Journalists outside of Tanzania, Magufuli is silencing your colleagues, lend them your voice.

The last time President John Magufuli was seen in public was at an event on 27th February. This is most unusual for a President who is usually very visible, and he never misses going to church where after the religious service, he is known to deliver speeches to the congregation. Last week local journalists rightly so began asking about the President’s whereabouts and were met with silence. The rumour on social media was Magufuli had himself contracted COVID-19 and was seriously unwell. Soon after, opposition leader Tundu Lissu told the BBC that the President was being treated for coronavirus in Kenya. If true, God must have a pretty dark sense of humour, considering President Magufuli has advocated the power of prayer to fight the coronavirus.

Rightly, so activists, opposition leaders, local journalists, and concerned Tanzanians (myself included) turned to social media to ask #whereismagufuli? The communication vacuum continues with no response to these alleged rumours. The only direct response has come from Vice President Samia Suluhu, who reportedly said today, “it’s quite normal for a person’s body to be indisposed and contract the flu or develop a fever… this is the time for Tanzanians to be united through prayer”. Either Magufuli’s government cannot see the irony in such a statement, or they know something about prayer that us mere mortals don’t.

In a dark turn of events, over the weekend, the authorities have started clamping down on anyone who asks #whereismagufuli. Chadema reported a 73-year-old ordinary citizen had been jailed in Tarime. Meanwhile, the Minister of Information, Innocent Bashungwa has warned local journalists and media houses of grave consequences if they spread unverified information. In Magufuli’s Tanzania, there is no freedom of speech whether you’re an ordinary citizen or a journalist, and this is why I am calling on Western Journalists and Media Houses to give voice to the situation in Tanzania.

This matters because you will help bring the situation into the public light, and one hopes that our governments will have no choice but to intervene. To anyone who thinks this is imperialistic, I say to you as a Tanzanian and as someone who fears how people are being silenced that we want the west to call out Magufuli. Access to information is a fundamental human right, be it for the people who voted for you to ask about your whereabouts or in fighting COVID-19.

I, therefore, say to journalists outside of Tanzania, whilst Magufuli is silencing your colleagues, lend them your voice.

Faith groups and religious leaders need to join efforts in #Tanzania to tackle the COVID crises

Today I have written to the following faith groups and religious leaders:

  • Most Reverend, Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
  • His Eminence, Archbishop Angaleos
  • Roman Catholic Church, UK
  • Methodist Church, UK
  • Institute of Jainology
  • His Eminence, Archbishop of Birmingham
  • UK Bahai
  • The Council of European Jamaats
  • National Council of UK Ismaili Jamaat
  • Sikh Federation UK
  • BAPS Swaminarayan Sansth
  • The Dawoodi Bohoras

From a western lens, this may feel like a strange step to take and may conjure ideas of exploitation and imperialism. In many developing countries, religion plays a significant role in society: gender and family relations, healthcare and education, financial practices and even politics. The faith groups I have written to have significant presence in Tanzania and a collective approach can lead to change.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, a bit of context. Following independence in 1961, Mwalimu Nyerere adopted the concept of ‘African socialism’ and introduced Ujamaas, a Swahili term meaning familyhood. The policy was to nationalise health, education, resettle scattered rural population into villages and expand the government’s role in production and service provision. Secular socialism separated religion and the state, although freedom of religion was allowed. I am not a historian. My reflections may not be entirely accurate; as I understand it, the policy failed and plunged Tanzania into further poverty. Many external issues compounded the economic crises, including doubling oil prices and the war with Uganda, resulting in faith-based organisations’ re-emergence.

Christianity and Islam are the most prominent religions in Tanzania. Since the early 1980s, there has been renewed growth in non-state development activities, particularly in education and, to some extent, in health, provided by religious groups. For example, the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) delivers a wide range of development activities, although it doesn’t view itself as a faith-based organisation. However, a sizeable Ismaili community in Tanzania is associated with the AKDN. Faith-based organisations make up for the Tanzanian government’s gross underinvestment in health and education, vital players in fighting COVID.

