Tanzania has its very own Donald Trump and the West barely reacts…

I’d like you to consider these quotes:

Vaccinations are dangerous. If white people were able to come up with vaccinations, a vaccination for AIDS would have been found

Tanzanian President John Magufuli, January 2021

Corona is the devil and it cannot survive in the body of Jesus.

Magufuli advocating prayer to combat COVID, March 2020

Maybe we have wronged god somewhere. It is time to repent.

Magufuli declaring three days of prayer in February 2021 as respiratory related deaths rise in the country

COVID aside, President Magufuli’s government has created a climate of fear and repression. Since 2015, the government has stepped up censorship by banning or suspending at least five newspapers for content deemed critical. One of these included Tanzania’s major English language daily newspaper, The Citizen. The Human Rights Watch (HRW) paper, “as long as I am quiet, I am safe” is pretty damning and explains how the Tanzanian government has systematically silenced freedom of speech. Journalists are frequently arrested, Erick Kabendera a prominent investigative journalist was charged with economic crimes and has yet to appear in court. This environment of fear has spread amongst ordinary people also. I am afraid for my family who are in Tanzania and this is why I am blogging anonymously. Friends regularly speak in code, one is convinced people’s phones are monitored. People in Tanzania are being silenced through fear. Why are we silent in the west?

Yesterday, 26th February Magufuli stopped to greet people in Mbezi, Dar-Es-Salaam. According to Maria Sarungi-Tsehei; a voter complained about being charged 500shs for the use of public toilets. Magufulis response was charming, “leave your shit at home”. Tanzania is one of the world’s poorest countries with 67.9% of the population living below the poverty line, so yeah having to fork out 500shs does matter. I’m no fan of Donald Trump, however had he responded to a voter in such a way, Twitter would be alive, funny memes would be forwarded on WhatsApp and our press would be having a field day.

The parallels between Magufuli and Trump don’t end here. During his first term in office, he pursued a populist nationalist agenda choking the regulatory environment for foreign businesses. He has barred regional businesses from accessing the Tanzanian market, for example by restricting Kenyan imports. In the last week the Tanzanian Ambassador to Kenya attempted to silence Kenyan journalists reporting on the growing COVID crises. Oh and Magufuli is no better on women’s or LGBT rights either. Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said she feared a witch-hunt which could be interpreted as a licence to carry out violence, intimidation, bullying, harassment and discrimination against those perceived to be LGBT.

I do think social media is in part responsible for this. A handful of issues trend and the “algorithm” generates more of the same taking us down a rabbit hole. Our journalists have a responsibility to bring to light such injustices however, in a crowded market it is easy for editors to focus on a handful of popular issues to ensure readership. The other issue might be that of language. Although most Tanzanians speak English much of the local reporting and social media chatter takes place in Swahili creating a barrier. What do you think? Please comment as I am genuinely struggling to understand.

Meanwhile I am hearing Magufulis latest policy is to make constitutional changes to enable him to run for president (again) when his term ends. I fear Tanzania is going to end up with a dictator modelled upon Mugabe and Trump.

Why is the European Union releasing COVID support funding to a government that denies the virus exists..?

I started this blog having lost five friends and family members (including my father) since January of this year. Their deaths have been attributed to “pneumonia” the codeword for COVID in Tanzania. Last night a close friend in Moshi was grieving the loss of his brother and sister-in-law. They died within days of each other, “pneumonia” was mentioned. They leave behind two young children.

President Magufuli in recent days has admitted Tanzania has a COVID problem which is a start. However there is much in the way of mixed messaging and stoking of division. For example, President Magufuli claims COVID is a “white mans” disease and vaccines are not to be trusted. In a country where public health awareness with regards to COVID is pitifully lacking this is a dangerous message. Tanzania cannot be a lone nation and not vaccinate its citizens. Eventually, President Magufuli will give in but changing the public’s mind having fed all this propaganda is going to be one hell of a challenge.

Almost everyone in my network has responded with, “I had no idea about the situation in Tanzania”. Why have we become this insular? I don’t know the answer myself. What is frustrating is our governments approach which is embarrassing to say the least. The G7 and our commitment to the Commonwealth provides a powerful platform to advocate change. Instead, our man in Dar-es-Salaam, David Concar (British Ambassador to Tanzania) placated President Magufuli by attending an official event and not bothering to wear a mask. Meanwhile, the European Union Office in Dar-Es-Salaam gave 27 million Euros in COVID relief funds, to a government that continues to deny the virus exists. Go figure! The white mans face masks are not safe but Magufuli has no qualms accepting his shilling.

