Tanzania was once lauded for the strides it had made in entrenching democracy. But that narrative had begun to fray, particularly in the final years of John Magufuli’s presidency. Aikande Clement Kwayu reflects on how Magufuli rose to power on a wave of optimism, managing to institute a number of key reforms in his first term. But his authoritarian side soon began to show as he became more focused on silencing the opposition and cementing his hold on power.

The final weeks of Magufuli’s life highlighted the reasons he’d become such a controversial figure. His illness was kept private, leaving space for a rumour mill that speculated on whether he was ill with COVID-19, and whether he was being treated in another country. In the end the reason given for his death in Dar es Salaam was complications related to a heart condition. But scepticism remained because of his denials about COVID-19, including his refusal to oversee a vaccination programme.

As David E Kiwuwa argues, Tanzanians are left grappling with the man’s mixed legacy. Alongside the praise he won for efficiency is the criticism he invited as a result of his penchant for conservative populism. And his efforts to improve the livelihoods of ordinary Tanzanians must be read alongside his attacks on freedoms of speech and expression, silencing of dissenting voices, and denial of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In articles published earlier, Nicodemus Minde explained how Magufuli orchestrated Tanzania’s retreat from global democratic ideals while Rob Ahearne drew analogies between Magufuli and Tanzania’s first president Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.

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Julie Masiga

Peace + Security Editor

Tanzanian President John Magufuli played the long political game. STR/AFP via Getty Images

Tanzania’s John Magufuli: a brilliant start but an ignominious end

Aikande Clement Kwayu, University of Wisconsin-Madison

He came into office with a reputation for making broken systems work, but as he began his second presidential term John Magufuli became known as a ruthless and ambitious authoritarian.

President John Magufuli of Tanzania passed away at the age of 61. His government had played down the existence of COVID-19. Anthony Siame/EPE-EFE

Tanzania’s Magufuli: bold and efficient, with a dangerous penchant for populism

David E Kiwuwa, University of Nottingham

The president leaves behind a legacy of extremes, on the one hand, a leader who wanted to create a better country for his people, and on the other, a ruthless authoritarian.



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