Tanzania's President Magufuli. Source: Twitter.

It has been only three weeks since Tanzania elected John Magufuli, the son of a farmer, to take over from Jakaya Kikwete, whose government was scarred by scandals and excesses, and it’s already clear why the can-do, cost-cutting, austere, corruption-hating new leader is known as Iron Fist and the Bulldozer.

There might be tongue-in-cheek celebrations on Twitter – the hashtag is #WhatWouldMagufuliDo – but Africans across the continent have already started asking on social media if their leaders are paying attention to Magufuli. Someone has already even coined a verb: to magufulify – “to render or declare action faster and cheaper; to deprive (public officials) of their capacity to enjoy life on taxpayers’ money; to terrorize lazy and corrupt individuals in the society.”

Magufuli on the campaign trail. Source: Twitter.

Comparisons are also being drawn to the enigmatic Rwandan president Paul Kagame, whose country is seen as a hope of East Africa, calling the latest actions by Magufuli the “Rwandanisation of Tanzania”. Here are some of the things John Magufuli has done already in less than a month:

  1. Soon after his election, Magufuli declared there would be no celebration of Independence Day on 9 December because it would be “shameful” to spend huge sums of money on the celebrations when people were dying of cholera. Instead, the day has been set as a national day of cleanliness, and the money will go toward street-cleaning services. He has said everybody should pick up their tools and clean their backyards.
  2. After his first official visit to the Muhimbili Hospital, and seeing the horrible state it was in, he ordered over 200 million shillings marked for “parliament parties” be used to pay for beds for people lying on the floor and sharing beds. A few days later 300 beds were delivered. He dismissed the governing board and got a new team in place, and within days the broken MRI was fixed. He also pared down his inauguration party from $100,000 to $7,000 and sent the extra money to the hospital.
  3. Three days into his term, Magufuli announced a ban on all foreign travel by government officials. They have been instructed to instead make regular visits to rural areas to learn and help solve problems facing everyday Tanzanians. All tasks that required officials to travel abroad would instead be done by high commissioners and ambassadors who are already in place.
  4. He has restricted all first- and business-class travel to government officials, except the president, vice-president and prime minister.
  5. There will be no more workshops and seminars in expensive hotels when there are so many ministry board rooms available.
  6. He suspended the Tanzania Revenue Authority’s chief and other officials pending investigations after a visit by Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa to the port of Dar es Salaam found 350 containers listed in its books were missing.
  7. When he had to travel 600km to Dodoma, from Dar, to officially open parliament last week, he didn’t order a private jet – instead, he chose to drive.
  8. At the National Assembly in Dodoma last week he clearly sent out the message that it will not be business as usual under his leadership.
  9. He promised to cut public spending, fight corruption and enhance accountability in public service. He said it is time for Tanzanians to walk the talk.
  10. Magufuli reportedly told parliamentary leaders that the people of Tanzania want him to solve their problems and not make speeches.
Magufuli doing pushups for the crowd during a campaign speech to prove he was fit. Source: Twitter.

Things to know about John Magufuli:

  • The 56-year-old is a former school teacher, industrial chemist and outgoing works minister
  • Nicknamed “The Bulldozer”
  • A devout Catholic with a corruption-free reputation
  • A member of the Chama Cha Mapinduzi, which has been in power since independence in 1961
  • Election tagline was “hapa kazi tu” which translates as “work and nothing else”.
  • Told parliamentary leaders, “Now is the time to work and I as your president, will walk the talk in delivering all that I promised during the campaigns”.
  • Promised to form a special court to try graft cases, telling MPs that the vice had permeated the nation to shocking levels.
  • Performed push-ups on the campaign trail to prove he was fit
  • Pledged to end power shortages and exploit Tanzania’s natural gas discoveries
  • As Minister of Works, he oversaw the successful construction of many new roads in Tanzania
  • “He was for many years minister for works, supervising execution of mega projects worth trillions of shillings, but was never implicated in any corruption scandal,” Joseph Warioba, a former prime minster and veteran CCM politician, told AFP news agency. “He could have been the richest politician in the country.”