The world’s most mutated Covid-19 variant has been found in travelers from Tanzania. The discovery was announced three days ago by the Krisp Institute, which first discovered the South African variant.
Krisp is growing the virus to determine any effects of the mutations. There may be none but there is concern that several mutations involve the critical “spikes” that bind the virus to its prey. Several other of its specific mutations have been confirmed in many different virus samples from around the world, reflecting the natural selections that give the virus advantage.
South Africa and Tanzania have the worst covid outbreaks on the continent, and this is the simplest of the reasons sustained mutations develop there: More fuel, more fire.
South Africa, however, has aggressively employed numerous mitigation strategies to contain the virus whereas Tanzania denies it even exists.
There was hope when the President Magufuli died several weeks ago that the “Tanzanian Big Lie” would be unmasked: The society of East African lawyers urged the new president Samia Hassan to immediately begin strong mitigation efforts.
Magufuli’s long series of funerals through the country finally ended last week. Several attracted tens of thousands of grieving citizens. In one case 45 people died stampeding into an arena for the beginning of services.
Magufuli’s powerful authoritarianism created the populism that today subsumes much of the country. Unlike his predecessors and most dictators, he made frequent trips into the countryside and to the cities around the country, holding raucous mass rallies.
Nicknamed “bulldozer” he moved forward infrastructure development faster than any previous Tanzanian leader, though there is much concern about the financing and quality.
But it was his battle against corruption which could ultimately acquire him the old colonial rubric of “benevolent dictator.” It’s not a slam dunk. While he roamed from ministry to ministry masquerading as a disgruntled citizen only to emerge from an argument with some bureaucrat as the Trump on Apprentice, in the last few years a lot of ornamental feathers have graced the new airport and bus stations and regional hospital of his very rural home town.
So while Magufuli’s legacy is still being created, the new president Hassan has a tricky balancing act to play. So far she’s just been remarkably silent about everything.
If she alters too quickly or too strongly Magufuli’s denial of covid in the country, she’ll be up against millions who worship him as peasants worshiped Mao. On the other hand and very much unlike Mao, there is a very strong, organized and intelligent opposition in Tanzania demanding immediate covid mitigation.
Perhaps representing as much as a third of the country, almost exclusively in the north along the Kenyan border, ignoring their truths seriously compromises Hassan’s tenure, particularly if the virus worsens.
Tanzania is hardly unique for politics effected by covid. But I really can’t think of another single place in the world where the leadership has propagated such an easy lie to unmask. Eventually it will be. But how soon? And when that veil is lifted, what will we see of the raw Tanzania underneath?