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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?