#Vaccines4Tanzania is a campaign to raise awareness of the mismanagement of COVID-19 in Tanzania and to urge President Magufuli to allow testing, participate in the COVAX programme and lead a public health education campaign
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.
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.
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…
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 Doughtyasked 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.
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:
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.
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?
President Magufuli now wants Tanzanians to wear a locally manufactured mask – why do you think his view is changing?
The only COVID tests available in Tanzania are those that produce a negative result unless of course fruits and goats are involved.
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?
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?