New Tanzania leader must reverse disastrous track

Monday, March 29th, 2021 00:00 |

For a while, Tanzania seemed like it was walking on water. Due to the complete suppression of any information about Covid-19 and the declaration by its late President, John Pombe Magufuli, that it had miraculously defeated corona, many came to believe that Tanzania was doing “something right.”

Until disaster struck! In the last three months, Tanzania has lost many top officials to covid including Magufuli himself, his chief secretary John William Kijazi, and Vice President of Zanzibar, Seif Shariff Hamad.

Other top government officials like finance minister, Dr Philip Pango, have been fighting for their lives in hospital.

All sectors are in crisis, and the Tanganyika Law Society as well as the Catholic Church have finally declared openly that they have lost tens of their members, and warned Tanzanians to take urgent measures to stop the spread of the virus.

Despite all these signs, Tanzania’s officialdom has gone on blissfully, almost fatalistically, refusing to even acknowledge existence of Covid-19, and how it is ravaging the country.

The new President, Samia Suluhu, has taken over from Covid denier Magufuli.

She has a huge task on her hands to restore the dignity and soul of Tanzania. Three things, however, are most urgent.

First is changing Tanzania’s disastrous Covid trajectory. Obviously Tanzania can no longer deny that Covid is ravaging the country.

Suluhu must return the country into the community of nations by  acknowledging Covid, testing, sharing data, imposing the necessary containment measures, and urgently allowing vaccination.

If she does this, the whole world will be at her feet. If she continues down the current disastrous path, Tanzania will remain an international pariah for a long time to come.

Indeed, it is very instructive that only the perennial optimist, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, attended Magufuli’s State funeral in Dodoma of all presidents from the East African Community.

President Suluhu’s second urgent task is repairing the relationship between Kenya and Tanzania that was shredded by Magufuli and now lies in ruins.

For some reason, Magufuli reserved his most vicious tantrums for Kenya. From burning of day old chicks from Kenya, to detaining and auctioning Kenya’s cows, to advising his countrymen to sell to Kenyans who were in lockdown food at exorbitant prices, it was difficult to understand why Magufuli extended such bitterness to his most important neighbour.

A Kenyan television station which called him out on his irresponsible management of Covid was forced to issue a grovelling apology for an entire week, obviously under threat of unspecified consequences.  And this is just a tip of the iceberg.

The damage that Magufuli wrought in relations between these two neighbours will take years to repair.

But there’s hope. Despite the extreme provocation, Uhuru refused to be baited. He seemed to have taken the position that relations between countries have to go beyond personalities, and decided to become the bigger man. 

Indeed, being one of the first heads of state to reach out to President Suluhu as he reportedly was, and attending Magufuli’s funeral to demonstrate solidarity with Tanzania was a great statement that despite all, he considers Tanzanians good neighbours, and is ready to forge ahead with rebuilding the relationship. 

And lastly, she must return Tanzania to the open, liberal and democratic society it was pre-Magufuli.

Magufuli crushed the opposition mercilessly, suppressed free speech and press freedoms.

For the first time, Tanzania had political refugees fleeing for their lives due to political assassinations and persecution.

Fear pervaded the society. He ruled through roadside declarations. He was a highly polarising figure.

President Suluhu must heal that nation. She has a lot going for her. Seen as unflappable and a steady pair of hands, approachable and a mother of the nation, and with strong family values, she is uniquely placed to ensure the country returns to being at peace with itself and its neighbours.  Gathu Kaara can be reached at [email protected]

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