Start by containing President John Magufuli
THE white beach of Dar es Salaam may seem enticing. Yet the bodies that have washed up on it, almost in sight of the city’s glistening offices and hotels, are a sign of Tanzania’s sickening lurch to despotism. Opposition politicians are being shot; activists and journalists are disappearing.
Until recently Tanzania’s political stability drew investors and donors, spurring one of the fastest sustained streaks of economic growth in Africa. But John Magufuli, an authoritarian and erratic president in his third year in office, threatens to undo much that Tanzania has achieved over the past few decades. The rest of Africa, and the world, should not keep quiet.
The Teacher’s flawed lessons
Tanzania matters, in part because of the aura of the late Julius Nyerere, its first prime minister, as a founding father of post-colonial Africa (he is still affectionately known as Mwalimu or “Teacher”). Like many other leaders of the time, he was an autocrat, instituting one-party rule on the ground that democracy was “an over-sophisticated pastime which we in Africa cannot afford”. He impoverished a generation through his “African socialism”. He nationalised companies and forced millions onto collective farms, burning their homes to stop them returning. The result was hunger and economic chaos.
Even so, he sought to unite his country in a region where many clung to power by stoking tribal tensions. He was, in general, less repressive than many of his peers. And by sending his troops into Uganda, he got rid of Idi Amin, one of the world’s nastiest dictators. More recently, with the restoration of multiparty democracy in 1994, Tanzania has been the darling of investors. Its output has grown on average by about 6.5% a year for the past decade. It has attracted foreign direct investment worth an average of 4% of GDP each year. Tanzanians are now about twice as rich as they were in 1990.
Yet this progress is imperilled by Mr Magufuli, who is transforming a stable, if flawed, democracy into a brutal dictatorship (see article). Officials have taken to making arbitrary demands for taxes. Businesses are shutting, exports are slumping, investors are fleeing and economic growth is forecast to slow.
Outsiders have been shamefully mealy-mouthed. Africa is almost silent. America and the European Union recently expressed concern about political violence, but did not criticise the government directly. Nor did they threaten to take action if the repression continues. Some diplomats argue that a part-suspension of American aid in 2016 was ineffective. Aid officials worry that further cuts would hurt mainly the poor.
They could and should be more forceful. Three years ago European countries temporarily withheld about $500m over corruption. The government soon fired and charged officials who were implicated. Tanzania is Africa’s third-largest recipient of Western aid (and the largest per person); 10-15% of its revenues come from Western countries as fungible “budget support”. Multilateral donors are still tripping over one another to give it cheap loans and grants. The World Bank, for instance, has increased its allocation to Tanzania by $500m, to $2.4bn.
For Western donors to look away as Tanzania descends into oppression would be to discard much of its progress in recent decades. Most of all, Tanzania’s neighbours need to act. Failing to stand up for the rule of law is to encourage other would-be despots to do their worst.