Paper short abstract:
This paper draws on recent debates on populism and fieldwork in 2018 to examine how the rule of John Magufuli exhibits populist characteristics. I will argue that Magufuli's Tanzanian populism, in a weak democracy with centralized tendencies, has resulted in a sharp turn towards authoritarianism.
Paper long abstract:
In 2015, John Magufuli came to power in Tanzania, running on a platform of ending corruption and improving governance. Magufuli was initially popular, with a reputation as an incorruptible outsider who could disrupt corrupt Tanzanian elites.
This popularity did not last long. Magufuli's rule began to exhibit many aspects common to populist rulers: blaming foreigners for exploiting the country to promote an exclusionary nationalism; emphasizing his humble origins to distract from a drive for centralized control; acting as a defender of the people against foreign and domestic elites to justify a crackdown on political enemies and journalists; and, adhering to a conservative moral code which, in Magufuli's case, is focused on misogyny and homophobia.
Through an exploration of the above aspects of John Magufuli's presidency, and using some interviews from fieldwork in 2018, I will argue that his rule follows patterns similar to populists such as Donald Trump or Hugo Chavez while also displaying characteristics unique to Tanzania. I will also argue that, while some scholars (Cheeseman, Casal Bertoa, Storm and Dodsworth 2018) see populism as an opportunity, in Tanzania, Magufuli's populism brings out centralizing, authoritarian and anti-human rights tendencies. In a country with one dominant party since independence, Magufuli uses populist appeals to exploit a history of centralized control and vest power in himself. The result for Tanzanians is a reversal in progress towards a free and fair society. As with other populist leaders, Magufuli identifies and speaks for the common man while doing little to improve their lot.
Populism and democracy in Africa [CRG African Politics and International Relations]