However, President Magufuli’s authoritarian regime has fostered a culture of fear and not wanting to go against the government in case of reprisals. This has resulted in faith-based organisations quietly looking out for their own. For example, the Khoja Shias provide education around social distancing within their community. I have seen a similar approach taken by the Hindu and Bohora communities; however, we all need to be consistent and take a joint approach to tackle the virus. This is where I feel the faith-based organisations are failing Tanzanians. I recognise the fears on the ground; there may be a reluctance to act. For this reason, I have written to faith groups and religious leaders in the UK to lobby the government and take collective action. I have requested they take the following steps:

·      Public health education campaign: over the last 12-months, there has been inconsistent messaging from the government in Tanzania. From encouraging herbal smoothies to saunas. The basic message of social distancing and maintaining hand hygiene may have gotten lost. I recognise the various religious groups addressed in this letter may well have organised education campaigns within our respective communities; however, no one is likely to be safe without consistent effort across the country. Consideration also needs to be given to various tribal groups and how they may be engaged in this education campaign.  

·      Testing and reporting COVID cases: As a collective, consider raising this matter with the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs to explore how the World Health Organisation can support Tanzania with testing and reporting. The UK has strong connections with Tanzania and the association with the Commonwealth, and I feel the UK must lead the way in engaging President Magufulis government.

·      Participating in COVAX: I am proud of the UK’s support of the COVAX programme. Donating is just one aspect; we have to ensure equitable access and involve the Tanzanian government; without this, the vaccines will not reach one of the world’s poorest countries and could also derail the progress we have made in tackling in COVID.

Over the last few days, there have been unverified press reports suggesting President Magufuli may himself be unwell, having contracted COVID; we pray for his speedy recovery. As I see it, this could be an opportunity to change how the Tanzanian authorities handle COVID, and faith-based groups must be ready to step in and play their part.

President #Magufuli,”Kiburi si maungwana” (A Swahili proverb which means pride is not gentlemanly)

Across Tanzania and around the world, people are asking, “who is the African leader currently being treated in Nairobi Hospital”. There is much speculation that this mystery leader is President Magufuli of Tanzania. You may have heard of him; he is part of a club of leaders who have either denied the existence of coronavirus or have seriously played down the threat of COVID-19. This is one club you do not want to be part of; its members include former US President Donald Trump, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and, UK’s Boris Johnson. To be fair, Johnson’s admission into hospital was the wake-up call that brought home the severity and threat of the virus.

As it stands, the Tanzanian authorities have stayed quiet and are not commenting on the circulating rumours. One can see why here’s a government that has peddled false information about the virus, sown division in the country, and are responsible for many lives lost. The supreme irony (if the rumours are true) is that President Magufuli mocked neighbouring countries like Kenya, who recognised the virus’s threat are now treating him and potentially saving his life. For a president who advocated prayer to ward of COVID, god is having a jolly old laugh.

I do not wish the man harm and hope he makes a recovery; it is the most Christian way to rationalise all this. He has a family, and no children should lose a parent under such difficult circumstances. What makes me angry is the inequality. The political class can travel to other countries for treatment, whilst ordinary citizens are told to inhale eucalyptus steam and blend smoothies. Every single member of the Magufuli administration must reflect upon their actions as their duplicity to hang on to power has cost many innocent lives. I feel in, and amongst all the despair and loss, the government has been given an opportunity to take a different course and to step up and lead.

What happens next is down to President Magufuli and his government, will they be concerned with being right or will they finally do what is right. Only time will tell.

Powerful piece from Kim Sanderson about COVID denial in Tanzania

I am incredibly grateful to North East Bylines for shining a light on Tanzania’s plight. Kim Sanderson’s piece ‘Hakuna COVID’ asks a fundamental question, why is the UK not intervening? We used to take pride in our diplomatic efforts to help bring about change. Like many in the UK, I tuned into the Commonwealth Day celebrations on Sunday on BBC1. The Tanzanian flag visible second from the left as The Prince of Wales spoke of the universal devastation caused by the Coronavirus Pandemic. I was urging him from my living room to go further and urge all 54 member states to respond jointly or encourage multilateral cooperation, especially member states who have yet to engage in in a collective approach. So much can be said without naming names and still have an impact. I feel like this was a missed opportunity, and a nation of 60-million citizens have been let down.

Vaccines for Tanzania on #CommonwealthDay

Tanzania and the UK have strong connections, in particular through the Commonwealth Association.

