THE Tanzanian politician who served as the fifth president of Tanzania, from 2015 to 2021, was a very controversial leader and so was his presidency and now his death too.
John Pombe Joseph Magufuli was born in Chato, one of the five districts in the Geita Region of north-western Tanzania and he was a Sukuma (Northerners), the largest Bantu ethnic group in the country and the south-eastern African Great Lakes region.
His weapon was service delivery and for that matter, delivery had a fixed time and not endless promises.
There was no hiding behind policies or budgets that were not enough to cover the costs after grandstanding announcements were made.
History records show that those who deliver do not live long. Patrice Lumumba, Thomas Sankar, and I count Mandela among those because he delivered democracy and declared upfront, only one term in office and he will resign.
Magafuli’s weapon was like King Shaka’s weapon, the short spear, that he invented, and which revolutionised how one fights a war. Shaka won many wars and did not live long.
Magufuli was not a man of speeches and analysis, he did not rely on consultants to implement decisions reached by his cabinet.
When promises were made and never realised, he never gave excuses about policies and plans that did not comply with the law and which have been there for many years.
He also did not depend on meeting after meeting for implementing decisions, but action.
He was there for one term and was in the early days of his second one.
Magufuli was a Pan Africanist of a special kind in this century that I met personally in his offices in Dar in November 2019.
Together with the former minister, Jeff Radebe, we arrived in the wee hours as we flew via Nairobi, and the only available plane was after midnight.
We were told by the chargé d’affaires of our embassy in Dar that we had to do with a few hours of sleep as our meeting was that very same morning with President Magufuli.
By eight o’clock we were having our breakfast and we did not wait for long when word came through that we should proceed and be taken to the presidency.
That was a refreshing experience having travelled to many capitals and experienced different receptions.
As soon as we arrived, we were ushered in with our phones having been officially confiscated as protocols obliged us to do.
Accompanied by his foreign minister, Palamagamba John Aidan Mwaluko Kabudi, and other officials in his office, the president welcomed us and gave us the opportunity to deliver President Cyril Ramaphosa’s message to him.
We indicated to the president that as the special envoys, we were carrying two messages from his counterpart.
He listened carefully while the first message was being delivered to him and when Radebe finished, he poured out and gave us his own understanding of the problem with what is termed as ‘xenophobia’.
Like the President of Nigeria and Ghana, that we met among others before, he was full of praises for our president for having spoken out against and taken measures to deal with the situation in South Africa.
Ramaphosa’s address during the funeral service of former President Robert Mugabe in Harare, Zimbabwe in September 2019, was also taken by him as statesmanlike and very appropriate.
It was when we wanted to deliver the second message that he asked all officials to leave the room except for his foreign minister.
We delivered the message and again he carefully listened to us and his response was an almost hour-long lecture about his worldview and why he runs his country the way he does.
He told us about where he grew up and how later as a young man he was inspired by the first president of Tanzania, Mwalinu (the teacher) Julius Nyerere.
Magufuli was very enthusiastic to bring about visible change to the lives of his people. He saw himself as the servant that had to be exemplary to how the resources of the country were used to develop his nation.
As he was speaking to us and making sure that we understand the underlying principle for the way he does things, he kept on changing his sitting position while emphasising certain points.
He had no respect for those with the intent to exploit the resources of his country without a fair share of the profits.
He asked us to pay a special visit to Dar once things settled in our country. He was keen to develop proper relations with South Africa to benefit both nations. But Covid-19 came, and we never made the second visit.