At the funeral ceremony of Tanzania’s fallen leader John Pombe Magufuli, in that country’s capital Dodoma, several African leaders delivered eulogies that raved about a man who had defied conventional predictions about how African leaders are known to do their work.
In their grief, the leaders appeared to concede Magufuli had led his country in his own unique ways which had always seemed so distant in Africa.
In their praise of the late Magufuli, there was an apparent admission that Africa would be a great continent if its leaders first considered the welfare of their people and nation before anything else.
One eulogy captured the attention of the crowd that gathered in that stadium and, perhaps, the billions of people who, according to Tanzania’s Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa, streamed the ceremony across the world.
It was President Lazarus Chakwera’s.
Many of those who have listened to the President’s public speeches did not doubt he would deliver a moving tribute for Magufuli with whom he had had a diplomatic meeting about five months before.
But, perhaps, it was difficult to predict the speech would attract such international attention with some commentators theorising it may inspire Malawi and other African countries to fight for a new Africa which is, apparently, in desperate need of a new inspirer.
They argue that the passing of Magufuli has created a huge gap in terms of a “real Pan-Africanist who looks at his continent as a continent on which all hope for prosperity must first be sought”.
Kenyan anti-corruption crusader, Patrick Lumumba, who was one of the first high-profile Pan-Africanists to hold with Magufuli’s no-nonsense approach to governing, described Chakwera’s tribute as the most powerful ever made to an African leader.
“It was the most powerful; in my view, the most touching ever made. It is a funeral oration which history must record as one of the greatest orations of all time,” Lumumba said.
The Kenyan has been very brunt in his condemnation of African leaders who, he argues, have little or nothing to offer to their people. They are there just to enrich themselves and their cronies while leaving their people in dire straits, Lumumba constantly argues.
The coming on the African leadership scene of Magufuli, according to Lumumba, should have acted as a strong inspiration for other African leaders that it is possible to steer one’s country on the path of success using locally available resources.
Lumumba prays Chakwera can be in the forefront of the leadership of “a new Africa” and has since requested to meet him.
“Africa needs something new. I am not discounting the other great African leaders who did not attend the funeral. But Chakwera touched something that nobody touched,” Lumumba said.
He believes Chakwera delivered his speech from his heart and that he was deep into what he was speaking.
“Go and listen to him again; read him again. He captured the essence of the Magufuli that I met; the Magufuli that I know; the Magufuli who loved Africa; the Magufuli that thought that within the inner recesses of the African heart and mind, there is gold and silver only waiting to be unleashed,” Lumumba stated.
He even harked back to 2014 when he had suggested Africa needs to be ‘Magufulified’ and that such submission was vindicated in Chakwera’s eulogy which, even in great sorrow, consistently solicited applauses from mourners, friends and adversaries.
In the brief tribute, now being famously referred to as ‘They did not see Magufuli coming’, Chakwera described Magufuli as one of Africa’s finest sons whose death he said had shocked the world.
“When they said laziness and sloth in public service cannot be cured, they did not see Magufuli coming. When they said the cartels of corruption strangling Africa’s governments cannot be defeated, they did not see Magufuli coming.
“When they said African States cannot become middle-income economies within a single presidential term, they did not see Magufuli coming. When they said infrastructural projects in Africa cannot be completed on time and on budget, they did not see Magufuli coming,” Chakwera said in the eulogy.
He seemed to strongly hold with the view that prescriptions of foreign financial institutions that Magufuli sneered at should be treated as such by other African nations that desire to move out of the trap of poverty.
Chakwera, who twice or thrice described Magufuli as unpredictable, further said the fallen leader’s life of service will act as a launching pad for those of other leaders.
“To us who have the honour of going through this world as Africans, Magufuli’s love of country shall forever be a light on that pilgrimage. To us who have been entrusted with governing the nations of our beautiful and rich continent, Magufuli’s leadership shall forever move us out of complacency,” he said.
It is the complacency in African leaders that Lumumba believes Chakwera can champion in chucking out so that nations get to their full social and economic potential.
While the President entreats that Magufuli’s name should be “reserved in every capital of Africa as a symbol of the kind of resolve that will create the Africa we want”, Lumumba throws the challenge to lead a new Africa in Chakwera’s court.
Many other commentators feel the moving eulogy should challenge Chakwera himself to lead his own nation to prosperity.
“When you have a leader who makes such a speech, you are confident he knows what his nation and continent needs. Failing can never be his priority. That eulogy alone can move people to begin to think differently,” wrote one Twitter user Fred Mbuge.
More Twitter users, who shared the speech and invited others to watch its clip posted on You Tube, waxed lyrical about the piece, describing it as one of the most moving in recent memory.
“Powerful speech by President Chakwera of Malawi at President Magufuli’s final send-off,” wrote Paul Bucy of Tanzania before winding up his post with “I must admit that I didn’t see it coming.”
Another Twitter user Kwame Rugunda marvelled at the ‘impassioned eulogy’ and posited that the speech should “inspire and remind us that a better Africa can be achieved.”
Some commentators have even suggested that the speech should be preserved and circulated across Africa so it can be taught in schools in communication, history, nationalism, Pan Africanism and related courses.
And back home, even before Chakwera had returned from that funeral ceremony, both his supporters and his challengers agreed that the tribute had obviously drawn increased attention to Malawi.
And because that attention attraction will probably continue, Chakwera has a huge task on his shoulders.
He has to meet high expectations from both his admirers and his adversaries who know his own speech has set the bar a bit higher than is the case now. In essence, that should prod the President to do things differently and champion a kind of leadership that puts the affairs of citizens first like Magufuli did.
Alick Ponje is a features writer at The Times Group. He graduated from the University of Malawi with a bachelor’s degree in education, majoring in literature in English. He believes that quality reporting is critical in bringing positive change in communities. Alick is the Southern Africa Development Community journalist of the year (2020) in the television category. Follow him on Twitter @aponje