Letter from Africa: Tanzania's new wine gets to work

Tanzania's new President John Pombe Magufuli holds up a ceremonial spear and shield to signify the beginning of his presidency, shortly after swearing an oath during his inauguration ceremony at Uhuru Stadium in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015 Image copyright AP
Image caption President John Pombe Magufuli was sworn in after winning 58% of the vote in October's election

As Tanzania's new president John Pombe Magufuli settles into the job, journalist Joseph Warungu, who has reported from Tanzania on and off since 1993, has this unsolicited personal advice for the new CEO of the country.

Your Excellency, greetings from Dar es Salaam!

Your name, Pombe, in Kiswahili means alcohol.

And I recall that in one of your public rallies you said if people found Pombe a little difficult, they could simply call you Wine.

I'd like to speak some truth to that Wine.

Scientists say red wine has some health benefits - you will definitely need to do a lot of healing in Tanzania.

Your first assignment must be Zanzibar.

The uncertainty surrounding the cancellation of the election in Zanzibar creates a dangerous political vacuum.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The election result for Tanzania's semi-autonomous Zanzibar archipelago was annulled

The opposition Civic United Front (CUF) party in Zanzibar, and the many people who support it, believe they won the election.

But the Zanzibar Electoral Commission maintains the vote was not valid because it did not meet the threshold for a free and fair election.

CUF has in the past argued that Zanzibar does not reap the full benefits of its union with the mainland.

Many conservative leaders within your own governing CCM party are therefore fearful that a CUF victory could mean a break-up of that union.

If that were to happen, the implications would be far-reaching.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption President Magufuli has promised the voters that he will be a man of action

The situation now seems to be a choice between national unity and electoral democracy.

As the union president, you will need to show bold leadership and actively engage with the Zanzibar crisis to find an urgent solution before the country begins to bleed.

After that, you must turn your attention to healing the nation as a whole.

Like any fiercely contested poll anywhere, last month's election has left deep political scars in Tanzania.

Out of the roughly 15 million people who voted, more than half (58% ) said yes to you while over 6 million (42% ) rejected you.

Joseph Warungu:

Image copyright BBC Sema Kenya

"President Magufuli, you will need to persuade the Tanzanians who did not vote for you to trust you - to bury their bitter rivalry and rally behind you."

Five challenges for Tanzania's new president

John Magufuli in profile

And then there are the other 7.5 million Tanzanians who decided to remain silent.

They registered but never voted.

You will need to persuade all these Tanzanians to trust you - to bury their bitter rivalry and rally behind you.

When you are done with that, the headaches of your own governing CCM party await you.

You will require a united party of committed members to drive the nation forward.

During the campaign you yourself expressed your frustration over hypocrites inside CCM whom you said were "with you during the day but at night they cross over to the opposition".

Tanzanians are waiting to see if you will have the courage to face up to the harsh voices that stifle reform and fair play within the party - the kind of voices that forced Edward Lowassa to desert CCM and fight you from the safety of the Chadema opposition party.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption CCM supporters celebrated Mr Magufuli's win, but he has to make sure the party leadership backs him

Some of these influential voices belong to people in very senior positions.

You are currently not the national chair of CCM party, yet you will need the clout that comes from that position to reach those powerful people and pull them by the ear.

As you get busy reforming CCM, you must also restore some discipline in all sectors of public life in Tanzania.

The previous regime had a very relaxed approach to life.

Punctuality was a word to be found only in the dictionary and bureaucracy seemed to be enshrined in the constitution.

The previous president spent quite a lot of time on foreign trips, leaving his 46 million children unattended.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Magufuli has begun his presidency by making surprise visits to government departments

But most critically, high-level corruption has nearly milked government accounts dry.

The first steps you took when you got the keys to State House have been quite encouraging.

Walking to the Ministry of Finance offices unannounced sent a strong message that you will keep a close eye on public money and public service.

Some of the absentee civil servants, who had left their jackets hanging over their empty chairs when you paid a visit, have caught a sudden terrible bout of political malaria.

They are still sweating and shivering and regretting their absence.

You made a lot of promises on the campaign platform including revamping the transport infrastructure and health delivery.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption President Magufuli promised during the campaign to improve the country's transport and health infrastructure

These commitments will require serious money.

So you will need to raise it quickly by increasing government revenue and by sealing the leaking holes.

You will again need to confront the rich and the powerful who are the biggest tax evaders, while also easing the taxation burden on the small informal businesses that are frequently harassed by the authorities.

Your in-tray is certainly overflowing.

But this should not be a concern because you fought the election on a platform of service delivery.

Your campaign slogan was "hapa ni kazi", which roughly translates into "we mean business".

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Tanzanians are wondering what this new presidential wine will taste like

However, the one wild animal that Tanzanians are desperate for you to hunt down is corruption.

You will need nerves of steel and staying power to take tough action on those who treat government finances like personal ATM machines.

Very few African presidents have ever succeeded in curing this global illness.

If you do, then you will definitely deserve a large glass of wine and a collective cheer from the people of Tanzania.

Mr President, you said we can call you wine, now we just need to taste and see how vibrant, mature and refreshing this wine truly is.

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