We have to hold our government and institutions such as the European Union accountable. None of us will be free of COVID otherwise. We have been told the virus is mutating. The Tanzanian government stopped testing in April 2020. Given the increase in deaths attributed to “pneumonia” since October, who knows what mutation of COVID we are dealing with in Tanzania. The virus does not recognise borders…

One step forward, ten steps back

There was a moment of euphoria yesterday, my WhatsApp was alive with messages, “President Magufuli has acknowledged Tanzania as a COVID problem”. The messages kept coming. I couldn’t believe it.

The joy was short lived. the sight of Dr. Mpango our Finance Minister coughing and gasping during a news conference is nothing short of shocking to watch. There were rumors circulating on social media he was being treated for COVID. Clearly, he was coerced into leading the news conference. Dr. Mpango attributed his illness to ‘pneumonia’ the code word for COVID-19 in Tanzania. Meanwhile, the Deputy Speaker of Tanzania continued with her biding for the administration. She admitted she had COVID not once, but twice and proceeded to dismiss it as no big deal. I wonder how she knew she had COVID in the first place, she must have disobeyed Magufuli and got a test. But, then Magufuli maintains COVID tests are bogus… I am confused.

Whilst the Tanzanian government was doing its best sending out mixed messages, neighboring Kenya has put stringent measures on its borders with Tanzania and the US Embassy changed travel advice to Level 4 – do not travel. The US Embassy has been a vocal critic of the situation in Tanzania and the handling of the COVID pandemic, whilst our man in Dar-Es-Salaam, David Concar (the British Ambassador to Tanzania) is suspiciously quiet. On 19th January of this year, Labour MP Stephen Doughty asked the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, what assessment he has made of the adequacy of the response of the Government of Tanzania to the COVID-19 pandemic; and what support the Government is providing to that country. It turns out our government has been putting messages on local radio on hand washing and social distancing. Would someone like to follow up and ask the government how they think this little campaign has gone? Perhaps a radio campaign debunking herbal remedies as a cure for COVID would’ve been more useful. Meanwhile, a friend in Arusha got in touch yesterday, to say they had their worse night yet. Ambulances collecting bodies from peoples home in the cover of darkness. I have personally lost six relatives and friends since January.

What will it take to challenge President Magufuli?

The situation in Tanzania poses a threat to all of us. The virus has no borders. Tanzania could soon become ground zero for new COVID variants derailing the progress we have made with vaccines. It really is in all our interests to speak up, write to your MP, share the plight of Tanzania on your Social Media or reach out to your church community (Magufuli is a devout Catholic and this could be a way to influence change). Do something, please.

Letter to His Holiness, Pope Francis

I am writing to you to express my fears about the situation with regards to COVID-19 in Tanzania. The current government is denying the existence of COVID-19 and the President believes the country has been cured of the virus through prayer. President John Magufuli is a devout Christian and I know first-hand the power of prayer and comfort it can provide. His Holiness, you have been a strong advocate of the vaccine and even said recently refusal is akin to suicidal denialism. President Magufuli has refused to participate in the COVAX programme advocating herbal remedies instead. There has been some change in messaging from the Magufuli administration, after WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom issued a statement urging the President to share data and participate in the vaccination programme.

The situation in Tanzania goes beyond the issue of vaccinations. The codeword for COVID in Tanzania “pneumonia” and since January of this year, I have lost five friends and relatives including my father, none of them were tested for COVID and received steam therapy along with antibiotics and steroids, in hope that something would work. Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world and as it stands 60-million Tanzanians are at risk. There is an urgent need for testing, PPE for medical staff and a coordinated public health education campaign. I am writing to ask for your help in engaging President Magufuli and to connect with him as a Christian to reconsider his approach to COVID in Tanzania.

Please note: this is a copy of the letter sent by postal mail to His Holiness.

