps in terms of the functioning of systems or state systems, and I believe he did try to improve the level of professionalism and to increase the degree of efficiency and effectiveness of governmental structures. But that came at a price, with initially a very proactive, forthright and assertive approach that unfortunately degenerated into slightly more authoritarian and coercive type of leadership, which has somewhat tainted his legacy going forward.
Would you agree that there are lessons that the continent can learn from his anti-corruption campaign?
Yes, I would definitely say so. I think efficiency in government systems, transparency and accountability are crucial for all African countries. In the absence of such an approach or an ideology or philosophy within governance, then the services that need to get to the people don't actually get to them, which means that we perpetuate low levels of quality of life for citizens. This then undermines livelihoods, education, healthcare, infrastructure, communications, all of which don't reach the people. All of this has an impact on the growth and eventual development of Africa along the lines of Agenda 2063, which the African Union has touted as the blueprint for the continent’s future.
What are the implications of Magufuli’s death for dynamics within the East African Community (EAC)?
Well, I think Magufuli’s passing will create an opening for renewing the relationship between Tanzania, which is the host country of the EAC [based in Arusha], and its neighbours. It will increase the possibility to, in fact, strengthen regional integration. The initial tensions between Tanzania and Kenya, as well as between Tanzania and Uganda, need to be addressed and improved upon. There is therefore an opening; one doesn't really know though where the new president will take the country, in which direction she's going to lead the country. But one hopes that she will use the processes of dialogue, problem solving and joint planning in terms of implementing some of the normative protocols that the EAC has set for itself.
It is commonly said that Africa has a leadership problem. What do you think of that assertion, and what kind of leadership is needed in Africa today?
Yes, I would agree that Africa has a leadership problem. Of the 55 countries it's very difficult to single out a single leader who is operating in a manner that lifts up his own people, that improves the well-being internally of citizens as well as governance and delivery of government services, and who does this consulting civil society and embracing social movements. Almost all the states across the continent have challenges in this regard, with a few exceptions that stand out, like the president of Ghana, for example. His recent pronouncements show a much more proactive and progressive way of dealing with issues, but he is also dealing with some internal challenges around the bloated state and excessive government bureaucracy, so it's not a clean bill of health. It's difficult to diagnose why we don't have leaders that are ethical in their practice.
Ethical leadership is a solution going forward – ethical leadership is respectful; it is informed by morals, values and principles; it engages the citizenry widely; it works with citizens to build countries. Leadership is bringing people together, which means you have to be prepared to deal with disagreements and criticism. But many of our leaders have this mindset of authoritarian, top heavy, domineering individuals, which in fact is a legacy of colonialism. The colonial state was premised on bullying people into submission, threatening them, extracting resources, and leaving – exactly the same model that we've adopted almost across the board in Africa.
Only a few countries’ constitutions make it difficult for leaders to do that. This is the fundamental problem we have in Africa – the absence of ethical leadership – one that is informed by a pan-African attitude that does away with the small state construct that is artificial in its very essence. How do we as an African collective work towards the betterment of all the people of Africa, not just the people in my village or in my little corner here? African heads of state must start with calling out their fellow leaders in situations where they are misbehaving.
Most African countries are facing challenges which contribute to their national instability and that of the continent, with very few pockets of stability. So what we have are 1 billion people who must rise, otherwise there will certainly be trouble.