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Questions of greater social equity and sustainable development, more stringent governance and controls over globalisation widely discussed in a world looking to emerge from coronavirus are all ideas that President John Magufuli has worked into Tanzania’s policy mix since taking office in November 2015. Magufuli has built up popular support with his assaults on international capital, donor interference and even Beijing and the burden of Chinese debt. However, Tanzania’s experience suggests that good ideas do not make for good policy if they are wrongly implemented. There are strong arguments that Tanzania should earn more from its resources, both in revenues from companies and by using energy and minerals to create a more industrialised economy, but some of Magufuli’s methods have mired existing investors in conflict and chased away potential incomers. Only the lawyers seem happy.

Criticism is growing of Magufuli’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, where he is accused of retreating to his home village while playing down the threat. Three members of parliament are suspected of having died from the disease. 
Magufuli appeals to a support base at home and among radicals in Africa and the West, who have applauded his sometimes violent crackdowns on tax evasion and graft – especially if those in his sights are mining, energy and other multinational companies. Efforts to obtain a much bigger take from resources revenues have so far produced spotty results, but they have popular appeal (AE 392/20, 350/1).

Critics say The Bulldozer’s boosters ignore a poor human rights record and economic policies that have sent investors heading for the exit. Key donors have been alienated by the arrests of journalists, Magufuli’s sometimes ugly populism (attacking pregnant schoolgirls and other soft targets) and political manipulation. The ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) polled 99% after most opposition candidates were disqualified from local elections last November. Despite some progress against graft, political cronies may still make extravagant demands.An infrastructure developer told African Energy how senior security officers arranged a meeting in Dubai to elicit huge commission payments; he made his excuses and left.

The majority of Tanzania’s near 60m population struggle to get by, but Magufuli’s confrontational nation-first approach has popular appeal (AE 368/21). His preference for African models of development could set precedents for a continent watching Asia and the West founder under the weight of Covid-19.The controversial $3bn Julius Nyerere hydropower project at Stiegler’s Gorge is named after the founding president, whose 1960s ujamaa (‘familyhood’ in Swahili) experiment in national development and resistance to imperialism still resonate through Tanzania’s political culture.

The outlook is not easy. An early March IMF Article IV mission reported 6% pre-coronavirus GDP growth, which suggested a buoyant economy, but projects have stalled – wind and solar tenders issued in 2018 have gone nowhere. According to the World Bank, the poverty rate has declined but the absolute number of poor citizens is growing due to accelerated population growth. The IMF emphasised the need for reforms to the business environment, while Magufuli focuses on grandiose industrialisation ambitions which will require much more power – hence his enthusiasm for the 2,115MW Stiegler’s Gorge development, which many analysts argue Tanzania neither needs nor can afford (AE 413/8).

Elections are due in October and Magufuli is expected to win a second five-year term. While there are fears he could try to stay on after 2025, any such move is likely to face opposition from within the CCM hierarchy. The CCM and its leader will probably win significant majorities in October, as The Bulldozer’s support base persists. But bulldozers can destroy as well as create and, in Tanzania, the trajectory could be either way.