The victory achieved by West African leaders over the weekend in successfully ending the dictatorship of former Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh without spilling a drop of blood, has sparked a huge sense of euphoria across Uganda and indeed the African continent.
The high sense of excitement could be seen from social media posts by some of Africa’s leaders such as Tanzania’s president John Pombe Magufuli.
Magufuli’s no holds-barred post on Twitter calling for a campaign to weed out Africa’s tyrants, dictators and long-serving leaders, went viral and was highly praised by social media nerds.
Since being sworn in as Tanzania’s fifth president in 2015, John Pombe Magufuli has become a sort of phenomenon, if not a populist president. He has tried to identify himself with the common man as opposed to many of his counterparts who fly their family members in chattered aircrafts at the expense of the tax payer to deliver or be hospitalised in Europe and America or encroach on anti-poverty or AIDS funds to buy state of the art Mercedes benz akin to what Mbabazi did to the people of Northern Uganda.
For example, when his wife Janeth Magufuli fell ill last year, her husband took her to a public hospital in Dar-es-Salaam. And before that, shortly after taking over power, Magufuli sacked health workers at a major hospital after he found patients sleeping on the floor following a surprise visit.
He also ordered an immediate freeze on senior government officials wasting tax payers money on foreign trips, saying that after all the country maintained foreign missions abroad to do exactly that.
Tanzania being one of the poorest countries in the world, Magufuli’s reforms, warmed the hearts of many people. And on the ground witnesses in Tanzania admit that his frugal policies have improved the quality of life for many ordinary Tanzanians.
Now it appears Magufuli is extending his swag beyond Tanzania’s borders. He is preaching tolerance and democracy to Kenyans and other countries and it’s raising hopes among many in East Africa that perhaps this is the man who will stand up to Museveni and other long-serving leaders in the region.
But one does not need to look any further than Uganda’s history to realise that this could be just a populist stunt by a new leader.
Magufuli’s presumed target Yoweri Kaguta Museveni uttered similar statements in the early years of his rule. Declaring that Africa’s problem was Leaders refusing to quit power, he started his roller-coaster ride by declaring that his ministers would drive cheap salon cars. He also promised that he would sleep on Beds made from Ku Bbiri (after Wandegeya).
Museveni’s dramatic transformation from a man of the people into a profligate hand shaker continues to alarm many people. This transformation was well captured in our 2014 article titled; Where is the Museveni of the Kaunda Suit?
Makerere University history professor Mwambutsya Ndebesa offered a warning about populist leaders. He noted that many of them in fact tend to end up as dictators. From Adolf Hitler to Muamar Gaddafi and Yahya Jammeh, most of these leaders possessed exaggerated egos.
“All dictators share one thing in common–exaggerated image of themselves. Whether it is Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, Yahya Jammeh etc. Saddam promised the mother of all wars but ended up in a hole. Gaddifi promised to teach NATO a lesson but was caught in a pipe,” said Ndebesa on his Facebook wall.
Magufuli’s major test remains ahead of him. He should push for the creation of a joint East African military force to enforce rule of law and democracy in the region.
As a member of the highest ranking body – the East African Heads of State, Magufuli could force the leaders of Burundi, South Sudan to respect the will of their people following unrest arising from their stranglehold on power.