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Opinions of Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

An African politician assesses the reputation of a dead friend

It is unusual for African leaders to speak the truth about one another.

This is because they fear that the yardstick which they apply to judge their fellow politicians could equally be used to embarrass them! Like recognises like, no?

But when a politician dies who courted controversy to such a high degree as the late President of Tanzania, Mr Magufuli, did, the truth about him is bound to come out! Both former colleagues and enemies are provoked, willy-nilly, to say what they do know, in order to "set the record straight" or dispel the “fanciful” opinions being circulated – as the case may be.

President John Magufuli, has been widely criticised for ignoring the scientific knowledge he acquired at University, in his approach to the Covid-19 pandemic. He is even accused of causing the deaths of some of his people, by refusing to implement the protocols laid down by the World Health Organisation (W.H.O) for combating Covid.

But the emphasis on that admittedly quirky doctrine of his, short-changed his reputation. And the reason is this: millions of his countrymen and women flocked into the towns of Tanzania, where his body was sent for tributes to be paid to him locally. One thing I observed from the TV pictures was that: Tanzania's roads are built with the WANANCHI (the ordinary people who are described as "those who walk on foot", as against the “WABENZI” – those who ride in Mercedes Benz cars – ) in mind!

In one town, I saw a pavement that allowed at least six people, running abreast of each other, to keep pace with the motorcade accompanying the dead leader’s hearse!

There was no open gutter in sight. Nor a single pothole on the main road. And yet, this was in rural Tanzania, not in Dar-es-Salaam or Dodoma.

The answer to this surprising feature of life in Tanzania was given o the world in a candid tribute paid by Mr Raila Odinga, an Opposition leader in neighbouring Kenya, who was once Kenya’s Prime Minister. Mr Raila Odinga wrote:

“When rumours started going around about the health and whereabouts of my friend, President John Pombe Magufuli, I placed several calls to him. When his death was confirmed (as I myself was self- isolating after testing positive for Covid-19) I felt the full weight of double tragedy. It was the worst time to lose a friend and a comrade. It was a bond forged over [our joint] war on corruption and quality infrastructure.

“I first met Dr Magufuli at an international conference on infrastructure in Durban, South Africa in 2003. I had just assumed office as Minister for Roads, Public Works and Housing in the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) government of President Mwai Kibaki. By that time, Dr Magufuli had held a similar portfolio for some time in Tanzania.

“At the ministry, I discovered that I had inherited a bigger problem than I had imagined. The ministry was mired in massive corruption. Contractors were demanding pay — and getting paid — for works they had not done, or those done way below specifications. Nearly the entire ministry budget was being used to clear pending bills that kept rising. The ministry was neither constructing any new roads nor maintaining the existing ones.

“It was in that context that I attended the Durban conference. I wanted to share my experiences, learn from fellow ministers and other experts and, hopefully, also attract some funding for the massive infrastructure Kenya needed.

“Dr Magufuli took immense interest in my presentation. He was particularly intrigued by my admission that corruption had found a home in the ministry and it was denying the country the good infrastructure needed for economic growth.

“The two of us had lengthy discussions on the side-lines of the conference. During our discussions, he disclosed that the problems I had mentioned were the same ones he encountered when he took over at Roads and Public Works in Tanzania.

“He offered to share his experiences in dealing with the vices of corruption and cowboy contractors and driving them out of town. For a start, he advised that I look into two areas: procurement and designing and tendering processes.

“From his experiences in Dar es Salaam, he had ring-fenced these areas as the hideouts for corruption and conduits for the loss of government funds. His advice was that I needed to shorten the procurement process, which is usually long and winding, just to facilitate corruption. Then he advised that we adopt a system of designing and building roads at the same time, as opposed to designing the entire road first, then tendering and then constructing.

That, too, was a conduit for corruption. His advice was that the sections of the road that had been designed could be tendered and construction commenced, as design of other sections went on. That way, we would get quality roads faster and at cheaper prices.

“From there, our friendship kicked off. We became advisers to each and partners in the war on corruption and cowboy contractors in the roads sector. Before the conference ended, Dr Magufuli asked me to get my engineers at the ministry [to come] for a meeting with his engineers in Dar-es-Salaam so that they could exchange ideas on how to deliver quality infrastructure at value-for-money costs.

“Next, Dr Magufuli invited me to accompany him on a tour of Mwanza where he was to supervise and launch the construction of hospitals and roads. It was during this trip that he named a road after me; Raila Odinga Road in Mwanza. During this trip, we visited his home in Chato. I also invited him to visit us in Kisumu and Bondo

“As we got down to work in Kenya, we identified the Meru-Maua Highway as one of the key roads that needed immediate and massive renovation. I invited Dr Magufuli to launch the reconstruction of this road, which he did. I also instructed the ministry to name the road after him.

“As Prime Minister in the Grand Coalition Government, I visited him with a delegation. When Dr Magufuli declared his interest in the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) ticket for the presidency in 2015, I took a keen interest because his contest was my contest, just as mine had been his. We got deeply involved and we were excited when he won.

“He invited me to Dar almost immediately after his inauguration. During that visit, the newly elected president was frank. He said he had known how to run ministries; now he needed advice on how to run a government. He particularly wanted to know how we managed to raise revenues to deliver services, and stop corruption.

“I advised my friend that, for a start, he should look no farther than the revenue and procurement officers at all levels of government. I told him that in most cases, those officers were the ones driving the latest car models, building classic apartments in cities and putting up castles in rural areas, despite their lower salaries. He needed to subject them to a lifestyle audit, retire or even jail the incorrigibly corrupt and transfer others, then revenue collection would shoot up.

“He listened. In some cases, he personally walked into offices to see how work was being done. Soon, Tanzania’s revenue doubled, then trebled. The new president suddenly had money to build roads, ports, hospitals and railways, without relying on donors.

The President developed very keen interest on what happened to Kenya’s standard gauge railway in terms of its cost. He was determined to avoid the pitfalls, and he did. That is how he constructed Tanzania’s SGR four years later, at a much lower cost than ours.”

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