Obiukwu: What Pres. Buhari can learn from Tanzania's Magufuli

As Africa’s largest economy sinks further into recession, another African state less than one-third its population and economy is rising above the fray with a remarkable journey toward shared economic growth and development.

NIGERIA and TANZANIA do not ordinarily come across as countries with a lot in common. The former leads West Africa and is largely dependent on crude oil as the major source of government revenue and foreign exchange income, while the latter cannot be said to have a similar role in the East but has much more diversified, even if much less productive, sources of income.

Yet, there are significant similarities between both countries that contribute a great deal to their current socio-economic situations. Nigeria and Tanzania, despite differences in population and economic size, both suffer from high poverty rates, the pervasiveness of corruption and government wastage. And in 2015, they both got new presidents promising to radically alter these narratives. Thus far, one of those presidents is making good on his promise and it is not Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari.

Like President Buhari, Tanzania’s John Magufuli came to power on the platform of change. Although he was the candidate of the ruling party, the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party, he was not considered the establishment candidate given that he was never part of the inner-circle of the party. That honour was more or less ascribed to his rival long-considered heir to the presidency, ex-Prime Minister Edward Lowassa, who crossed to the opposition party when internal party disputes made it all but clear that he wouldn’t pick up the party’s nomination.

Magufuli’s swearing-in speech was also like that of President Buhari, with its emphasis on putting tribal, religious and political affiliations aside to work for all citizens. He also made it clear, like Buhari, that he would carry out a radical programme to drastically cut corruption and government waste, rapidly drive infrastructural developments and radically implement socio-economic policies which would better the lives of the country’s many poor. Since then, Magufuli has matched his words with action, clamping down on corrupt people and policies, cutting the pay of senior government staff as well as public office holders and pursuing economic policies that target the growth of local businesses and industries.

The result has been a restoration of local and international confidence in the integrity of the government, clear direction for the country’s socio-economic growth, a boost in investor confidence and most importantly, an increase in economic growth as shown in the recent projections of 7.4 percent growth for 2017 by the country’s central bank. Tanzania’s good tidings were expected in greater measures by Nigerians following the election of their new president in 2015, but the reverse has been the case.

The Nigerian government’s anti-corruption campaign, while viewed positively by the international community is seen by almost half the country as discriminatory within the lines of political alliance and ethno-regional bias. There is a general sense of the lack of direction and responsiveness with regards to the government’s economic policy and, as a result, investor confidence has struggled to pick up. The Gross Domestic Product of the economy has also continued to shrink with a negative 2.1 percent contraction in the second quarter all but confirming that Nigeria is in a recession.

Where the leader of the present Nigerian government was slow in the appointment of cabinet members, for example, the leader of the present Tanzanian government was speedy and sharp. While President Buhari’s economic policy has been incoherent, to say the least, no one, locally or internationally, is unclear about what President Magufuli has set out to achieve. And while the former’s approach towards cutting excess government spending on top government officials has been half-hearted, the latter has not wasted any time to effect significant cuts. In short, one president has shown that he was largely unprepared for the task he so valiantly fought to be entrusted with, and it is not President Magufuli.

Now that Nigerians are stuck with a seemingly unprepared and overwhelmed government for the next four years, the hope is that the leader of this government will determine not to go down in history as a colossal failure and rapidly learn on the job. Tanzania, and how its President is leading, will make a good lesson board.