Big moral problem that Magufuli foresaw

Thursday March 25 2021
By Karoli Ssemogerere

Last year in March at the beginning of the lockdown, my senior at St Mary’s College Kisubi, Dr James Lugada, a public health practitioner, was at his favourite past-time jogging when I chanced upon him outside the gate. Lugada stopped for a fleeting glance, jogging and biking is one of the activities that spiked in the lockdown as folks pinned to their homes had nothing else to do. Most of the second-hand bikes or junk imported at the time have already fallen to pieces, disrepair and people are back to a more sedentary lifestyle tickling their mobile phones for classes now offered online, entertainment, social media, etc. 

Even the Supreme Court transmits proceedings via Zoom and courts remaining active have masked counsel, litigants, and judicial officers going about their business. Dr Lugada whose pins on his chest include a public health career in Nigeria, stated bluntly that Covid would last two years, the definition of a pandemic. He quickly added that in early stages, it would be suicidal for any government to state the obvious, especially politicians who would lose elections. 

The truth is that Uganda has been spared the Armageddon of the pandemic. In March, government reported just 21 Covid-19 patients all across the country even though Kenya and Tanzania are faring worse. Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, 75, who has been at the forefront of selling the BBI-pro-constitutional initiative in Kenya, came down with Covid. 

Then came the big thud, the untimely death of John Pombe Magufuli, 61, President of the United Republic of Tanzania. Even though rumours had abounded of Magufuli’s passing (first from Covid) and then officially of a cardiac condition, Magufuli’s untimely demise has been met by outpouring of grief in the region where the “bulldozer” in just five years, had been able to shake up the consensual political system in Tanzania to do results. 

Tanzania has just held a hotly contested poll in October 2020, which Magufuli won with an overwhelming 80 per cent of the vote. Magufuli reduced the Opposition in Parliament to just a handful, just 13 Opposition MPs made it back to Parliament. In Zanzibar, the situation was worse, with the Civic United Front barely making 10 seats in the Zanzibar Assembly. Under the terms of the unification in 1964, Zanzibar produces one of the vice presidents even though her population is less than two million (about the population of Wakiso District).  

In 2020, Tanzania’s population was 59 million people.  Zanzibar has so far produced two presidents, and likely the third one is in the offing. Zanzibar is also a demographic anachronism. The descendants of the Arabs and Swahili dominate Pemba and have dominated CUF, while the rest save for a decade-long interlude, are CCM. So over the years, Abed Karume’s deal giving up independence for sovereignty starts to look smarter by the day as this arrangement is one of the basic structures of the Tanzanian constitutional system. 


Magufuli’s nationalist stance was consistent with the left-wing revolutionary history of CCM, but his sometimes draconian yet wildly popular style, leaned to the right. In fact, it was a disguised “Tanzania” and “Tanzanians” first policy, which woke up the region’s sleeping giant by stating it was no longer business as usual. Uganda late to the party stated hakuna mchezo, but in the end, Uganda was the limping co-wife in the relationship. 

In deciding the fate of the pipeline, Magufuli offered a deep port and negotiating expertise that saw private operator Total take up 72 per cent of the pipeline equity. This broke a logjam as the pipeline’s modest capacity just seven million barrel per month had choked decision making. So Magufuli saved Uganda from the embarrassment of the SGR, when our President at the launch of the Standard Gauge Railway in Naivasha, apologised on behalf of Ugandans, for our complacent culture.  

Last year at the height of Covid, Tanzanians were treated to a presidential handshake as a small-time gentleman extracted a valuable diamante rock in his backyard for a princely sum. Magufuli congratulated the gentleman and told him all this wealth was his. In the conduct of international relations, Magufuli only travelled in Africa, three of his very few foreign visits were to Uganda.  A lot of bad press will soil Magufuli for his negative stance towards Covid. This will ignore the fact that Tanzania in 2020 began accessing credits, including from the African Development Bank a $120m facility to support Covid prevention efforts. A chemist by training, he probably saw the pandemic for what it is, a man-made problem albeit at a global scale.

Already, the big pharmaceutical industries are advocating a full-time vaccine against the flu. Pfizer hopes to charge the US government and insurance companies more than the astronomical $19.50 it is charging for its single use vaccine as the pandemic moves to “endemic” phase. I need to wait for the good doctor to explain what endemic means. I am eager to know what this means for Wall Street where pharma stocks are set to skyrocket a big moral problem that Magufuli foresaw but could do little about. 

Mr Ssemogerere is an Attorney-At-Law and an Advocate.