The Commonwealth is unique as member states have no power over one another; instead, countries with diverse social, political, and economic backgrounds are regarded as equal in status and cooperate within a charter of shared values. The values include promoting democracy, human rights, good governance, individual liberty, free trade, multilaterism and world peace. It is fair to say since President Magufuli came to power, his government are in breach of almost all the Commonwealth goals and values. Lets go through the evidence:

1. Democracy: Tanzania Election Watch this week concluded the election last year was not free and fair. Opposition party leaders were arrested and police vehicles patrolled Pemba and Zanzibar Islands, where security forces shot and killed several civilians on claims of being aligned with the opposition. To give this context, Zanzibar is semi-autonomous. Imagine this happening in the UK’s devolved nations.

2. Human Rights: Tanzania has not published COVID-19 stats since May 2020 when it logged 509 positive cases. The Tanzanian authorities have refused to participate in COVAX advocating herbal remedies and prayer. Individuals who do call out the government’s negligence are subjected to severe reprisals and a crackdown on journalists reporting the pandemic. “Access to information is an essential part of the fight against COVID-19, yet the Tanzanian government is choosing to censor journalists and media outlets who report on the disease”said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

3. Good Governence: Despite a marked increase in deaths attributed to “respirstory” illness (Tanzania dies not allow COVID-19 testing) including that of the Vice President of Zanzibat, Magufuli continues to advocate prayer and herbal remedies. I watched in horror as Dorothy Gwajima the Health Minister held a press briefing that looked more like a poorly put together cooking programme. She blended a concoction of ginger, onions, lemon and pepper, and claimed this vegetable smoothie would ward off coronavirus. People are dying in Tanzania, how is this good governance?

4. Individual Liberty: Magufuli started hunting LGBT individuals and activists in 2018 putting together a team of officials and police that would target gay people, who could face lengthy prison sentences, intensifying discrimination.

5. Multilaterism: ah, yes! Multiple countries pursuing a common goal. According to the Lancet, Tanzania is one of four African nations refusing to participate in COVAX, the global vaccination program. Given recent reports of the virus mutating and affecting vaccine efficacy, we are doomed if Tanzania continues to give the virus a sanctuary.

So, here we are celebrating Commonwealth Day when one of the club members is breaking all the rules. Time to call out Tanzania or reconsider its position in the Commonwealth. Time to act.

Western Governments need to reign in Tanzanias Magufuli by withholding foreign aid.

Last week I had queried why the European Union had released COVID support funds to a country that is allegedly free of the virus. I was wondering where the 27 million EUROS were spent. Could it be that the money has been spent on installing saunas at two national hospitals? Oh yes, this is President Magufulis latest stunt.

Yesterday, The Citizen reported the Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH) and Mloganzila had installed four steam inhalation rooms to treat respiratory challenges, the codeword for COVID in Tanzania. Each cabin can accommodate up to six people and, of course, a never-ending opportunity for the virus to spread and mutate. This is madness, yet there is hardly any criticism from the western governments over Magufulis continuing negligence. To add to this, Tanzania Election Watch yesterday concluded the election last year was not free and fair. Opposition party leaders were arrested and police vehicles patrolled Pemba and Zanzibar Islands, where security forces shot and killed several civilians on claims of being aligned with the opposition. To give this context, Zanzibar is semi-autonomous. Imagine this happening in the UK’s devolved nations.

When Magufuli claimed victory last year, the US embassy in Dar es Salaam said that “irregularities and the overwhelming margins of victory raise serious doubts about the credibility of the results”. The US embassy has been a vocal critic, recently calling out the criminal handling of COVID by the Magufuli government. I don’t understand why the UK government isn’t adding its voice; our man in Dar-es-Salam, David Concar, remains suspiciously quiet. The UK has a responsibility given its colonial links, G7 leadership and also Tanzania’s membership of the Commonwealth.

According to the OECD, Tanzania is one of the leading aid recipients in the African continent despite the decline in human rights and authoritarian regime. Denmark has frozen funding to Tanzania, saying it was withholding $10 million worth of aid over concerns about policies that threaten gay people. Magufuli response to this was he prefers assistance from China, as Beijing imposes fewer human rights conditions.

Western countries need to follow Denmark’s lead. Yes, there is an impact on people living in one of the poorest countries; however, after another five years with Magufuli in charge, the damage to Tanzania will be irreversible. The effort must be collective, with western donors taking united action. Support must also be lent to the opposition leaders. Meanwhile, more news of friends and relatives dying in my network today, bringing the total to 12 since January of this year.

