Dar es Salaam. A book launched here on Friday examines the legacy of former leader John Magufuli, looking specifically at the late president’s attempts to develop his hometown of Chato, a town in northwestern Tanzania, a decision that authors claim raised many questions.
Titled I AM THE STATE, A President’s Whisper From Chato, the book is a joint effort by veteran Tanzanian journalists – Ansbert Ngurumo, Jesse Kwayu, Neville Meena, and Absalom Kibanda – to document Magufuli’s legacy for posterity.
Magufuli, the fifth-phase president of Tanzania, died on March 17, 2021, leaving behind a contested legacy. While some extol him as an anti-corruption tsar, others have criticised him for overseeing a dictatorial regime that violated fundamental human rights.
Edited by veteran journalist and trainer Ndimara Tegambwage, the book contains six chapters by different authors which examine Magufuli’s legacy from various perspectives by detailing what happened during his five-year administration, 2015-2021.
Bishop Benson Bagonza of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT), Karagwe Diocese, was the guest of honour during a function to launch the 75-page book at the Peacock Hotel in Dar es Salaam.
Senior journalists and editors, CHADEMA national chairperson Freeman Mbowe, and Secretary of the Council of Islamic Organisations in Tanzania, Sheikh Issa Ponda, were among many other dignitaries that blessed the event.
Speaking shortly before launching the book, Bagonza applauded the journalists for their initiative, noting that the book serves as a reminder of the importance of Tanzania in evaluating itself as a nation.
Bagonza, a constant commentator on the country’s affairs, noted that any country needs people, no matter their number, who are brave enough to present the public with alternative information amidst emotional celebratory and congratulatory mood.
“This book demands us to stop congratulating each other and discuss complex issues for the future of our country,” Bagonza said in his speech.
“We must remember that Tanzanians never elected angels to be their leaders,” the cleric said. “They elected fallible people. Evaluating ourselves is an important element in the process of governing ourselves.”
READ MORE: On Lionising and Demonising Magufuli
He said the book details how it was normal under the previous administration to spend taxpayers’ money outside of the budget approved by the parliament, a decision he described as a “blow” to the lawmaking body.
“[The book] is part of the movement to demand the establishment of strong check and balance institutions capable of holding our leaders to account when they knowingly violate the country’s laws,” Bagonza explained.
On his part, Mr Mbowe congratulated the journalists for writing the book, something he thinks breaks the tradition of typical Tanzanian journalists.
According to Mr Mbowe, journalists in the country are not implementing their role to inform the public effectively, noting that that has to change if Tanzania is to register any positive developments.
He pointed to the recent revelations by the Controller and Auditor General (CAG) on the massive corruption and misuse of public funds within the government as an example, thinking that the media are yet to inform the public of the gravity of the situation.
“If journalists are bitter about this level of corruption, they’re better placed to shape this nation’s future,” Mr Mbowe told journalists.
Speaking about the book, one of the authors, Kibanda, said the book seeks to attack no one, explaining that they were moved to write it to fulfil their social responsibility as journalists.
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Kibanda said that as journalists, they observed how Mr Magufuli was determined to develop his hometown of Chato, which not only exposed the late president as brave, creative, and daring but also self-centred and tribalistic.
“We saw with our own eyes how developments were directed to Chato: banks, an international airport, and even wild animals,” Kibanda said. “Some critics even started changing Chato’s name to Gbadolite.”
Gbadolite was the ancestral home and residence of Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where he built an airport, colleges, malls, supermarkets and libraries in a program of modernisation.
“Our book looks at the status of many of these projects invested in Chato during the previous administration,” Kibanda said. “We reveal how and why these projects came into existence and what remains of them now.”
“We are not doing this to reopen old wounds,” Kibanda cautioned. “No, we are doing this as part of the process to build a strong foundation for the future of our country.”
The book is available at bookstores across the country and sells at Sh15,000. It is available in English, but its authors said its Kiswahili translation is in the offing.