IT’S been two mirthful weeks since John Pombe Magufuli’s actions in Tanzania inspired the hashtag #WhatWouldMagufuliDo on Twitter.
Under that hashtag, thousands of Africans on social media came up with hilarious memes (humorous images poking fun at an idea) on the concept of frugality that Magufuli’s actions represented.
See, the newly elected President of Tanzania took up his job with a zeal rarely seen amongst politicians on this continent and went around firing inefficient officials on the basis of visual evidence, blasted his countrymen in positions of leadership and authority, and most of all, started cutting costs of extremely important things.
For instance, the man stopped civil servants from undertaking international travel and urged them instead “to spend more time traveling to rural areas to fix the country’s problems there”, according to one report. Another report says he cancelled Independence Day celebrations due this week and diverted the money to buying medical equipment or something, as well as directing that the time be spent cleaning the streets.
All these noble moves appealed to most of us as extremely sensible and quite the tonic we need to see in all our societies across the continent, and the reaction on social media by way of those #WhatWouldMagufuliDo memes seemed to be evidence of our overall support.
But after two weeks of spreading those memes around and pointing fingers at our own Presidents and political leaders, there is very little evidence around us that even those who’ve been saying the #WhatWouldMagufuliDo phrase are actually asking ourselves that question.
We’re treating it just like the WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) badge – which many years ago some people wore as wristbands or pinned to their shirts or onto their cars as stickers. It was surprising, at first, to be rudely and recklessly overtaken by a car with the WWJD sticker on the back, but then we got used to that.
And now, we’re moving on from #WhatWouldMagufuliDo without really doing anything like Magufuli would.
One young fellow on Twitter who shared round the memes also circulated a wedding budget last week and I was tempted to reply with #WhatWouldMagufuliDo but held back a little bit as I, myself, have not yet sold my car and opted for public transport to take my children to school even if I could make serious cuts to my domestic budget that way.
When I made a wisecrack about this to a dispassionate political observer currently researching our election campaigns, she retorted with one about politicians standing atop expensive four wheel drive vehicles upcountry and promising to cut government costs when voted into ‘power’, and applauded the single lady presidential candidate for making a small show by riding a boda boda at some point in her campaign.
On another forum one evening last week, a group of us sat round some bottles of dearly priced imported drinks and marvelled at Magufuli and his hard actions, our voiced support for him growing more heated as the night grew more cold. Not one of us suggested a menu change to something less pricey or locally made, even if most of us at that table belong to an ‘investment club’ that could have made great strides if we had ‘Magulufied’ our expenditure into savings for investment.
The next morning I raised the idea with a couple of pals that had been seated round that table and their response made it clear why the actions of His Excellency John Pombe Magufuli had gone straight from being presidential news to a humorous twitter hashtag with nothing in between.
Rather than take up lessons from him and actually change the way we do things in our individual lives as Africans, East Africans, or Ugandans doing whatever we do on a daily basis, we’re safer pointing fingers at ‘those people up there’ or turning it all into a joke that we can laugh at and ‘leave it here for a while’ (that, by the way, is another meme reference we like to use.)
On that note, I’m just going to leave this here myself – stop asking #WhatWouldMagufuliDo – #AreYOUDoingWhatMagufuliWouldDo?