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.