AUTHORChristine Mfanga*

March 17th 2021 will always be remembered by the Tanzanians for having gone with their beloved president, the late John Joseph Pombe Magufuli.  The beloved part was for the poor majority though, and not the middle class elites and their western masters. It’s a year now since his transition and his legacy has also remained contested between the two sides, it’s either the narratives of heartless dictator or a hero whose leadership brought freedom to the poor majority. Unlike the middle class elites and their western imperialists who have all the media, the poor people’s narrative did not receive any attention. This article tries to capture a small part of poor people’s experiences during Magufuli, which is left out of the mainstream discussions.  Nothing from the middle class elites will be reproduced here, not even under the burner of ‘balancing a story’ because the narrative is in itself offering the missing part of a balanced story.



The post independent Tanzania was confronted by the reality of many other African countries, where the majority of people continued suffering while few bureaucrats became wealth. Such sufferings created dissatisfaction among the people, who pushed the then government to adopt a pro people policy under the 1967 Arusha declaration.  Despite some shortcomings during the implementation, the Arusha declaration achieved  much in bridging the gap between the haves and the have not. Social services were freely provided by the government, and land was also distributed to people for their production activities. With the then emphasis on self reliance, the country managed to have her own industries which produced our own goods and employed our people.

We were in deed in the right direction, until colonialism manifested itself in its new face through the 1980’s Structural Adjustment Program.  Then things changed for worse, the once free services became commodities to be accessed only by those with money. The once colonizers were now given nice names like investors, but they still robed people of their land and unfairly compensated their labor. And the once flourished industries were now gawdowns for the cheap  products,  imported to flood our markets under the pretext of trade liberalization. The infamous programs ended up creating landless unemployed poor masses on one hand, and the few wealth individuals on the other.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Neo liberal policies went on unchallenged by any of the Nyerere’s successors, but they were hugely resisted by the suffering masses. With the abandonment of the Arusha declaration, two social classes got more sharpened. The upper class with their complete freedom, and the lower class with mere wishful thinking of a substantive attainment of the same. In short, the poor sections of the masses only have the freedom to have their land grabbed, and being enslaved in the investors’ plantations or mining areas. Neither the peasants nor the artisanal miners have the freedom to determine the fair compensation of their labour, being it in terms of their salaries or  prices of their produce at the market. 

For the urban poor freedom has always been shrunk to running from the security forces, to save their properties during the evictions from the city centers. It is also reduced to living in the   poorly constructed infrastructures, that flood their houses in total disregard of their safety. That’s either because they can only afford such unsafe places for residence, or their previous safe places have been purposely made unsafe for their easy eviction. Such and many other instances explain the reality of the lower class camp.  On the other hand the privileged class has their freedom of everything, including forcing their own reality to others and that’s exactly what happened with Magufuli’s legacy. Example. The famous ‘democratic’ jargons like shrinking the civic space, were rightly used but without genuineness on whose space had shrank. Everything was presented as though everyone’s freedom was equally restricted, without due regard to other people’s experiences.  Poor people’s views were either completely ignored, or “corrected” by the middle class elites who believe to have a monopoly in understanding the situation.



The late Magufuli may be the only president after Nyerere who tried to challenge neo liberal policies. His regime took some necessary measures to challenge the existing unequal relations on various fronts, and rejecting the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) in 2016 was one of the examples. That was not all; he went on challenging other exploitative contracts like the Bagamoyo port construction’s contract, and the mining extraction contracts for which the 2017 new mining laws had to be enacted. On several occasion he also criticized the exploitative loans and even called the international creditors to cancel debts owed by African countries instead of offering more loans. “African countries’ economic capacity is not the same as that of a developed countries, instead of offering more loans to fight corona, the World Bank should forgive debts to enable them to use their savings which would pay such debts to battle the pandemic” He added that Tanzania pays seven hundred billions per month most of which goes to the World Bank. So if such debts were canceled, we would have used all that money to invest in our health sector. He did not just challenge neo liberal policies but also supported various marginalized groups in their struggles against the manifestation of the same in their daily lives. However, to understand how his regime dealt with their concerns we must engage with those groups to understand their experiences.

