Missionaries in Tanzania Express Mixed Reactions to President Magufuli’s Reelection

Tanzania's President John Pombe Magufuli.

Missionaries serving in Tanzania have expressed both gratitude and fear following the October 28 reelection of President John Pombe Magufuli, a Catholic, for a second term.

President Magufuli “stood out for his commitment to building infrastructure,” the missionaries say a Wednesday, November 11 report making reference to the President’s first term in office.

They explain, “Thanks to the help of China, a historic ally of Tanzania, roads and railways were built, internal and international connections have improved. There is no comparison with the past.”

The missionaries also express their appreciation for the President Magufuli because of his track record in reforming the country’s education sector.

“We can only praise the commitment of the government. It reorganized the teaching staff by choosing the most qualified teachers and offering training to the least trained,” the missionaries say in the November 11 report, which Agenzia Fides, the information service of the Vatican's Propaganda Fide, published.


They add referencing President Magufuli’s government, “It also insisted on the fact that all children must have at least a basic education. The measures affected the entire national territory. It is a very important step forward.”

That the 61-year-old President who is Tanzania’s fifth Head of State has “relentlessly” fought corruption in the country is another reason for the missionaries’ gratitude.

In the November 11 report, the missionaries say that President Maguguli “has launched severe policies that have drastically reduced the (corruption) phenomenon throughout the country and at all levels.”

Meanwhile, the missionaries in Tanzania have expressed reservations about Magufuli’s presidency explaining, "What scares us is this president's style of action; a tough, decisive style, at times dictatorial.”

"Anyone who criticizes the president runs the risk of being stopped by the police and ending up in prison. Opposition politicians, journalists, members of non-governmental organizations disappeared during the elections,” the missionaries recount.

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Democratic principles are in question, they further note and add, “The President himself is trying to break the two-term limitation in order to run for the third time.”

According to Amnesty International, a UK-based non-governmental organization monitoring human rights across the world, in 2019 Tanzanian authorities “severely restricted the rights to freedom of expression and association, and targeted journalists, human rights defenders and political opposition members.”

“Repressive legislation with broad provisions gave authorities sweeping powers to silence critics and stop media outlets, NGOs and political parties from operating,” officials of the London-based entity add.

The leadership of Amnesty International further notes that in 2019, Tanzanian authorities “continued to arrest and prosecute government critics on trumped-up charges. Amnesty International documented cases of five journalists and two human rights defenders (HRDs) arrested.”

In the run-up to the October 28 elections, Human Rights Watch (HRW) officials note that Tanzanian authorities “stepped up repression of opposition parties, nongovernmental organizations, and the media.”


On November 9, Tanzanian politician Gobless Lema fled by road to Kenya with his family seeking asylum, escaping what he termed as threats to his life. The politician had been among individuals arrested following the October 28 elections; he was later released on police bond without a charge.

Meanwhile, Tanzania's opposition leader and President Magufuli’s main challenger during the polls, Tundu Lissu has reportedly sought asylum at the German embassy in Tanzania over what he said are threats to his life.

In Tanzania, the missionaries say, “there is no mention of the COVID-19 emergency or the threats posed by jihadists in the Southern districts. The President assures that these dangers are being addressed, but there is no public debate on them.”

“Tanzanians are forced to trust the President and many do, relying entirely on Magufuli and his policies,” the missionaries say in conclusion.

Elected for a first term in 2015 under Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), the ruling party since the country’s independence in 1961, President Magufuli became a favorite of many in the country and beyond for his no-nonsense approach to handling corrupt individuals. He trended under the hashtag #WhatWouldMagufuliDo.

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However, the President’s star started dim when the international community started calling out his presidency for a deteriorating human rights record characterized by crackdown on critics, gagging of media and arbitrary arrests and detentions.