Magufuli: Tribute and claim of  Tanzania’s middle income status

Tuesday March 23 2021
By Muniini K. Mulera Mulera

Dear Tingasiga; 
President John Pombe Magufuli’s death has left me feeling cold. There is a sadness that floats on incredulity. How did this happen? Why did this happen? 

 Questions with very few answers. Unhelpful speculation only, made worse by the secrecy and outright untruths that shrouded his illness. 

It may take a while for us to get the answers. However, there is one truth that most will agree on. Magufuli was an impactful leader, though his legacy will become evident and quantifiable with the passage of time.  

One of the best tributes about Magufuli that I have read is by Dr Bbuye Lya Mukanga, a distinguished economist with extensive experience as an economic policy adviser in developing countries. Here is the entirety of Dr Bbuye’s tribute, which he posted on Mulera’s Fireplace yesterday: 
“It is very sad indeed for Tanzania and Africa to lose an energetic, and I believe very well-meaning son like John Pombe Magufuli. Indeed, we should celebrate all the positives about Ndugu John Pombe Magufuli. He was also quite the enigmatic person and leader. 

Magufuli always reminded me of William Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, a tragic figure who wanted the best for his people and country. 

However, Coriolanus did not know how to make his people step up to his own pace. Neither did he know or was he willing to pitch his own steps to a pace at which he could walk with his people and be able to effectively help them. 


  A main point over which I have been reading and hearing a lot of applause for Mafuguli is that on his watch (during his presidency), Tanzania achieved Middle Income Country (MIC) Status. I congratulate brothers and sisters in Tanzania for the undeniable progress that they have made in this direction.

 As to whether Tanzania has truly attained MIC Status, I will wait until I can see a more comprehensive picture with a pair of untinted glasses. 

I have been involved with quite a few Asian countries’ planning and policy formulation  as they have evolved from very poor (“Least Developed Countries” in UN and World Bank parlance) to “Middle Income Countries.”

 My first experience was in 1978 - 1979 while collecting data for my doctoral thesis in two of the most developed countries in Asia today. The level of development in these two countries was certainly below that of the Uganda that I had left behind in 1975. 

 Since the 1980s, I have lived and worked with national colleagues in more that 15 other countries in Asia as they have made their respective drives towards attaining MIC Status. 

A lot of these countries are among the now so-called Asian Tigers. Most have attained MIC Status. Only a few of the countries have not quite attained MIC yet.

 Even those countries that are not quite there, have made very commendable progress. There are many factors that have to be considered in getting to MIC status, not just Gross National Income per capita. The process also involves a lot of honesty and trust.

 In one country, the government was so eager to get to MIC Status by a set date that the Chief Government Statistician was fired from the job, and another person who could cook the statistics for the politicians was put in place. I also ended up stopping work in that country as I could not stand the dishonesty. 

But on the whole, all the countries I have been involved with have been diligently meticulous in ensuring that MIC truly means “development” - equitably shared, sustainable, permanent and irreversible improvement in the wellbeing of the country.

I heard some months back that President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda was also claiming that Uganda had attained MIC. While I give Uganda an F (failing grade)  at this time, I would like to submit I (Incomplete) for Tanzania. Yes, I am also a teacher.”

After reading through the above tribute, Prof David Bakibinga, made the observation that the World Bank classification for Tanzania was Lower Middle Income status. 

Prof Bakibinga’s observation prompted Dr Lya Mukanga to add the following remarks to his tribute.  “Yes, since 2020, the World Bank has given Tanzania a passing grade to LMIC (Lower Middle Income Country) Status. 

This is very commendable, and all well-meaning people ought to be rooting for Tanzania to go even higher to MIC and eventually to HIC (High Income Country) Status.

Also, there are many cautionary tales about the World Bank’s tendency to frame development into a single-story journey of increased income. Up to the late 1970s, Liberia was depicted as a prime example of income-driven development. 

By the 1980s, Liberia had fallen on its face because there were never any props in place to make the much touted “economic growth” sustainable. 

Argentina was also “more developed” than most European countries until the 1970s when commodity prices sent it into a shock from which it has never recovered.

 Of course, another cautionary tale about the World Bank or any development institution is that much as they say they are judging different countries’ levels of development, they are also primarily being the prosecutor, defender and judge of their own (The Bank’s and Development Community’s) agendas.

A recent book: he Lie of Global Prosperity: How Neoliberals Distort Data to Mask Poverty and Exploitation, by Seth Donnelly, highlights the fallacious arguments of the primacy of income as the main indicator of development. 

 James K Galbraith (son of the great John Kenneth Galbraith) gives an incisive summary of Seth Donnelly book: A bleak look at the propagandistic world of development goals and the international comparisons of poverty, hunger, housing, and health on which they rest. 

Global statisticians have ways of making the data talk, but as with all forms of torture, the result is not the truth. It is, merely, what the sponsor would like to hear, and what he would like the rest of us to believe.” 

Bbuye Lya Mukanga’s commentary reminds us that, notwithstanding Magufuli and Tanzania’s commendable efforts, our analysis of his legacy and his country’s status should be based on facts and requires time to draw valid conclusions. 

We mourn him as a brother and leader of our friendly neighbours and partners in East Africa. We pray for grace and peace for his family and all Tanzanians.  

Dr Mulera is a medical doctor.