The Raila-Magufuli friendship

The late President John Magufuli and Raila Odinga. 

In a video clip of Raila Odinga’s 2016 visit to the late John Pombe Magufuli’s rural home in Chato, Tanzania, the Orange Democratic Movement leader refers to the former Tanzanian president several times as rafiki yangu (my friend).

The endearing term punctuated their public engagements throughout their friendship lasting over two decades, with both leaders referring to each other as friends.

Occasionally, they have called each other ndugu yangu (my brother).

But such terms do not come close to defining the kind of affection they had for each other.

Raila and Magufuli were more than just friends.

Theirs was a bond borne from a deep belief in each other’s intentions for their respective nations. At different points in their political careers, Magufuli trusted Raila to provide sound leadership to Kenya and the former Prime Minister believed that his friend was Tanzania’s best bet for the nation to prosper.

So strong was this faith that the late Magufuli, then a minister in 2013, would support Raila’s presidential bid in even when his nation’s dictates forbade it.

And Magufuli did more than offer Raila support. He donned ODM’s party colours during a 2012 national delegates’ convention to express his support for the ODM leader.

A picture of Magufuli in ODM party colours is among those shared by Raila to eulogise Tanzania’s late leader, calling him a close friend.

Raila returned the favour by endorsing Magufuli in 2015 when he made a stab at the presidency. When Magufuli won the election, Raila became Magufuli’s greatest cheerleader, always full of praise for his style of leadership.

During the 2017 presidential debate, which the former PM’s main competitor Uhuru Kenyatta boycotted, Raila told of his intentions to emulate his younger friend, when asked how he would deal with corrupt government officials.

“I will Magufuli them,” he stated time and again, referring to the no-nonsense approach Magufuli had been known for at the start of his presidency.

The blinding faith that they both had in each other perhaps stemmed from their shared past of being in charge of their respective countries’ infrastructure dockets.

As Minister for Roads and Public Works, Magufuli earned the moniker "bulldozer" in recognition of the road projects he implemented and for the decisive manner he had them done.

Raila had a somewhat similar reputation when he was Kenya’s Roads minister.

Professional admiration

During the upgrade of Thika Road, many buildings that had encroached on road reserves were knocked down.

Raila's current assignment as African Union Commission High Representative for Infrastructure and Development was fitting to his past in the development of infrastructure.  

But beyond their professional admiration for each other, the pair liked each other’s company and showed up whenever either of them needed a shoulder to lean on.

Months before he became president, Magufuli had visited the former PM’s Bondo home to condole with the Odinga family following the death of Fidel Odinga.

Also present to comfort the ODM leader was former Zimbabwean Prime Minister, the late Morgan Tsvangirai, another of Raila’s allies.

Magufuli conveyed condolences from his country’s president then, Jakaya Kikwete and former president (the late) Benjamin Mkapa.

He would also comfort the Odinga family, revealing his long ties to the family. Raila, too, would be at Magufuli’s side when he lost a sister in 2018.