As Tanzania celebrated Nyerere Day on 14 October, there are growing comparisons between Tanzania’s founding President and its current President, John Magufuli. One of the enduring characterisations of Nyerere is that he is beloved by ordinary Tanzanians, but regarded by many foreigners and scholars as responsible for their poverty through economic mismanagement. Some are suggesting that Magufuli, though similarly well-regarded by Tanzanians, is setting the country backwards. I don’t pretend to understand the ins and outs of these arguments, and I don’t take a political position, but I’m very interested in the question of whether who is ruling at the top affects life for ordinary people. When I studied history as an undergrad many years ago, this was a key question we were taught to ask: whatever the upheaval of kings and queens and presidents, does life change for the ordinary person?
So of course, I asked the maandazi ladies what they thought of Magufuli! All but one were very positive, so I asked them why. Does his leadership improve their daily lives? The answer was yes.
Two of them spoke of how corruption has decreased under Magufuli. Apparently since the time of Nyerere, it has been legal for women to sell food on the road, but before Magufuli, officials would come on their own whim and arrest these women for not having a license, and then put them in prison until they paid bail. This does not happen anymore, they said. The law is unchanged, but now it’s actually being abided by.
The main objection to Magufuli seemed to come from the concern that he couldn’t deliver on his promises. They all liked hearing about the free schooling he’s offering, and the free healthcare for seniors and children. But what good is this if the school has no resources or teachers don’t turn up? So what if you get free healthcare if the medicines you need are not in stock?
So they were happy that on the Aga Khan’s recent visit to Tanzania, Magufuli told him that the prices of Aga Khan services need to be lowered, including the hospital and the school. There is a perception of segregation, that these services are only for the Wahindi, because they are beyond the means of the ordinary Tanzanian. The maandazi ladies liked the idea of being able to go to the Aga Khan hospital if they needed healthcare.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.