Raila calls out Magufuli over his ‘casual approach’ to COVID-19

Monday, May 11th, 2020 11:17 |
Raila Odinga.

Tanzania is increasingly emerging East Africa’s weakest link in the fight against coronavirus pandemic, experts and leaders have warned.

Even as regional leaders debate how best to address the disease, Tanzania President John Pombe Magufuli’s “casual approach” in his response has caused alarm.

Tanzania has adopted a relaxed response to the virus despite increased infections and deaths recorded in that country.

Other East African nations have adopted strict measures, including lockdowns, to stop the virus. Magufuli on the other hand, told Tanzanians to pray, blaming the increased positive Covid-19 cases on alleged faulty testing kits.

In just a month, Tanzania went from having only 20 coronavirus cases to 480 infections. Magufuli has since stopped the regular updates on the pandemic, making it difficult for the region to track the progress.

The last update was issued two weeks ago. Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi have been credited for taking the respiratory flu head-on.

Kenya’s Foreign Affairs ministry yesterday told the People Daily that the regional governments were engaged in talks to stem the pandemic, but did not indicate if Tanzanian approach to the virus was among the agenda.

Undermine gains Experts and leaders are warning that unless Dar es Salaam cooperates with her neighbours, it could undermine their gains in fighting the virus.

Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga, a long time friend of Magufuli, criticised the Tanzanian president for the relaxed and doubtful approach in managing Covid-19, saying it could be a catalyst to the calamity that has continued to spread.

He termed Magufuli termed defiant for disregarding his EAC counterparts’ appeal to abandon his unconventional approach to the contagion.

“This is a regional issue and…our destiny is tied together. We don’t want a situation where a country will be forced to close its boundaries against the other, dialogue is the best way,” Raila, who is also the High Representative for Infrastructure Development in Africa told BBC in an interview.

Raila, who is reported to have been dispatched by President Uhuru Kenyatta to talk to Magufuli about his approach, said he never managed to do so because his calls and messages were never responded to, even as he urged the Tanzanians to ignore Magufuli’s “ill advised” approach on the pandemic and listen the advice from his counterparts.

President Kenyatta, Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) and Paul Kagame (Rwanda) and those under the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad) have been in constant communication over the pandemic to ensure a joint approach, but a defiant Magufuli has stuck to his policies that have not only left Tanzanians gravely exposed but also now threatening their neighbours.

Yesterday, Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Chief Administrative Secretary Ababu Namwamba told People Daily there have been talks among Igad and EACC leaders on the pandemic.

“Covid-19 is in itself a crossboundary challenge. It’s a global pandemic and requires collective responsibility and already we have protocols that are being implemented through the Igad secretariat in Djibouti and also in the EAC counties.

"There are regular talks and Igad held its summit virtually,” he said. However, Namwamba did not indicate whether Tanzania is being given special focus in the talks, but said Djibouti, whose cases have hit more than 1, 000, was getting a special helping hand.

Prof Ken Okware, the Dean, School of Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance at Masinde Muliro University, said Tanzania should be called to order because its actions pose a major threat to the region.

“Tanzania is a threat to East Africa because of how it’s exhibiting its fight against the virus. Even if Kenya tames the pandemic we are going to be affected as long as Tanzania is still living with it. It’s like cleaning a stream but then canalling it to a muddy terraces,” he said.

But if Tanzania remains adamant, Okware said, Kenya and other EAC countries should close their borders to protect their people.

Tanzania shares a long and porous border with Kenya touching Kwale, Taita Taveta, Kajiado, Narok and Migori counties where people sneak in and out of the two nations, a move that could see the disease further spread.

For instance, last week, about 30 Kenyans were arrested in Taita Taveta and forced into quarantine after they were found trying to cross back from Tanzania through the Taveta-Holili border.

The alarm was raised following the importation of four cases from Tanzania to Migori, which were announced on Saturday by Health Chief Administrative Secretary Dr Rashid Aman.

He, however, said they are in talks with their health counterparts in Tanzania almost on a daily basis “two address issues of Covid-19 and border point issues” Tanzania, unlike other EAC neighbours, has not declared a lockdown to control people movement, but has closed schools and colleges, banned social gatherings, prohibited unnecessary movements and suspended international flights.

Magufuli has defended his approach saying Tanzanians must continue with normal activities even as his government sought to obtain herbal medicine from Madagascar.

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