The Pope’s visit to #Iraq gives a dangerous narrative to #Magufuli.

According to Tanzania’s Catholic Church more than 25 priests and 60 nuns have recently died with COVID like symptoms. ‘COVID like’ because the Tanzanian President has of course claimed the country was cured of the coronavirus with prayer. Since the last reported cases in April 2020, there is no COVID testing on the mainland. The loss of lives is unforgivable, almost every Tanzanian is affected directly or indirectly. We should all care and be outraged by Magufuli’s actions. In Tanzania, there are no measures in place to cut transmission offering the virus a sanctuary to mutate and pose a very real threat to the vaccination programme.

Now, you may be thinking what has the Pope’s visit to Iraq got to do with Tanzania? Well, President Magufuli is a devout catholic and his visit inadvertently gives Magufuli’s mishandling of COVID in Tanzania credence. Since the start of the year, there has been a marked increase in people dying of “pneumonia” the codeword for COVID in Tanzania. In February during the funeral of his Chief Secretary, Magufuli said to mourners, “Maybe we have wronged God somewhere..” and declared three days of prayer, urging people to go to church and the mosque. I am convinced the deaths of the Tanzanian clergy are linked to the call to pray by Magufuli in February this year.

I have the utmost respect and admiration for the Pope and his vision for interfaith tolerance. I also recognise Christian minorities in the Middle East and elsewhere have suffered persecution. The Pope meeting Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani is not only a historic moment but also symbolic to muslims and christians worldwide. Whilst I am certain the Iraqi and Vatican officials will take all necessary precautions, to a president [Magufuli] who has used religion and prayer to rid himself of responsibility, the Pope’s visit will be spun to validate negligent leadership. I just wish this important visit was delayed and it makes me very angry to think this historic visit will be spun by one of the most unchristian presidents to justify his criminal handling of COVID in Tanzania.

Thank you Sir David Attenborough and the UK MP’s engaging with the situation in #Tanzania

I wanted to channel my anger and grief positively. A value my late father instilled in me was to take action and not complain. So, when dad died; I made a list of research groups, NGO’s, government ministers and individuals with a connection to Tanzania and wrote to them. I am immensely grateful to receive a reply of support from Sir. David Attenborough. My late father was a huge fan of his wildlife documentaries and even wrote a letter to him (of course he received a reply). My father was delighted and for many years his framed reply had pride of place in our shop.

I cannot thank my friends and colleagues enough for supporting me over the last couple of weeks; emotionally and also by exercising their democratic right by writing to their MP about the situation in Tanzania. It has been hugely reassuring to see many MP’s from all sides of the house acknowledge the grave situation in Tanzania and to recognise, that if left unchecked there is a very real impact on all of us in the UK and our plans to come out of lockdown. I want to thank Wera Hobhouse, Karin Smyth and Jacob Rees-Mogg for taking the time to reply and for committing to raising the issue in Tanzania with the relevant government minister. Sadly, I have yet to hear from my own MP David Warburton (I wrote to him on 16th February 2021). Tanzania isn’t some far away country from whom we can stay disconnected. Borders are porous and as it stands the virus has a sanctuary to mutate in Tanzania posing a threat to all of us.

That said, today is a good day and I am going to hang on to that.

Another day, more bleak news from #Tanzania

I woke up to 22 messages on my WhatsApp. These days, I get really nervous when I see so many messages, gone are the easy days of funny forwards. These days it can only mean bad news – and it was. A family friend aged 38 died leaving his wife and mother in hospital, all suspected with “pneumonia” the codeword for COVID in Tanzania. Since January of this year, I have lost eight family (including my father) and friends. I hold President Magufuli wholly responsible. His COVID denial, refusal to test, mixed messaging and fostering an environment of fear have led to these and many other deaths in the country.

