President John Pombe Magufuli’s tenure was punctuated with a number of controversies. He banned pregnant girls from school, he shamed and dismissed government officials on the spot and his governance policies forced some political activists and politicians into exile.
But his greatest controversy is that of denying the existence of COVID-19.
The global pandemic, reached Tanzania in March 2020. And for two months, Tanzania followed WHO protocols, announcing daily infection numbers, recoveries and deaths and by April, the country had reported 509 infections, 183 recoveries and 21 deaths.
Then Magufuli declared Covid-19 non-existent.
At a public function in June, he said the virus had been defeated through prayer, and declared there will be no lockdown and no one needed to test for Covid-19.
“The corona disease has been eliminated thanks to God,” Mr Magufuli told congregants in Dodoma. From then on it was not mandatory to wear masks in public, nor keep social distance.
This caused friction with neighbouring countries especially with long distance truck drivers at border crossings.
The spats resulted in temporary shut of Kenyan airlines from Tanzanian skies in July after Kenya reopened from the lockdown.
Tanzania also refused to allow Kenyan truck drivers into Tanzania in retaliation to Kenya’s banning entry into the country of air travellers from Tanzania. Each country was pursuing different Covid-19 measures.
To date, Tanzania has not revealed any further data on infections, recoveries or type of strain of the virus circulating in the country.
Magufuli did not just doubt the virus’ capacity to kill or outlive him.
He also doubted the safety of masks and vaccines.
“I want to urge you Tanzanians not to accept donations of masks, instead tell the donors to go and use them with their wives and children,” he added.
In February 2021, he said his country was not going to procure or accept vaccines until Tanzanian scientists vouched for and approved their safety.
On titan’s shoulders
Not much divergent thinking on Covid-19 is expected from his successor President Samia Suluhu Hassan, as she pointed out in her first speech after swearing in Friday: “President Magufuli taught me well,” she said.
“But her view of things may be different for the simple fact that she is a different personality,” argued Prof Macharia Munene, lecturer of history and international relations at the USIU-Africa.
“But there won’t be overnight changes. Some of the policies will continue for a while. But we will wait to see if she will alter the course on Covid-19,” he said.
Tanzania has recently been hit by deaths of senior politicians but only the late Zanzibar’s First Vice President Seif Hamad who died on February 17, announced he had Covid-19.