Life And Times: Was Denying The Presence Of COVID-19 In Tanzania Magufuli’s Biggest Undoing?

Life And Times: Was Denying The Presence Of COVID-19 In Tanzania Magufuli’s Biggest Undoing?

By Norman Isaac Mwambazi

As you might have already known, Tanzania President John Pombe Magufuli was pronounced dead last night, Wednesday, March 17, 2021, from a hospital in Dar-es-Salaam. Magufuli was 61.

It should be noted that Magufuli had just started his second term in office after winning a highly contested presidential election in October 2020.

His desire for accountability and service for the people..

When Magufuli became president in 2015, his first term was filled with nothing but dedicating his service to the people of Tanzania. To achieve this, he required the highest degree of accountability of public funds and selfless service from civil servants.

Magufuli’s policies made sure that government officials do not squander public funds on wasteful spending like travelling abroad in first class, and carrying along unnecessarily big contingents like it is in some African countries.

To this effect, Magufuli himself never travelled out of Tanzania to attend all those conferences and meetings with presidents of other countries. For ll the almost six years he spent in the office, if an international meeting was not held in Tanzania, Magufuli would just send the concerned minister to represent him.

This has been hailed by other Africans whose presidents either fly first class or have private jets and fly out of the country several times each month. Magufulis refusal to fly out saved the Tanzanian government millions of shillings.

Last year, as many world economies were struggling due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, on July 1, 2020, the World Bank announced that the Tanzanian economy had been upgraded from low to lower-middle-income status.

Press freedom..

Over the course of Magufulis presidency, human rights activists called him out a number of times for what they believed was a violation of some human rights and putting strict restrictions on the freedom of expression including monitoring the press.

Was Denying The Presence Of COVID-19 In Tanzania Magufuli's Biggest Undoing?

One notable incident was when he demanded an apology from Kenyan broadcaster Citizen TV last year for “using inappropriate words” to describe his fight against COVID-19. He reportedly switched off Citizen TV in Tanzania prior to the apology.

“During the first year of his tenure two radio stations – Radio Five and Magic FM – and the Mawio newspaper were banned. Two Mawio editors were briefly detained and questioned about their coverage of politics in Zanzibar,” US publication The Conversation reported.

Prior to last year’s general election, the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) published new rules banning local media from broadcasting foreign-made content without the government’s approval, something the Uganda Media Council tried to replicate in the run-in to the January 14 election but it the decision was challenged in court by the Uganda Editors Guild.

COVID-19 denial

Without sugarcoating anything, Magufuli has been stubborn in the COVID-19 pandemic. From the very beginning, he was sceptical about the truth about the virus. When other countries panicked (and rightly so) and directed lockdowns, Magufuli refused to do so. His reasoning was that the effects of a lockdown would be far worse than the effects of COVID-19 on the people of Tanzania socially, and economically.

Was Denying The Presence Of COVID-19 In Tanzania Magufuli's Biggest Undoing?
President Magufuli encouraged the people of Tanzania to pray, instead of putting in place measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. He later claimed that God saved them from the virus. PHOTO COURTESY OF BBC.

As such, he directed the Minister of Health to stop announcing COVID-19 statistics. This was after he claimed to have found the virus in samples of pawpaws.

Could this be Magufuli’s biggest undoing during his time as President of Tanzania? The World Health Organisation (WHO) advised his government to follow what other countries had done in order to contain the spread of COVID-19 but he refused.

He even imported the highly contested Madagascar cure to help those that had been infected. Magufuli was at the centre of global discussion for continually denying the presence of COVID-19 in Tanzania, claiming that they prayed for it and God took it away.

Towards the end of last year, Magufuli apologised and finally acknowledged the presence of COVID-19, and this was after the death of several government officials.

When he was hospitalised last month, rumours circulated that Magufuli was battling the same disease he denied existed, and the government of Tanzania refuted those rumours and arrested some of those for spreading fake information.

Grief and relief

After Magufuli’s death, opposition leaders, especially those that went into exile expressed relief, but those who saw him as a man that wanted the best for the people of Tanzania and advocated for better service delivery and accountability, are surely grieving.

Whatever side you belong to, man errs long the journey of life, and his decisions may not be welcomed by everyone, but who are we to judge? May his soul rest well.

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