An experienced journalist from Tanzania should actually be involved in this text. Shortly before the appearance, however, a change in the law forced him to cancel: Foreign journalists are only allowed to report on the country under the supervision of a government representative. Information on the coronavirus in particular is considered dangerous and may not be published without government approval. Content that could damage Tanzania’s reputation has also been banned since July. Work under these circumstances, so the colleague’s fear, could bring him to prison.
In Tanzania today, watchful eyes are needed as seldom before. President John Magufuli, who is particularly popular in rural areas, is seeking re-election on October 28th. He has lived up to his nickname “The Bulldozer” in recent months.
In the fight against the coronavirus, for example, he relied on bulldozer tactics: Anything that does not fit his course will be flattened. His critics end up in prison, he defamed his own state laboratory, and a conspiracy by the World Health Organization (WHO) and “imperialists” is responsible for the corona diseases in the country anyway.
On June 8, he declared the pandemic in his country to be over after a three-day prayer ordered by him – he announced the good news in a church in the capital Dodoma. Prayer and fasting together had driven the virus away, he explained, this “devil who cannot live in the body of Jesus Christ”. The churches and mosques remained open throughout the crisis.
Masks could be returned to the donors, Magufuli said. And then rowed back a little: You should protect yourself as much as possible, pray and inhale local herbs if you have symptoms. Magufuli himself stayed in a village for weeks and did not go to the funeral of a minister who had suddenly died in May.
The last figures the country sent to WHO are from April 29th. Officially, there were 509 infections and 21 deaths. Magufuli left little doubt as to what he thought of such data. He announced in a televised address that, on his instructions, swabs from a sheep, a quail and fruit had been sent to the national laboratory – and had come back with positive results.
Foreign countries, he implied conspiratorially, wanted to make the situation in his country worse than it is. “It’s a dirty game,” said Magufuli. This rhetoric has a system; in recent years he has repeatedly blamed foreign mining companies for economic problems – in conspiracy with the opposition.
For a long time now, there have been no reports of test results from the hospitals; Magufuli himself prefers to talk about the major infrastructure projects that he has initiated. It is an open secret in Tanzania that there is great resentment in the Ministry of Health at the ignorance of the president, the deputy minister was dismissed after criticizing Magufuli for his strategy in the fight against the coronavirus and helping activists with a coronavirus information campaign. On the semi-autonomous island of Zanzibar, the authorities, regardless of the President’s instructions, are increasingly testing.
In Tanzania, human rights lawyer Fatma Karume is one of the few who speaks openly about politics. She does not allow herself to be dissuaded from a professional ban imposed on her. “Magufuli says the coronavirus has been defeated, but he speaks safely through the skylight of his car at public rallies,” she says on the phone, “so he tells everyone not to practice social distancing while doing it himself.”
Karume assumes that the virus will increasingly be carried to rural areas that have been spared so far in the coming weeks due to the many election campaign events. For the country, however, there is more at stake than the health of its citizens: “The opposition, civil society, the rights of assembly and freedom of expression are being attacked – and with it our democracy.” The people will not allow that.
Assassination attempt on challenger
In the elections, Magufuli is actually expecting a strong challenger in Tundu Lissu. The opposition politician was hit by 16 bullets in an attack in 2017. 18 operations followed, and in July he returned to Tanzania. He called Magufuli’s reaction to the coronavirus an “irresponsible disaster”. The President apparently assumes that the virus will go away if you talk about it.
A few days ago, a regional office of his Chadema party in the city of Arusha was set on fire, shortly before a visit to Lissu. The latter announced that he would not let terror and intimidation stop him.
“The international community is watching the preparations for the elections with concern,” says Daniel El-Noshokaty, representative of the CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAS) in Tanzania. For the first time, no election observers from the EU or the UN were invited, and the members of the election commission were personally appointed by the president. “Independence is not guaranteed,” says El-Noshokaty, “and in the last local elections, 95 percent of the opposition candidates were excluded, often for flimsy reasons.”
The consequences are limited
In everyday life, El-Noshokaty hardly sees any citizens wearing a mask. Those who do, are sometimes insulted as unpatriotic. The hospitals are no longer as full as they were in April or May when patients had to be turned away. But that does not necessarily mean a decrease in the number of infections.
“I suspect that a large part of the fact that many people do not dare to go to a doctor,” says El-Noshokaty. For doctors, the bureaucratic effort of reporting an infection has also been deliberately complicated.
A European doctor who works in Tanzania reported on the phone that she actually assumed a significant decrease in infections since mid-June. “A lot is speculation, but the big clinics talk weekly, you would have noticed something,” she says, “and after major events there was no significant increase in the number of patients.” In April, infected patients were turned away by security staff from some hospitals that calmed down.
The effects of the pandemic and Magufuli’s policy have so far been less bad than feared. And after all, HIV patients would now dare to pick up their medicine again.
The doctor, who does not want to be named, criticizes the government’s concealment tactics. At the same time, she also considers the WHO strategy unsuitable. “Poorer countries were left a little on their own,” she says, “too much emphasis was placed on standardized recommendations, and the consequences of a lockdown in developing countries are much worse than in industrialized nations.” Due to the lack of restrictions, the economy in Tanzania is at least partially on Life has been held.
It remains to be seen whether this also applies to democracy.
This article was originally published by Pledge Times.