The man who rubbished coronavirus

Friday, March 19th, 2021 00:00 |
John Pombe Magufuli during a past campaign rally in Tanzania. Photo/PD/File

As the world watched in utter disbelief the rising numbers of deaths resulting from Coronavirus complications, one man stoically stood out, preaching a different gospel from that of the global community.

John Pombe Joseph Magufuli, Tanzania’s President who died on Wednesday evening due to heart complications, had his own pseudo-scientific dose on how to manage the pandemic that was ravaging the whole world, leaving thousands dead, millions hapless on their hospital beds and economies completely shattered.

By the time of his death, Magufuli had ignited debate among Christians worldwide over the role of faith and prayer in fighting Covid-19 pandemic that continues to ravage the entire globe, with about 121 million confirmed cases and more than 2.6 million related deaths.

Traversing the vast East African nation as he addressed his enthusiastic fanatical supporters, Magufuli repeatedly told Tanzanians not to wary of Covid-19 and instead continue with their routine chores “to build the nation.”

Not only once, but also on several occasions, Magufuli claimed Tanzania had defeated Covid-19 with God’s help, as he mingled with the masses during weekly church services, political rallies and meet-the-people development tours.

At one time, in a sarcastic surmise to Covid-19, Magufuli stated: “Wakati wengine wanafunga mipaka yao, sisi twendelea kuchapa kazi. Tupande mahindi nyingi sana ndio tuwauzie kwa bei ya juu zaidi wakati watapofungua mipaka (Tanzanians should continue working hard as our neighbours close their borders and remain indoors.

Plant lost of maize crop so that we can sell them at inflated prices when they resume their normalcy).

And as countries imposed partial lockdowns and strict protocols to contain the spread of Covid-19, life in Tanzania continued as normal.

Wearing of masks, sanitising, social distancing and hand washing remained alien phenomenon.

Despite having been the first East African country to close down schools in March last year, few days after first case of Covid-19 had been identified in the region, Tanzania immediately stopped updating its official number of Covid-19 cases as its Health Ministry embarked on the promotion of unproven herbal remedies.

Spirited advise, protests and persuasions from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and rich nations such as the USA and UK, on Tanzania to adopt scientific approach towards handling the pandemic simply fell on deaf ears.

To Magufuli, Covid-19 was simply a curse from God, which Tanzania had long defeated through prayers.

Instant ire

Any doctor, government official, journalist or private civilian who dared talk about the existence of Covid-19 in the Swahili speaking nation earned Magufuli’s instant ire.

Last month, Magufuli, called on the 60 million Tanzanians for three days of prayer to defeat what he called unnamed “respiratory diseases” amid warnings from the international community that the country was seeing a deadly resurgence in infections.

“Maybe we have wronged God somewhere. Let us all repent,” Magufuli told mourners at a funeral for his chief secretary, John Kijazi on February 19.

It was until the death of the Vice-President of the semi-autonomous Zanzibar, Seif Sharif Hamad, which reality started downing on Magufuli over the extent to which the virus was causing in his nation.

Hamdi’s opposition political party had gone out of the norm to announce that he had succumbed to Covid-19 infection.

Prior to Hamadi’s death, the local Catholic Church and the US embassy had warned of a resurgence in Covid-19 cases.

WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had also joined the chorus in calling on Tanzania to acknowledge the existence of Covid-19 for the good of its citizens, neighboring countries, and the world, especially after a number of nations reported that visitors arriving from Tanzania tested positive for the virus.

Magufuli never locked down his country to prevent the spread of the virus. Markets, churches, sports events, bars, and restaurants remained open since the country confirmed its first case of Covid-19.

Government authorities stopped updating virus cases last March when the country had only recorded 509 cases and 21 deaths.

And early this year, as the nations scrambled for the little available doses of vaccines, Magufuli was once again in the limelight as he rejected Covid-19 vaccines for being promoted by foreign companies and countries.

“There are some of our fellow Tanzanians who recently did travel abroad in search of corona vaccines, they are the ones who brought back corona in our country after returning,” Magufuli said at an event on January 27.

He further added: “My fellow Tanzanians, let us stand firm, some of these vaccines are not good for us.

I really urged the Ministry of Health to be very, very careful with all the vaccines, which are imported into our country, not all vaccines are of good intentions to our nation.

It is important that we Tanzanians be very careful with some of these vaccines imported to our country.

But with deaths of several high profile persons in his government, Magufuli slowly started softening his stance on the Covid-19 protocols recommended by WHO to contain the spread of the virus.

“We need to put our God first but at the same time, we take all the necessary measures, health precaution measures to protect ourselves against this disease, as advised by our country’s experts.

We (Tanzanians) have lived for almost one year without the virus, and a good evidence is, most of us here we don’t wear masks,” he summed up.

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