In November 2015 when John Pombe Magufuli took over as President of the United Republic of Tanzania, he suspended all foreign travel by public officials and significantly chopped public spending.
All focus was on this educationist who is obsessed with figures and statistics – he literally knows every statistics that his eyes have glanced on.
Magufuli earned his bachelor of science in education degree majoring in chemistry and history as teaching subjects from The University of Dar es Salaam in 1988.
Prior to his Bachelors degree, he attained a Diploma in Education (Sc.) Chemistry, Mathematics and Education. This is where his obsession with statistics starts from.
Now going back to his first days as president, Magufuli made several phone calls to various leaders across the continent and the world for some, to express continued diplomatic ties while some he was seeking advice on important issues of development.
But one biggest challenge he had encountered was the shame that the government he was inheriting did not have its own national carrier yet literally every tourist has at least some knowledge on Tanzania but just a mere million tourists were visiting.
When Magufuli looked at the statistics of tourists that visit Tanzania, he was shocked that they were too small to boast about. He needed to do something about these shameful statistics.
A quick research and incquiry with his advisers led to something that would point to possible solution to fixing the national shame.
“We did an analysis and found that countries owning airlines also receive the highest numbers of tourists,” Magufuli said last week.
“We checked with Egypt, talked to Kenya and even Morocco- these are countries with large numbers of tourists flocking. Imagine Egypt has over 10 million tourists visiting and for us we just have only one million tourists,” Magufuli wondered how quick he would fix this challenge.
By April 2016, Magufuli had just spent a few months in office as head of state. He drove to the border with Rwanda to jointly inaugurate the Rusumo International Bridge and a one-stop border post. President Paul Kagame was there to meet his counterpart that later drove to meet at Kagame’s country home on the shores of Lake Muhazi.
This was Magufuli’s first foreign trip as president which several external and domestic analysts had not expected but keenly scrutinized as the new reformist leader spent two days in Rwanda.
His predecessor had strained relations with Rwanda thus Magufuli’s choice of Rwanda for his first foreign trip was treated with skepticism.
“I normally don’t like to travel because I am busy at work and I want to save on resources. I have been invited to go to many places, including Europe and I haven’t been able to make it. But when President Kagame invited me, I had to come.” Magufuli said in 2016.
President Kagame told Magufuli that all the two countries needed was “Friendship, we need brotherhood, and we need to do business together for mutual interests.”
There was not much revealed about their detailed conversations at the shores of Lake Muhazi but it was evident the two leaders explored several aspects.
It has now emerged that while in Rwanda, Magufuli tabled the challenge of how Tanzania would walk out of the ditch of shame for not owning her own national carrier and wanted Kagame to explain in details how he managed to build RwandAir from scratch to an enviable national carrier.
[We cannot confirm if the issue was discussed then, but the two presidents, according to Magufuli, talked about it at some point.]
Almost three years later, Magufuli is now revealing that President Kagame is a genuine friend that armed him with details of advice on how to revive Air Tanzania.
“Let me thank President Kagame. He told me, just do it. If you delay you may meet bigger challenges,” Magufuli said over the weekend adding that it’s when he realized that in Kagame he had a good friend.
“Kagame advised me to contact all the aircraft manufacturers at the same time to get good purchase deals. I did the same and actually bought seven planes,” Magufuli said amidst applause from Tanzanians gathered to receive the first Boeing aircraft at Julius Nyerere International Airport (JNIA).
Magufuli has already handed four aircraft to state owned Air Tanzania Company limited (ATCL) and is to deliver two CS300 jetliners from Bombardier company in Canada by November.
President Kagame said while hosting Magufuli in 2016 that cooperation based on peace has potential to transform the two nations.