Tanzania: Five years under 'Bulldozer' Magufuli

Oct 28, 2020

Magufuli is counting on his ambitious programme of infrastructure development and fiery anti-corruption stance to secure him a second mandate.

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania - Tanzanian President John Magufuli, 61, came to power in 2015 as a blunt-talking man of the people, attacking corruption as promised in his first term but triggering accusations of a slide into authoritarianism.

2015: Zealous clean-up 

After his October election Magufuli quickly gets to work, making wildly popular decisions such as scrapping lavish independence day celebrations in favour of a street clean-up.

He bans unnecessary foreign travel for government officials. Dozens implicated in corruption are suspended.

A Twitter hashtag #WhatWouldMagufuliDo spreads across the continent, where many tired of corruption scandals, ineffective civil services and government waste become enamoured of Magufuli's "Bulldozer" style.

2016: Crackdown on media, gays 

Opposition leaders accuse Magufuli of throttling democracy after he bans political rallies and halts live coverage of parliament sessions.

In mid-2016 authorities begin what Human Rights Watch calls an "unprecedented crackdown" on the rights of the LGBT community, with a rise in arrests, threats, and the shutting of clinics providing AIDS-related services.

In November, the country passes the Media Services Act, with tough penalties for offences such as defamation, sedition and publishing false statements.

In December Maxence Melo, co-founder of the Jamii Forums whistleblowing website is arrested after refusing to comply with a 2015 law requiring him to reveal the site's contributors.

2017: Mining shakeup 

A government commission says fraud in the mining sector has cost Tanzania $84 billion (75 billion euros) over 19 years, accusing foreign companies of failing to declare revenues.

Tanzania accuses gold mining company Acacia Mining, owned by Barrick Gold of Canada, of owing $190 billion in unpaid taxes and shuts down its right to export gold ore concentrate. Tanzania and Barrick later agree to a $300 million payment to resolve the tax demand.

In July, Tanzania passes new mining laws giving the state 16 percent of equity in mining projects, allowing it to renegotiate contracts and increasing royalties on exports of gold, copper, silver, platinum and uranium.

Magufuli orders the army to build a wall around the country's tanzanite mines to prevent smuggling and better control exports of the unique blue and violet gems.

In September, after a total of six arrests in 2017, current presidential candidate for the Chadema opposition party, Tundu Lissu, is shot 16 times in what his party says in an assassination attempt.

2018: Concern grows

The country's Catholic Church accuses Magufuli of violating democratic norms.
The European Union and United States issue statements criticising attacks on civil liberties and human rights.

Denmark announces the withdrawal of $10 million in aid owing to "unacceptable homophobic remarks".

One local leader from Chadema is found beaten to death, while another is found hacked to death at his home. A female university student is shot dead as police disperse an opposition protest.

In March, an online content law imposes a stiff fee on bloggers and imposes fines for content considered "indecent, obscene (or) hate speech", or even just for causing "annoyance".

In July, Magufuli vows his ruling party will be "in power forever, for eternity".

2019: Elections boycott  

In August, journalist Erick Kabendera is arrested. He is initially detained for questioning over his citizenship, then charged with publishing "false and seditious information". These charges are then replaced with tax evasion and money laundering. He is freed seven months later after pleading guilty.

In November, Magufuli's ruling party wins local elections with 99 percent after an opposition boycott.

Rights activist Tito Magoti is arrested and charged with money laundering.

2020: Coronavirus denial

In March Tanzania confirms its first case of coronavirus.

In April, Magufuli calls for three days of prayer, urging citizens to "continue praying to God and not depending on face masks."

As cases shoot up at one of the fastest rates in East Africa, Magufuli accuses the health ministry of "creating panic" and April 29 becomes the last time the country gives official case numbers.

Chadema chairman Freeman Mbowe slams a "state of denial" in government.

By July Magufuli is insisting there is no more Covid-19 in the country.

In June, Mbowe is hospitalised after being beaten up, and his leg broken, in what his party claimed was a "politically-motivated" attack.

The US accuses Tanzania of seeking to "stifle democratic norms" ahead of general elections, after the arrests of opposition members and the closure of a newspaper.

In July, Magufuli is nominated to seek re-election.

Lissu returns from three years in exile, having recovered, to run for president.


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