Comments on @AJStream live event

Yesterday, Al-Jazeera’s AJ Stream programme focused on the situation in Tanzania. The programme was really balanced and I believe went a long way towards raising awareness. However, for me the comments as the show was streamed on YouTube were the real story. There is much support for the Presidents approach along with discrediting individuals who are afraid to speak out openly. So, my fellow Tanzanians please consider this:

  1. Of the 116 countries that haven’t administered a single vaccine jab, 101 are developing countries with many in Africa. So, the white man wants to finish Tanzanians so much so they are vaccinating their people first.
  2. Do you want to live in an authoritarian state where people are afraid to speak openly about issues? Why are you judging someone by their accent and not listening to what is being said?
  3. President Magufuli now wants Tanzanians to wear a locally manufactured mask – why do you think his view is changing?
  4. The only COVID tests available in Tanzania are those that produce a negative result unless of course fruits and goats are involved.
  5. You think this is good economic policy? Tourism contributed to almost 20% of Tanzania’s GDP. COVID and refusal to vaccinate is a great advert, people will flock for safari.

The code word for COVID in Tanzania is ‘pneumonia’ as the virus is spreading unchecked. So, my Tanzanian brothers and sisters it is time to reconsider what you have been told. COVID isn’t a white man’s disease, we are all in this together. As long as there is COVID in Tanzania no one is safe with new variants emerging which may invalidate vaccinations.

How many people will die of ‘pneumonia’ before you will hold Magufuli to account?

Tanzanians need help to tackle COVID-19

I lost my father, 82 three days before his birthday. Since January of this year, we have lost three family members and their deaths have been attributed to pneumonia. I watched helplessly on FaceTime as my father struggled to gulp air, his oxygen levels were between 76-80 and upon admission he was unable to have Oxygen due to the high volume of patients requiring oxygen. The physician who treated my father was afraid to mention the disease for the fear of government reprisals. She tried everything, from giving my dad steam therapy, antibiotics and steroids’ to trying Vitamin D supplements. Nothing worked. I recognise, my fathers age puts him at a high risk however a small part of me wonders, had the physician been able to test for COVID he would have had a very different treatment plan. Our pain might have eased a little knowing he was receiving the treatment he needed.

Ask any Tanzanian they’ll say, it is COVID and people are dying.

Whilst in the west we are fed up of lockdowns and have a glimmer of hope with the vaccination programme, people in Tanzania have been told by the president to pray. President Magufuli has continued to play down the seriousness of the disease even as neighboring countries such as Kenya and Uganda closed borders. The government last released numbers on COVID-19 in April, 2020, there had been 509 positive cases, 21 deaths and 183 recoveries – a figure unchanged to date.

I recently mentioned the plight of Tanzanians to friends and colleagues, there is little awareness of the situation. Following the death of Seif Sharif Hamad, Vice President of the semi-autonomous Zanzibar Island the World health organisation issued a statement urging President Magufuli to cooperate. In response, the President announced three days of prayer. Whilst there is a time and a place for prayer and I do not question the comfort it offers, Tanzanians needs science and leadership to tackle COVID. What will it take for something to change?

A helpless daughter…

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. I am a Tanzanian living in the UK. I am riddled with guilt for living in a developed country with healthcare and a COVID-19 vaccination programme. I am sharing my story and that of friends and family in Tanzania, people are afraid to speak out against President Magufuli as they watch their loved ones die. Magufuli’s government is denying the existence of COVID-19 and the propaganda in the country is the virus has been cured through prayer with Tanzania being free of the Corona Virus. Tanzania is one of the worlds poorest countries and I recognise the comfort prayer can provide. This is why I believe Tanzania needs prayer and science to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.

President John Magufuli has continued to play down the seriousness of the disease even as neighbouring countries such as Kenya and Uganda have closed borders and implemented lockdowns. The government last released numbers on COVID-19 in April 2020, there had been 509 positive cases, 21 deaths and 183 recoveries – a figure unchanged to date. The Tanzanian authorities have refused to participate in the COVAX programme dismissing vaccines and instead advocating herbal remedies. Dr. Tedros Adhanom, Director General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said, “we will not end the pandemic anywhere unless we end it everywhere”.

Please help, share the plight of Tanzanians on social media, write to your MP, contact your church (President Magufuli is a devout Christian) – anything! The lives of nearly 60 million citizens are at risk not to mention the economic cost that will plunge millions into further poverty. In speaking out for the plight of Tanzanians we are making sure we take a collective approach to bringing the COVID-19 crises to an end.

Please do also follow me on Twitter @VaccineTanzania