When I say fear, it is real. Last week a member of my family was stopped by the police in Arusha for wearing a face mask. This isn’t a typo, the police stopped them because they were wearing a face mask. Which really is ironic as some of the press in the UK are querying whether, we in the UK should be wearing two masks as worn by President Joe Biden. I am aware there are people in the West who feel wearing a mask is an imposition and an infringement of ones rights. Consider yourself lucky, at least you have a voice and you can assert your thinking. Meanwhile, back in Arusha the police threatened to lock the member of my family and it was only because they lied and claimed to have a “respiratory” illness they were able to go home. So now, people in Tanzania have to pretend to be sick in order to exercise protective measures against COVID-19. How do you even begin to get your head around this one.

Language has the power to encourage or perpetuate and in Tanzania, President Magufuli has adopted seriously derogative language, for example by calling the COVID pandemic “satanic” and a “white mans disease”. He has also cast doubt around the COVAX vaccination programme saying, “You [Tanzanians] should stand firm. Vaccinations are dangerous. If the white man was able to come up with vaccinations, he should have found a vaccination for Aids by now; he would have found a vaccination of tuberculosis by now; he would have found a vaccination for malaria by now; he would have found a vaccination for cancer by now,” Misinformation and conspiracy theories with regards to COVID and vaccines aren’t a Tanzanian problem, in fact Public Health experts and governments globally are having to debunk misinformation. In Tanzania Magufuli is sowing division and inequality. In one of the worlds poorest countries, the absence of government guidelines means those who can afford it are accessing private medical care and are able to leverage foreign networks / information to keep themselves safe. These individuals will quite likely privately procure the COVID vaccine also. The political class will be fine too, in fact I wouldn’t be surprised if Magufuli himself privately has the jab. Meanwhile basic information on health and safety in Tanzania is becoming a rare commodity available exclusively to the elite. How is this fair?

According to the Tanzania Investment Centre, The UK is the leading investor in Tanzania with 35% share of foreign investment with Tanzania being one of only five African countries with which the UK has signed a High Level Prosperity Partnership. How is the UK government standing by and letting the COVID situation in Tanzania unfold? Monday 8th March marks Commonwealth Day, and Tanzania is a member of the association. The opportunity to lobby for change is there for the taking, will the UK government act? I doubt it… nothing would make me happier hope to be proven wrong.

The UK is concerned about the Brazil COVID variant, what about Tanzania?

I am really grateful to Jason Burke for writing about the situation in Tanzania and for giving me the opportunity to share my story and to raise much needed awareness. I feel like I am living in a parallel universe, the messages on my WhatsApp are bleak with daily news of someone we know taken into hospital with so called “pneumonia” (the code word for COVID in Tanzania). Meanwhile in the UK COVID sceptics think the Brazil variant is some sort of government conspiracy. At a personal level it is so difficult to get my head around all this given I not only lost my father to COVID but also five relatives and friends since January this year.

I get it, people are tired of lockdown and there is no denying the economic and mental health impact of the pandemic in the UK and beyond. I have struggled too and yet having experienced first hand the situation in Tanzania I am grateful to live in the UK, where the government is at least taking the virus seriously by leading the vaccination programme and providing financial support through the furlough and other schemes. The UK governments response hasn’t been perfect and I don’t want to detract from the difficulties people are facing – I just want to share a different perspective and recognise we have much to be grateful for in the UK.

TZ and COVID-19

Last week, Dorothy Gwajima the Health Minister held a press briefing that looked more like a poorly put together cooking programme. She blended a concoction of ginger, onions, lemon and pepper, and claimed this vegetable smoothie would ward off coronavirus. Imagine Matt Hancock pulling that stunt, would we stand for it? What is happening in Tanzania matters. The government stopped testing for COVID in April 2020 and last updated its number of infections at 509 cases. The Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention director, John Nkengasong said last week, “if we do not fight this [COVID] as a collective on the continent, we will be doomed”. I believe this applies to us in the UK and beyond. We live in a interconnected world with porous borders which the virus does not recognise. Given there aren’t any social distancing measures in place in Tanzania, one can’t help but wonder how the virus is mutating and whether it is a matter of time before the “Tanzanian variant” emerges potentially derailing the entire vaccination programme.

So, what can you do?

  1. Write to your MP – Magufuli’ s government will respond to international pressure especially if foreign aid is likely to be withheld.
  2. Email the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. You can contact them at fcdo.correspondence@fcdo.gov.uk. The Minister for Africa is James Duddridge. We must hold our government to account.
  3. Share this blog or the Guardian article on your social media feed to help raise awareness of the crises in Tanzania.