By: JOHN NGIRACHU
Before he ventured into politics, newly-elected Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli worked as a chemistry and mathematics teacher at Sengerema Secondary School for about a year.
He then quit teaching to work at the then giant Nyanza Cooperative Union Ltd, which managed cotton ginneries in Mwanza, northern Tanzania.
Mr Magufuli, then an industrial chemist, was one of the 776 permanent employees there.
He left the job to vie for a parliamentary seat in his home area, Chato, in 1995.
He won and in his first term, was appointed Deputy Minister of Works.
While still serving his term, he combined politics and post-graduate studies, eventually earning a PhD in chemistry from the University of Dar-es-Salaam in 2009.
When he was re-elected in 2000, President Kikwete appointed Dr Magufuli to the Cabinet.
Earlier this year, while serving as Roads minister, he was nominated by the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi to run for the presidency as a compromise candidate.
And on Thursday, Dr Magufuli will be sworn in as President of Tanzania after defeating the opposition candidate, Mr Edward Lowassa, with more than two million votes in elections held last week.
Mr Lowassa ditched CCM after the party picked Dr Magufuli as its candidate.
At the weekend, he said he had retired from politics but rejected the results declaring Dr Magufuli winner.
Dr Magufuli’s campaigns often featured him doing press-ups on podiums to show supporters — and critics alike — that he was physically fit for the job.
Tanzanians appear to put a premium on the health of their president, never mind that outgoing President Kikwete has in the past fainted at public rallies while on the campaign trail.
When Mr Kikwete visited Kenya last month for his last official trip to the country, he said that although Dr Magufuli was a friend of Cord leader Raila Odinga, this would not affect the diplomatic relationship between Tanzania and Kenya.
Mr Odinga is a fierce critic of President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Indeed, the former Prime Minister was among the first to congratulate Dr Magufuli when he was declared winner last Thursday.
According to Suna East MP Junet Mohammed, Mr Odinga’s and Dr Magufuli’s friendship is not a recent phenomena.
“When Raila was demolishing houses to make way for roads and the bypasses, Magufuli was doing the same in Tanzania,” said Mr Mohammed.
Mr Odinga was appointed Roads minister after Narc won the 2002 General Election.
He was dropped after he and President Mwai Kibaki fell out after the 2005 referendum, after which he and other leaders formed the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).
Indeed, Dr Magufuli and former Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai were among the invited guests during ODM’s National Delegates Conference in December 2012 where Mr Odinga was endorsed as the party’s presidential candidate ahead of the March 2013 election.
Dr Magufuli also attended the funeral of Mr Odinga’s son, Fidel, who died in January.
Dr Magufuli embarked on his task of developing roads with passion, earning the nickname “The Bulldozer” for clearing illegal structures on road reserves.
On the campaign trail, his supporters characterised him as the humble son of peasants who appreciates hard work and shuns corruption, holding up the fact that he did not become a rich man as proof that he was not corrupt despite having superintended the construction of mega projects.
“Our home was grass thatched and like many boys, I was assigned to herd cattle,” Dr Magufuli once said in a profile published on the media. “I know what it means to be poor. I will strive to help improve people’s welfare.”
The meida reported analysts saying Dr Magufuli was more popular than his party, CCM, which has effectively been in charge in Tanzania since 1961.
Dr Magufuli takes over at a time when CCM has power over the central government but has lost much ground in local authorities.
The Citizen, a Tanzanian newspaper, on Sunday reported that the opposition coalition, Ukawa, won six parliamentary seats in Dar-es-Salaam, Chadema four, CCM three, while CUF took two.
This is considered significant because Dar-es-Salaam used to be CCM’s stronghold.
In Arusha, the hub of the northern tourism circuit, The Citizen reported, CCM is officially in the opposition.
In Mbeya, the economic backbone of the southern highland regions, CCM will be forming an opposition in the council.
For now, the man who grew up herding cattle in northwest Tanzania and has portrayed himself as a staunch anti-corruption campaigner, has his work cut out, with a more visible opposition that would push him on his promises.