For the past eight months, I have been seriously learning about the experiences of three different groups of the poor masses during Magufuli’s regime. This was a journey to collect alternative narratives on the legacy of Magufuli from the street vendors in Dar es salaam, artisanal miners in Geita and peasants in Kilosa Morogoro.  This moment was yet another reminder that we often refer to the marginalized groups as voiceless, while we are actually the ones with deaf ears that cannot hear their loud voices. That’s why the dominant narrative bastardized Magufuli in the name of the voiceless, but none of the narrators understood what Magufuli really meant to these people.  

There is no doubt that the most known mainstream narrative of Magufuli is dictatorship, but the street vendors share a different perspective. I must admit that conversation with this group was so touching, as they sadly recounted for the sudden changes following his death.   To them the late Magufuli was like a father who came just in time and gave their long time struggles a supporting hand. “I believe that it is God who heard our cry and decided to bring to us a visionary father, Magufuli’s existence was a great comfort to the vendors and all the poor people.” Mrs Masaganya, a vendor at Machinga complex.   This assertion however, must not be construed as though these people took him for a messiah. On the contrary, they fully acknowledge that he only added his efforts to their longtime struggles that fell on the deaf ears of the previous leaders. 

Whoever doubts that Magufuli gave people freedom, should listen to the street vendors’ experiences. Mr. Paul a long time vendor at Nyawmezi street Kariakoo, declares that the only time he understood the meaning of freedom was during Magufuli’s period. He compares  Magufuli’s regime with his two predecessors, and the only thing he remembers about the other two regimes was the miserable life he lived. He names the pre Magufuli era as the moment of brutal evictions with inhuman treatment, confiscation of their properties and unwarranted arrests. It was a moment when most vendors were not only impoverished, but also convicted without trial to either pay fines amounting to one hundred thousand shillings or imprisonment.

Paul and all the vendors I met attest to the fact that it was the late Magufuli who put an end to  those injustices. The late Magufuli clearly rejected the notion of excluding the majority from the city, and emphasized that it will never happen under his leadership. He is remembered for enabling vendors to secure specific streets for their business at Kariakoo, and attain their freedom from the rich businessmen who contributed to their previous evictions. He debunked their claims that vendors blocked those rich men’s businesses, arguing that  vendors are their main customers because they never import their merchandise from China.  

“I have never known freedom all my life as a vendor except during Magufuli’s time.” Says Mwanahamisi a vendor at Kariakoo. Most vendors acknowledge that their businesses gained stability during Magufuli’s time because they worked peacefully. That very same moment when the middle class elites cried for the decline of the cash flows, vendors remember it as the moment their capitals grew. Miss Jackline from Machinga complex says she was only a mobile food retailer, but during Magufuli she grew her capital and managed to move to the spice business at the market. Same testimonies were given by various vendors some of whom started as mobile fruit dealers, with a capital of thirty thousand which grew up to four hundred thousand and enabled them to change their businesses. Too sad that everything ended so quickly with his death, now the vendors are back to the pre Magufuli era.

On another note, lived experiences of the artisanal miners are yet another testimony of the unspoken side of Magufuli. Much as imperialists and their mouthpieces saw a ‘destruction of economy’ in the overhauling of the mining sector, the artisanal miners saw a salvation from their long term exploitation. The artisanal miners from Bukombe and Mbogwe districts of Geita region in the Northwest of Tanzania, properly relate the main changes carried out in the mining sector with their interests.  

Among other things, Magufuli supported their occupation of the mining areas left by the investors. Miners at Nyakafuru gold mine in Mbogwe district gave an account of how they occupied the area, after the investors ceased their unlicensed operations soon after he declared war on them. “We occupied this area in 2017 and continued working until few rich individuals tried to monopolize the mining pits. But later on the president himself intervened and we all continued working peacefully. Previously the investor had their guards surrounding the whole area and no one could even pick a stone around here.” Says Mr. Ibrahim an artisanal miner at Nyakafuru. Apart from occupation, there was also a reinstatement of the previously evicted miners in other several places like Mavota and others. He also directed that artisanal miners should be availed with the mining licenses, instead of being evicted whenever they discovered new areas with minerals. 

