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.