Tanzania's anti-corruption crusader cracks down on opponents

A woman walks past an election billboard of candidate John Magufuli.

Story highlights

  • President John Magufuli was a popular choice for president of Tanzania
  • But he has launched a series of attacks on media, judiciary and political opponents
  • Magufuli is also taking on international mining companies

Dan Paget is a PhD candidate specializing in African electoral politics at the University of Oxford. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. CNN is showcasing the work of The Conversation, a collaboration between journalists and academics to provide news analysis and commentary. The content is produced solely by The Conversation.

(CNN)There were scarcely any hints of the tumultuous years that would follow the swearing-in of Dr. John Pombe Magufuli on 5th November 2015 as Tanzania's fifth president. After all, his Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party had been in power for decades, and his victory seemed to herald continuity with the past.

In fact, Magufuli's opponent attracted more attention during the campaign than Magufuli himself. When Edward Lowassa defected from CCM to the opposition and ran for president against his old party, it looked fleetingly as though this elite split might spell the end of CCM's dominance.
But Magufuli has not brought continuity, but dramatic change. He began to impress just days after his inauguration. He made a snap unannounced visit to the Ministry of Finance on his first day as president. Then he pulled funds intended for Independence Day celebrations and redirected them to anti-cholera operations. He began a shake-up of the Tanzania Port Authority, and extended it to the Tanzania Revenue Authority as he launched a tax collection drive. An audit of the public payroll led to a purge of "ghost workers". Quickly, it became apparent that he was genuinely waging war on corruption in the Tanzanian state.
    The primary victims of these anti-corruption operations have been mid- and low-ranking civil servants. However, Magufuli has taken on high elites in CCM selectively too. In May, he fired Minister of Energy and Minerals Sospeter Muhongo. This June, businessman James Rugemalira and Harbinder Singh Sethi found themselves in court, facing government prosecutors in court. Both were linked to a major corruption case, the Escrow Scandal in 2014.
    This thrift and intolerance for corruption won Magufuli attention and admiration worldwide. In the social media sphere, commentators celebrated his zeal playfully with the hashtag, "#WhatWouldMagufuliDo".
    But since early 2016, it has become apparent that Magufuli is not just waging war on corruption -- he is also declaring war on democracy.