President Magufuli’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan

Published on 22nd December 2015

President Magufuli
The pictures spoke more than a thousand words! Tanzania’s newly elected President, John Magufuli, literally took to the streets and rallied his countrymen to join in his public clean-up operation to mark the country’s 54th Independence Day. It was reported that the President picked up rubbish from the street outside State House as part of the public effort which he had ordered to replace Independence Day celebrations. He was joined by dozens of fishermen from a market outside the Presidential palace, in the commercial port of Dar es Salaam, as he shovelled leaves and rubbish.

The move is seen as symbolic of the president's promise to tackle corruption and wasteful spending in government at a time the country was grappling to contain a cholera outbreak. With this effort, the President is also extending a cost-effective public health effort when he is quoted as saying “Let us work together to keep our country, cities, homes and workplaces clean, safe and healthy.”

Magufuli’s ‘theatrics’ may have drawn both supporters and critics alike more so as this is seen as a first among Africa’s big wig head of states. Pessimists have brushed this effort aside as a public relations ploy that will fizzle out in due time bearing on similar but not equivalent efforts of past leaders’s attempt at uniting the nation towards nation building. But this is beside the point. This piece aims however to highlight that Magufuli’s symbolic and even pragmatic campaign is not new per se at the global level. Was he influenced by India’s Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan and equally contrast between the two leader’s approaches to further public consciousness? 

On the 2nd of October 2014, India’s Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi launched the Swachh Bharat Mission in New Delhi as a national public health movement and in tribute to Mahatma Gandhi’s call for a clean and hygienic India on the eve of the latter’s 150th birth anniversary in 2019. As later seen with President Magufuli, Prime Minister Modi was all over the tabloid pictured picking up a broom in his initial cleanliness drive at Mandir Marg Police Station in New Delhi. He also extended his cleanliness drive in Varanasi where he wielded a spade near River Ganga at AssiGhat in Varanasi under the Clean India Mission which aims to “end open defecation, achieve open defecation free communities, and improve the management of liquid and solid waste" by providing toilets to rural areas.

Rather than a specific cost-cutting measure against wanton public wastage as with Tanzania, PM Modi’s campaign is significantly tied to public health and sanitation geared towards addressing the sanitation problem that Indian families have to deal with due to lack of proper toilets in their homes. And why not? In 2010, the UN reported that people in India had access to a mobile phone than a toilet. Around 45 percent of the population had access to a mobile phone while only around 31 percent had a toilet. Today, of the 1 billion people that practice open defecation globally, around 60 percent, or almost 600 million, live in India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s commitment to ending open defecation with his Swachh Bharat (Clean India) campaign is inspiring with the government committed to building 111 million toilets by 2019.

Tanzania has equally been confronted with its own public health challenge. In October 2015, the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare (MOHSW) notified WHO of new foci of cholera outbreaks in the country. As of 13th of October, 13 regions had been affected namely Dar es Salaam, Morogoro, Pwani, Kigoma, Kilimanjaro, Iringa, Dodoma, Geita, Mara, Singida, Shinyaga, Mwanza and Zanzibar. The region of Dar es Salam accounted for 72% of all reported. It is no surprise that President Magufuli started his clean-up effort in Dar es Salaam.

To sustain his noble effort, President Magufuli can take cue from Modi’s approach where nine people were at first invited to join the cleanliness drive and requested each of them to draw nine more into the initiative. By inviting people to participate in the drive, the Swachhta Abhiyan has turned into a National Movement. The same can be mooted in Tanzania given the equally dire sanitation and hygiene situation. Modi has also helped spread the message of Swachh Bharat by urging people through his words and action and involving key government officials to the youth, Bollywood actors and sportspersons, industrialists to spiritual leaders, all lined up for the noble work. Organizing frequent cleanliness campaigns to spreading awareness about hygiene through plays and music is also being widely carried out across the nation.

The Prime Minister does not shy away from using ICT and has openly lauded the participation of people via social media. In turn, the ‘#MyCleanIndia’ was launched simultaneously as a part of the Swachh Bharat drive to highlight the cleanliness work carried out by citizens across the nation. Taking the broom to sweep the streets, cleaning up the garbage, focusing on sanitation and maintaining a hygienic environment have become a practice after the launch of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan. People have started to take part and are helping spread the message of ‘Cleanliness is next to Godliness.’

President Magufuli can use the power of social media himself and counter the trending hashtag ‘#WhatWouldMagufuliDo’ into something less about being personally economically prudent to more about raising public consciousness and collective engagement in addressing public health concerns. Doing this may act as a critical platform in rallying the nation around other core national issues of concern. Are we soon to witness Magufuli’s Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan?

By Satwinder Rehal

Faculty-in-Charge, Diploma/Master in International Health, Faculty of Management and Development Studies, University of the Philippines Open University, The Philippines.

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