The John Pombe Magufuli I knew

Today we have a Guest Columnist in the person of my friend, H. E. The Rt. Hon. Raila Odinga, of Kenya.


I first met Dr Magufuli at an international conference on infrastructure in Durban, South Africa, some time in 2003.

I had just assumed office as (Kenyan) Minister for Roads, Public Works and Housing in the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) government of President Mwai Kibaki. By that time, Dr Magufuli had held a similar portfolio for some time in Tanzania. At the ministry, I discovered that I had inherited a bigger problem than I had imagined. The ministry was mired in massive corruption.

Contractors were demanding pay—and getting paid—for works they had not done, or those done way below specifications. Nearly the entire ministry budget was being used to clear pending bills that kept rising. The ministry was neither constructing any new roads nor maintaining the existing ones.

It is in that context that I attended the Durban conference. I wanted to share my experiences, learn from fellow ministers and other experts and, hopefully, also attract some funding for the massive infrastructure that Kenya needed when we took over.

Magufuli took immense interest in my presentation. The two of us had lengthy discussions on the sidelines of the conference. He disclosed that the problems I had mentioned were the same ones he encountered when he took over at Roads and Public Works in Tanzania. He offered to share his experiences in dealing with the vices of corruption and cowboy contractors and driving them out of town.

For a start, he advised that I look into two areas: procurement and designing and tendering processes. From his experiences in Dar es Salaam, he had ring-fenced these areas as the hideouts for corruption and conduits for loss of government funds. His advice was that I needed to shorten the procurement process, which are usually long-winding just to facilitate corruption. He also advised that we adopt a system of designing and building roads at the same time as opposed to designing the entire road first, then tendering and then constructing….That way, we would get quality roads faster and at cheaper prices.

Before the conference ended, Dr Magufuli asked me to get my engineers at the ministry for a meeting with his engineers in Dar-es-Salaam so that they could exchange ideas on how to deliver quality infrastructure at value-for-money costs. I immediately instructed my Permanent Secretary Erastus Mwongera to assemble our team.

Our friendship bloomed. We became advisers to each other and partners in the war on corruption and cowboy contractors in the roads sector.

In Dar es Salaam, we had extremely exciting discussions on simple, fast and efficient ways to deliver infrastructure. Magufuli invited me to accompany him on a tour of Mwanza where he was to launch construction of hospitals and roads. It was during this trip that he named a road after me; Raila Odinga Road in Mwanza. He hosted us at his homein Chato.

I also invited him to visit us in Kisumu and Bondo. As we got down to work here in Kenya, we identified the Meru-Maua Highway as one of the key roads that needed immediate and massive renovation. I invited Dr Magufuli to launch the reconstruction of this road, which he did. I also instructed the ministry to name the road after him.

As Prime Minister in the Grand Coalition Government, I visited him with a delegation that comprised Senator James Orengo and Governors Sospeter Oja and Joseph at Nanok, among others. On this trip, I launched the construction of the University of Mwanza.

As we prepared for 2012 elections, Dr Magufuli defied protocols and stood with us, physically attending our party’s National Delegates Conference where I was handed the party’s ticket to run for president. By this time, we had become consultants for each other. We were available for each other whenever either of us needed assistance or advice.

When Dr Magufuli declared his interest in the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) ticket for the presidency in 2015, I took keen interest because his contest was my contest, just as mine had been his. We got deeply involved and we were excited when he won.

He invited me to Dar almost immediately after his inauguration. During that visit, he confessed to me that he knew how to run ministries but needed advice on how to run a government. I advised my friend that, for a start, he should look no farther than the revenue and procurement officers at all levels of government. I told him that in most cases, those officers were the ones driving the latest car models, building classic apartments in cities and putting up castles in rural areas despite lower salaries. He needed to subject them to lifestyle audit, retire or even jail the incorrigibly corrupt.

He listened. In some cases, he personally walked into offices to see how work was being done. Soon, Tanzania’s revenue doubled, then trebled. The new president suddenly had money to build roads, ports, hospitals and railways without relying on donors.

The President developed very keen interest on what happened to Kenya’s standard gauge railway in terms of its cost. He was determined to avoid the pitfalls. That is how he constructed Tanzania’s SGR four years later at a much lower cost than ours. President Magufuli was a very independent-minded person.

During his tenure, people developed this belief that he would always listen to me. While we did exchange views and agreed on many things, it is not true that he agreed with every suggestion I made. When he disagreed, he did so firmly, no matter who he was disagreeing with. Ideologically, he was a populist and a social democrat. He allowed the private sector to grow, but under very watchful eyes of the State. He felt that the private sector, if not watched, could be overbearing, especially to the lowly in society.

Magufuli was an avowed enemy of corruption. That, in my view, was his most outstanding trait. He could not stand the idea of public officials using public resources for their own benefit. If you hated corruption, you were where his friend and confidante; if you were corrupt, you were his enemy.

He was determined to put Tanzania ahead in the region and Africa through industrialisation. In that endeavour, he saw Kenya as the stumbling block, hence his sometimes-hostile stand against Kenya. We had a discussion on this, too, my position being that industrialised countries in Europe and Asia, for instance, co-exist and we could do the same here. He was not convinced.

Outside Tanzania, his other business was Africa. He had little interest in other continents. Even in Africa, he was selective with his visits. I remember he visited Kenya, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and DRC. Tanzania was his first and last love.

Dr Magufuli was a CCM ideologue who grew through the ranks of the party and embraced Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere’s ideals on patriotism, self-reliance and pan-Africanism. In many ways, he went even farther than Mwalimu. While Nyerere embraced internationalism and had a broader view of the world and Tanzania’s place in it, Magufuli was a super-nationalist with little regard for the rest of the world. He was resoundingly successful in transforming Tanzania in just six years.

Magufuli believed that success comes from hard work. In Tanzania today, people report to offices very early, unlike in the past. And they do not just sit there; they work. I hope his successor, President Samia Suluhu, builds on this tradition that is good for Tanzania and Africa.


  • (H. E. The Rt. Hon. Raila Odinga, is a Kenyan businessman and politician and son of the illustrious statesman Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. Raila is a former Prime Minister of Kenya and Chairman of the main opposition party, Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). He is currently the African Union High Representative for Infrastructure Development).


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