Why the President would do well to follow the example of Napoleon

15Jan 2016
The Guardian
Commentary
Why the President would do well to follow the example of Napoleon

NAPOLEON said that an army marches on it stomach. He meant, of course, that starving soldiers don’t win battles. In other words make sure you look after the troops, the foot soldiers.

President John Magufuli

Napoleon, I don’t have to remind, was probably the most successful military leader in history. He was first emperor of France. A French military and political leader who rose to prominence during the French Revolution and led several successful campaigns during the Revolutionary Wars.

Now President Magufuli is no Napoleon Bonaparte. For a start he has no military experience. He is no general. But he does command an army of workers who are armed not with rifles and bayonets as Napoleon’s were, but with word-processors and copying machines.

And it is clear from Magufuli’s latest remarks that while he believes that he knows much about how to motivate people and how to get the nation moving, he actually knows about the psychology of command.

Unlike Napoleon who knew a thing or two about getting the best out of people. Far from getting his army to march on its stomach, Magufuli is saying the opposite. He has decreed that civil servants, doctors, anyone attending a government-sponsored workshop should exercise restraint when the bites are unveiled. ‘Heavy refreshments’, whatever they are (concrete samosas?) are in the firing line.

Indeed he goes further. For meetings of up to two hours only tea and coffee and water are approved. For meetings that go on longer, you can have juice, nuts and fruit.

Does this mean the end of the two-hour meeting? Will hungry and thirsty delegates take a decision to extend business beyond the two-hour barrier so they can qualify for a fruit juice or a bowl of nuts?

If they talk for even longer, they might even get a sniff of lunch though the president has indicated that there would have to be ‘very rare and exceptional circumstances’ for a lip-smacking plate of nyama choma to be served up.

All this dietary advice follows his ban on civil servants going abroad on business.

So what is this all about? On the surface it is quite laudable. Magufuli wants to save money and this, he believes, is a way to do it. But he also wants to make a political point. He wants to emphasise to the electorate, particularly the poor and the marginalised, that civil servants are not entitled to a free ride on the government gravy train.

But while Magufuli is making headlines and giving a strong impression that he is man who means business and intends to change our culture, he really believe this is the correct way to go about it.

The money he will save by limiting expenditure on free food for civil servants and air travel too amounts to a couple of bowls of peanuts when it is compared to the mountains of cash that regularly ‘goes missing’ from the accounts of certain government departments.
So this ‘no sandwiches’ policy, I am afraid, misses the mark. Indeed it distracts attention from the shadowy axis of corrupt businessmen and dishonest politicians that is at this very moment engaged in sabotaging this country’s fortunes.

When are we going to see an example made of these bigwigs?

There is something else too not quite right about this crackdown on elevenses. Many of the people who attend meetings depend on the food that is served up at the ministries. Many are poorly paid, have large families, school fees to pay, text books to buy, rent to look out for, food to purchase. Without the working breakfast, where would they be?

Certainly they, unlike Napoleon’s soldiers, will not be in a position to fight the battles expected of them by their masters.

Speculation is rife, my sources tell me, in many ministries and parastatal offices, as to where the Magufuli axe will fall next. Some say there will be a limit on the use of paper and the rapid introduction of the ‘paperless office.’ But for this to work there would need to be a massive and urgent upgrade in the technology that is currently being used.

Others are going further. They are worried that jobs will be threatened. This, of course, gets to the heart of the problem of the civil service. Which is over-manning and underemployment. In other words there are, in this hit-tech era, too many people doing too little work.

New technology has rendered the jobs of ten of thousands useless. Where once it took ten men and a girl ten days to complete a form, now it can be done in minutes by a machine.

So the question is: why is the President obsessed with cutting back on snacks when he should be cutting down on the number of mouths and stomachs wanting to eat those snacks?

Why doesn’t he instigate a review of the efficiency of our civil service?

I think I know the answer.

I think the President is brave enough to take the plunge and launch an all-out assault on those areas of our economy that are costing us dear.

He is, I am afraid to say, unwilling to grasp the nettle.

But why not? It is early days in his administration and the honeymoon is still on. And that means that President Magufuli can more or less, give or take invading Mozambique, do whatsoever he wishes.

So my wish is that he would be more like Napoleon and less like his predecessors. This country deserves a bold leader with bold ideas. I wish he would come up with ideas of substance.

The country is desperate for change. We are tired of the corrupt and corruption. We are tired of living in a society where nothing is certain, where the supply of electric and water is random, where the rich get richer and the poor get ignored.

We want fairness and discipline. And we want them fast. So, please, Mr President, no more edicts about elevenses.