It’s been nearly two weeks since Tanzania’s President John Magufuli has made a public appearance. The last public event he attended was the swearing-in ceremony of the newly appointed chief secretary Bashiru Ally on 27 February. Since then, much has happened.
By Abdul Halim
Unconfirmed reports continue to circulate in Tanzania that the President – known for his fierce denial of Covid – was receiving treatment in Kenya at Nairobi Hospital and has now been transferred to a facility in India after suffering cardiac arrest and testing positive for Covid-19.
Accountable to the public
The president is a public servant, and he is accountable to the public. They must tell us if he is on holiday. And if he is sick, they should tell us. All information about the president’s health should be public.
The disappearance of the 61-year-old president from the public eye has prompted questions among Tanzanians who want to know the true status of his health.
Speaking to The Africa Report, the secretary general of the ACT Wazalendo party, Ado Shaibu, says Tanzanians have a right to ask about the whereabouts of their president: “It is not normal. He is a man who usually appears in public, even if it is to mock his political opponents and make his usual firm stance against this health crisis. President Magufuli is a public figure and anything that happens to him is a matter of public concern.”
Maria Sarungi, a communication expert and online activist asked authorities through a series of tweets to come out and tell Tanzanians Magufuli’s current health status.
“The President is a public servant, and he is accountable to the public. They must tell us if he is on holiday. And if he is sick, they should tell us. All information about the President’s health should be public.”
Exiled opposition politician Tundu Lissu also denounced the silence of authorities, citing the President’s health is a matter of grave public concern.
What goes around comes around…
This public outcry about the President’s health is serious. As health experts, we encourage government to approach a science-based solution.
Medical workers have been constrained and threatened by the government for referring to cases as Covid-19.
*Saleh Bakari, a medical doctor based in Zanzibar, tells The Africa Report that the current Covid-19 situation is deteriorating and urges the authorities to take action.
“This public outcry about the President’s health is serious. As health experts, we encourage government to approach a science-based solution,” he says.
Magufuli has been criticised right from the start of the pandemic for his statements and policies:
Early on, he declared Tanzania Covid-free after three days of prayers.
As of May 2020, the Magufuli administration stopped testing people and releasing data on the number of infections.
He refused to impose a lockdown despite surging cases in neighbouring countries.
He told the health ministry not to rush to adopt Covid-19 vaccines, as they may not be safe or effective.
Even after several high-ranking former and current officials died from what many suspect was coronavirus, he continued to distance himself from referring to it as Covid. Instead, during the funeral of chief secretary to State House John Kijazi, Magufuli urged Tanzanians to participate in three days of prayer for “respiratory illnesses” that had become a challenge in Tanzania.
Government issues warnings
Despite numerous international media outlets commenting on Magufuli’s health, none of them has been able to secure a comment from the government to either confirm or deny details.
On 10 March, Innocent Lugha Bashungwa – the country’s information minister – issued a warning on his Twitter account to the media against writing information without having credible and authoritative sources.
He tweeted: “I call on our journalists and citizens to continue the process of obtaining information through official sources of information. Using rumours as official information is a violation of the laws governing the media industry. Avoid sharing information that you will be responsible for.”
Meanwhile, constitution minister Mwigulu Lameck Nchemba used his Instagram account to refer to the ‘false’ information in circulation as nonsense.
“The President is not a parish worker or duty presenter or jogging club leader to be in public every day. I warn everyone against spreading fake news. The penal code and cybercrime act remains valid for those who break the law.”
Professor Wetengere Kitojo, a renowned supporter of the President, tells The Africa Report that it’s wrong how the international media has been covering the topic.
“Foreign media should stop being biased. How can you publish such a story without government views? This is unacceptable.”
The Africa Report reached out to ruling party officials, but they refused to comment on this matter.
To date, no local or international media have been able to confirm the exact whereabouts or the health status of President Magufuli.
*Name has been changed for security reasons
This article was published by The Africa Report.