A week ago the new masked Tanzanian president went to Nairobi and elbowed the masked Kenyan president. That scene alone announced a radical change for Tanzania. The former president banned masking recommendations or mandates.
President Samia Suluhu Hassan went to meet her Kenyan counterpart to mend the fences wrecked by the deceased former president of Tanzania principally over the fight against Covid.
Every public move made by President Hassan suggests Tanzania is reversing the devastating policies of the late president Magufuli. But they are tiny, baby steps which indicate a great battle within the governing alliances of the country.
The old president Magufuli probably died in early March of Covid, the disease that he proclaimed God had saved Tanzania from last May. The only licensed mitigation effort in the country for warding off the pandemic was prayer.
Interestingly, Magufuli never denied Covid-19 existed. No, his position was even nuttier than a Covid Denier: The world was being devastated by Covid, but God had chosen Tanzania to save.
Magufuli made it illegal to speak about Covid. He urged families and friends to turn in relatives and neighbors who were sneaking into Kenya for treatment. He banned and jailed journalists.
All that of has been reversed by President Hassan in less than two months.
Magufuli played tit-for-tat with any other country that impugned its covid myths. When Kenya closed its borders to Tanzania claiming truckers were testing positive, Magufuli closed his airports to Kenya.
When South Africa banned anyone who had been in Tanzania, Tanzania banned South Africans.
All that’s changed.
A month ago President Hassan set up a commission to study Covid, something that under the former president was illegal.
“We cannot isolate ourselves as an island while the world is moving in a different direction,” she explained.
She told a gathering of journalists in Dar-es-Salaam that the press should not be “muzzled.”
All this is very good news for a country that essentially sequestered itself from the rest of the world for more than a year.
But while she is now often seen in public wearing a mask, there are yet no national recommendations for covid mitigation. It’s widely rumored that she along with most of her government got vaccinated only weeks after Magufuli died, but there are still no vaccines available in the country for the public at large.
But as Amnesty International stated recently, “President Suluhu must act now to save lives from this deadly virus. She must look hard at past failures and chart a way forward that rests on accepting science and debunking myths.”
While acknowledging the good President Hassan has currently demonstrated, Amnesty urged a number of immediate measures including joining virtually all the rest of the countries in the world to report local covid health statistics to WHO. Magufuli stopped the reporting a year ago.
That’s about as basic as you can get. Until Tanzania owns up to the full truth that the pandemic continues to wreck havoc in the country, the other baby step measures seem like nothing more than PR.
I think President Hassan is navigating a sea of angry powerful politicians clinging to the myths of Magufuli like Sen. Johnson clings to the myths of Trump. If she goes too fast she’ll be ousted.
But if she goes too slow Tanzania could be a wasteland in a year.