Potent Love

I was watching the Lost and Found musical-drama series with my daughter today and the words “potent love” from a song the young musicians on the show were practicing caught my attention. I had to google the lyrics of the song later but that’s besides the point. According to the dictionary, potent means something or someone with great power, authority or effect on another. It is about wielding force, authority, or influence, none of which denotes an active, positive experience for the recipient. That’s very different from my understanding of what love is. Potent Love? Isn’t that an oxymoron?

Then President John Pombe Magufuli of Tanzania died. Okay, he died yesterday or even before that according to some sources, but his death was breaking news today. A lot has been said about him. How he started off as the kind of leader Africa needed. For a region bedeviled with major corruption scandals, we applauded his no-nonsense stance on corruption. We cheered when he ordered civil servants to earn their keep. We whispered “bless you” when he cancelled extravagant public spending. We ululated when he told off foreign investors who wanted to have the upper hand in Tanzania’s development agenda. For the better part of his first term, it appeared the light had shone brighter on our neighbors with President Magufuli carrying high the beacon of hope.

Lord Acton once wrote: “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.” By the end of his first term, there was noise from our neighbors of crackdown on dissenting voices and curtailed media freedom. And who can forget his stance on not allowing teenage mothers back into mainstream education? His re-election in 2020 amid claims of fraud and intimidation had us shaking our heads as the all-too-familiar narrative was retold.

But his poor handling of the Corona virus pandemic will unfortunately, be what the late president will be most remembered for. The world may never know the actual Covid-19 statistics in Tanzania; as Magufuli made sure the country remained an outlier, having declared it Covid-19 free way back in June 2020. He called Corona virus a devil (which I agree it is), but to say it cannot survive in the body of Christ; that it would burn instantly, was idiosyncratic.

Or was it potent love? Love that turned a blind eye to what was best for his countrymen. Love that could not accept anyone else’s opinion. Love that had to have its way. Love that killed. Love that is the opposite of the best definition of love there is:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

May President John Pombe Joseph Magufuli R.I.P. My Tanzanian brothers and sisters, we join you in mourning a great son of Africa.

There’s something eerie about these lyrics…

I like who I like
No matter what you say
I say be real or die
You’re nothin’ if you’re fake

I don’t sugar-coat it
They love me or they hate me
Yeah well, my folks
They done tried
But they can’t even save me

They say the ground’s waiting for me
But I got a good heart, they don’t know me
I get away with too much
Running out of my luck
But I’m just living off of no fear, no hate

Potent love (pour it, pour it up)
Potent love (pour it, pour it up)
Potent love (pour it, pour it up)
Potent love (pour it, pour it up).


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