Tanzania’s late president in his own words

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A Tanzanian newspaper with the headline "Majonzi", meaning "Grief" in Swahili - Thursday 18 March 2021

A Tanzanian newspaper with the headline “Majonzi”, meaning “Grief” in Swahili – Thursday 18 March 2021

Tanzania’s controversial President John Magufuli has died aged 61. The son of a subsistence farmer, he rose to become president in 2015 and was praised for his no-nonsense approach.

Known as “The Bulldozer”, he went on to gain international notoriety for his reaction to the coronavirus pandemic.

Here are some of his views, in his own words.

Short presentational grey line

Short presentational grey line

On coronavirus:

“I want to thank Tanzanians of all faiths. We have been praying and fasting for God to save us from the pandemic that has afflicted our country and the world. But God has answered us. I believe, and I’m certain that many Tanzanians believe, that the corona disease has been eliminated by God,” he told worshippers in a church in the capital, Dodoma, in June 2020.

“We need to be careful because some of these donations to fight coronavirus could be used to transmit the virus. I want to urge you Tanzanians not to accept donations of masks, instead tell the donors to go and use them with their wives and children,” he added.

Tanzanian opposition politician Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad (L) by tapping his feet against theirs to avoid themselves from coronavirus in Zanzibar, Tanzania on March 03, 2020.

Last March Magufuli (R) greeted Seif Sharif Hamad, who became Zanzibar’s vice-president, with a foot tap. Both have since died

A devote Catholic, he has made many comments about the virus at church services.

Last March he said: “Coronavirus, which is a devil, cannot survive in the body of Christ… It will burn instantly.”

Two months later at mass in his hometown of Chato, he said:

“We have had a number of viral diseases, including Aids and measles. Our economy must come first. It must not sleep… Life must go on… Countries [elsewhere] in Africa will be coming here to buy food in the years to come… they will be suffering because of shutting down their economy.”

At the funeral of a top presidential aide on 19 February – and following the death of Zanzibar’s vice-president from Covid-19 earlier in the month – he urged Tanzanians not to panic.

“It is possible this is another test but with God we will win. Let’s not scare each other because we will not overcome… God cannot forsake this nation.”

On lockdown

“Our founding father was not someone to be directed to be told what to do… Those who devise these kinds of rules [lockdown] are used to making these directives that our founding father refused,” Magufuli said, referring to Tanzania’s first leader Julius Nyerere’s habit of rejecting advice from Western nations.

On coronavirus tests

He questioned the efficacy of Covid tests in May, the last time the country published data on coronavirus cases and deaths.

After sending various animals and fruit to be checked for the virus – he said a papaya, a quail and a goat had all tested positive.

“So many times, I have insisted that not everything that you are given is good. There could be people being used, that equipment could be used… but it could also be sabotage because this is warfare.”

On Covid vaccines

“The Ministry of Health should be careful, they should not hurry to try these vaccines without doing research, not every vaccine is important to us, we should be careful. We should not be used as ‘guinea pigs’,” Mr Magufuli said in January.

“Vaccinations are dangerous. If the white man was able to come up with vaccinations, he should have found a vaccination for Aids, cancer and TB by now.”

On corruption

“The way to treat a boil is to squeeze it out, and I have made it my responsibility to do that. I know squeezing out a boil hurts but unfortunately there are no two ways about it,” Mr Magufuli told MPs after his election in 2015, about his drive to root out corruption and lazy workers.

Nearly two years later, after sacking about 10,000 civil servants for having fake education certificates, he said: “These people occupied government positions but had no qualifications… they robbed us just like other common criminals.”

On pregnant schoolgirls

“As long as I am president… no pregnant student will be allowed to return to school… After getting pregnant, you are done,” he said in June 2017, adding that young mothers would be distracted.

“After calculating some few mathematics, she’d be asking the teacher in the classroom: ‘Let me go out and breastfeed my crying baby.'”

On population growth

President Magufuli urged Tanzanian women to set their “ovaries free” and have more children.

“When you have a big population you build the economy. That’s why China’s economy is so huge,” Reuters quoted him as saying in June 2019.

“I know that those who like to block ovaries will complain about my remarks. Set your ovaries free, let them block theirs.”

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On leadership

“I want you Tanzanians to believe that you have a real president, a real rock. I cannot be threatened and I am not threatened,” Mr Magufuli said in March 2018.

On censorship

“I would like to tell media owners – be careful, watch it. If you think you have that kind of freedom, [it is] not to that extent,” he said in 2017, reminding journalists of the new laws and a new code of conduct overseen by the information ministry.

On his upbringing

“Our home was grass-thatched, and like many boys I was assigned to herd cattle, as well as selling milk and fish to support my family,” he said during his 2015 election campaign.

“I know what it means to be poor. I will strive to help improve people’s welfare.”

On his legacy

“One day you will remember me… I know one day you will remember me, not for bad things but for the good deeds… because I have sacrificed my life for the poor in Tanzania,” he said in a video which resurfaced after his death.



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