THINKING his statement was going to resonate with the feelings of the poor majority in his country, Tanzania’s President John Magufuli said publicly in 2016 that he wished rich people to “live like devils.”
In October 2018, Africa’s youngest billionaire Mohammed Dewji “lived like a devil” for about a week when he was abducted by “unknown people,” in a manner that left some state security operatives implicated. But he is not alone. Many business people have been suffering in their own ways. Thousands of businesses have collapsed, leaving the rich and poor alike to “live like devils” due to a badly managed economy.
Probably feeling a pinch of his own mismanagement of the economy, and seeking to make a political capital out of his new move with businesses, Magufuli convened a meeting with business people at the State House in Dar es Salaam on 7th June 2019, and told them that he wished to create “100 billionaires” before he leaves the office. Could this be a change of heart?
The next day, he fired senior officials in the Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) which many business people accused of harassment. He made a mini-reshuffle in his cabinet, firing the ministers for agriculture and for industry and trade. In just three years, he has had three industry and trade ministers; and has had four heads of TRA.
Some of these fired officials and his critics understand that his assistants can literally do nothing without his orders, knowledge or approval. In fact, most of them obey his commands to the letter, but when matters get worse, he quickly finds a way out to clear his name and blame his assistants in public. At worst, he lambasts and fires them.
This way, he has created several loyal apologists out of his government officials and professionals, particularly those appointed by him. He appoints ministers and other government officials on a trial-and-error basis. And he gives them a hard time to decide whether to operate ethically and professionally or to act obediently to him. And this is what has been happening to operations within TRA.
He ordered them to collect tax “mercilessly,” and they did but not without causing havoc as many businesses collapsed. Two months ago, he fired a minister for failing to “build industries” and for not promoting trade. Now he has fired his successor for the same reasons. One wonders how his appointees get vetted before he hires them.
It is the same president who has been boasting for leading a government that makes enormous tax collections – the highest ever collected since independence, as his people put it. But he is the same person calling a town hall meeting with businessmen after which he is making a cabinet reshuffle in a way that makes him look like he has surrendered himself to some form of kangaroo justice.
Of course, the underlying factor behind all this move is the 2020 general election. He knows that his people are unhappy because he has messed up with his first three years, but he is so much determined to run for a second term next year that he is attempting to rally everyone behind him.
At the same time, he is doing all he can to suppress opposition and criticism of any kind because he thinks he is the only voice that should be heard, as he causes problems and proposes solutions.
In fact, the business meeting at the State House, broadcast live on 7th June 2019, was no more than a political gathering for a much bigger cause come 2020.