The miner’s understanding of Magufuli’s order to ban the transportation of metallic mineral concentrate, was equally impressive. While the investor’s mouthpieces mocked this move, these artisanal miners explain why that was important. “Magufuli was right to ban the transportation of the concentrate, when they remain here even the unborn baby will benefit because the poor women like us will continue smelting and earn our living. But when they live the country, only the investors will benefit while we continue dying poor. ”Miss. Sophia Zacharia, an artisanal miner at Nyakafuru gold mine. It should be remembered that one of the issues that led to a tug of war between the giant mining corporations and Magufuli’s regime, was his banning of the transportation of the such mineral concentrates in August 2016. Such concentrates were being transported to Europe and elsewhere, with their quantity and value under-declared. The banning was accompanied by seizing of more than 250 containers of the same, and the creation of investigating committees which confirmed that the companies were robbing the country by evading taxes. Magufuli ordered them to pay their dues, and insisted that all the smelting has to be done in the country. Although the middle class elites joined the investors to attack him for that decision, these artisanal miners hold that it was a patriotic move necessary them and the country at large.

Mr. Emanuel also applauds Magufuli’s efforts to construct refineries and markets near the mining areas. According to him the nearby markets saved them from exploitative brokers, and refineries will not only add value but also assist in their transition from the dangerous processing technology.  This reminds us that apart from the biggest refinery in Mwanza, under his regime the state mining cooperation (STAMICO) was tasked to oversee the construction of  three smelting centers at Katente in Bukombe, Lwamgasa in Geita and Itumbi in Chunya districts. As of April 2020 two of the centers at Katente and Lwamgasa  were completed, while the last one got completed on October of the same year. Constructed in the districts with many artisanal miners, the plants are meant to provide an easy access to the smelting services as well as technological trainings.   

“Magufuli was decisive and quick in action whenever it came to solving poor people’s problems” says  Mrs Hadija Juma an artisanal miner at Katente, who claims that she saw his intentions to improve their  conditions after they got exempted from the 18% VAT and  the withholding tax of 5%. Thanks to his meeting with the artisanal miners and other stakeholders, where he immediately ordered the ministries responsible to resolve their challenges.

It should be noted that one of the main changes carried out in this sector was the enactment of the  2017 mining laws, ( the Written laws(Miscellaneous Amendments)Act, the Natural Wealth and Resources (Permanent Sovereignty)Act,  and the Natural Wealth and Resources Contracts (Review and Renegotiation of conscionable Terms)Act, 2017) which primarily aimed at safeguarding the county’s natural resources for the benefit of its citizens. Although that didn’t seat well with investors and their supporters, the artisanal and small scale miners found refuge in every change that came with it. Their only wish is to continue working in their areas free from the interference of the foreign investors, who they consider enemies of the artisanal miners development. 

Peasants also share similar sentiments about investors. While in Kilosa district within Morogoro which is one of the coastal regions with a lot of land conflicts, the said peasants narrated how Magufuli provided hopes for their land struggles. They remember him for not only revoking the title deeds of the investors, but also banning a number of peasants and pastoralists evictions in different places.   Mr. Mluba a resident of Mambegwa village has this to say. “I can confidently say that the late Magufuli had the ability to quickly understand the poor people’s problems and resolve them”. Mluba is among the peasants who had plots of land redistributed to them, after the investor’s title deeds were revoked.  Although the redistribution of all the farms which had their titles revoked was not complete, these peasants had very high hopes for the same had Magufuli been alive. “If only Magufuli was alive today, the farms would have been redistributed to us because that’s what he wanted.” Says Mrs Selemani, a peasant of  Mvumi village.  

Aside from revoking the investor’s titles, his regime also stopped the removal of 366 villages, which were said to be in the reserve areas. In his meeting with the ministers responsible, he ordered them to initiate the legal process for the recognition of such villages instead of evicting the villagers. He equally directed the minister responsible for tourism to identify parts of the game reserve areas, which were no longer used to be distributed to peasants and pastoralists who are struggling for land. “I am not happy to see pastoralists being evicted everywhere. If there is an area which was a game reserve and is no longer used, we should change the law and have that land distributed to the pastoralists and peasants as well.” Magufuli in 2019. There are so many other places like Amboni, Mabwepande, Kibiti and others where evictions were stopped. No doubt that land grabbing is a systemic problem that could not have been resolved in a short period. However; his bold stance on the poor majority’s interests clearly showed that concerns over their land rights were now taken seriously. Thanks to him and the then Secretary general of the ruling party, Dr. Bashiru whose efforts are also recognized by these people, all the land conflicts that ended on their table were resolved in favor of the poor majority.   

 Mrs Ngombolwa also a resident of Mambegwa cries with the inflation as she compares the current situation with Magufuli’s time.  “As poor peasants we can hardly make any step with the inflations in the farm inputs, the bag of urea that was sold at fifty thousand during Magufuli’s era, is currently sold at one hundred thousand shillings.” Says Ngombolwa.  One of the important things done by the late Magufuli’s regime was controlling inflation, and this happened in the farm’s input too. In order to ensure that farmers easily access fertilizers and have it at an affordable price, his regime introduced a new fertilizer bulk system (PBS). That was enabled by the introduction of the Fertilizer (Bulk Procurement) Regulations GN 49 of 2017, which mandated the Tanzania Fertilizer Regulatory Authority (TFRA) to coordinate the importation of fertilizers, indicate prices for the same and ensure its availability. It did not take long before the new regime abolished the system and decontrolled the importation. On July 2021 the minister responsible for agriculture claimed that the system did not satisfy the supply needs, and suspended the indicative price in the name of competition. It did not take long though, before they were slammed by such a reckless decision just few months later. When the uncontrolled dealers seized the opportunity, fertilizer’s prices hiked up sharply and almost tripled the previous prices. The ministry had no choice but to reinstate the bulk system on this March, while admitting that suspending the regulation led to an unacceptable inflation.   

No doubt that the late Magufuli’s decisions prioritized the majority’s interests, and his   intentions to make us a sovereign state were genuine in his words and actions. He perfectly understood Sankara’s words that he who feeds you controls you, and never wanted us to be fed by our masters. By banning the researches on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), Magufuli  proved that he fought for our food sovereignty as much as he did with the energy sovereignty and the sovereignty over our natural resources. 



“This nation belongs to all of us, those of us aged from 60 and above are not building it for ourselves but for the younger generation and those after them. We should then create an environment where our people will stop being slaves” The late Magufuli on 10th December 2018.  

 In deed the poor majority honor the legacy of a man who never thought of them as second class citizens.  The president who would never treat the street vendors as trash to be cleaned from the cities, or think of the peasants and artisanal miners as a nuisance to the investors. To these poor people, this was a sense of social justice they craved from a leader for many years.  

However, his efforts and bold stance on the sovereignty of our country and protection of our resources was for all the people. That’s why his spirit deserves an apology from every selfish individual who attacked even this part of him. In the name of the “voiceless”, these selfish individuals turned Magufuli into an object of scorn, while defending the plunderers of our resources. Now that their class interests are on board, they care less about the ongoing oppression of the vendors and other poor people. This explains that their criticisms on Magufuli had nothing to do with poor people’s agenda, but the pursuit of their selfish interests. It was just a usual western backed project, to tarnish Magufuli’s image in the name of those he cared the most.  For that, his spirit deserves an apology.

For dubbing him a Covid 19 denier and later on take his stance on the same, it is clear that the western and their mouthpieces owe him an apology. They may not admit that he was ahead of time, but swallowing their own words says it all.  As for these poor people; their narrative is a clear message that the west will not chose for us our heroes, because their puppets do not deserve our respect. That our heroes may not be perfect but we will criticize them by our own standards, and honor every effort they made to challenge the imperialist establishment. The late Magufuli was no saint but despite his many contradictions, this unspoken side speaks volume about his role in the poor people’s lives and protection of our resources. That’s why to this day the late Magufuli remains their chosen hero, and the imperialist’s worst nightmare due to his resource nationalist stance. May his bold and daring spirit join the ancestors and continue working through those he left.



*The author is a grassroot organizer working with the Tanzania Socialist Forum and Manzese Working Women Cooperative