Tanzania’s President John Pombe Magufuli has not been seen in public since 27th February 2021, as he swore in a new Chief Secretary at the State House in the country’s commercial capital Dar es Salaam. The 61-year-old’s absence from the public eye has now resulted in questions being asked about his whereabouts and the status of his health.
Opposition leader Tundu Lissu who was Magufuli’s main challenger in the 2020 presidential elections took to Twitter on Tuesday evening, asking the country’s leadership to come clean on the president’s health.
“The president’s wellbeing is a matter of grave public concern. What’s it with Magufuli that we don’t deserve to know? It’s a sad comment on his stewardship of our country that it’s come to this: that he himself had to get COVID-19 and be flown out to Kenya in order to prove that prayers, steam inhalations and other unproven herbal concoctions he’s championed are no protection against coronavirus!” tweeted Lissu on Tuesday.
The President’s well-being is a matter of grave public concern. We’re informed when Kikwete had prostate surgery. We’re told when Mkapa went for hip replacement. We’re not kept in the dark when Mwalimu fought leukemia. What’s it with Magufuli that we don’t deserve to know?
– Tundu Lissu, Tanzania Opposition Leader.
Across the border in Kenya, the leading daily newspaper, The Daily Nation’, ran an article saying an African leader was hospitalised at a top private hospital in the country with Covid-19. While not directly mentioning President Magufuli, the article said the leader had not been seen in public for two weeks. They said they could not name the leader because “government officials declined to officially confirm his admission at the Nairobi Hospital, citing diplomatic protocol.” They however said that multiple sources confirmed to them that the “leader who has been ailing since late last month, flew into Kenya on Monday when his situation deteriorated.”
President Magufuli took an unpopular route with his country’s management of the Covid-19 pandemic drawing international condemnation. Instead of encouraging citizens to adhere to protocols issued by the WHO, he took the direction of seeking religious interventions and promoting the use of traditional concoctions against the virus.
Tanzania is one of the countries that have not ordered for vaccines for their critical populations.
While Tanzania last published official Covid-19 statistics in April 2020, the virus has continued to claim lives and overwhelm the country’s health systems even as the government continues to deny its severity. In February, several senior government officials including a senior aid to the President, a Namibian diplomat, and a former Vice President of the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar succumbed to the virus.
Earlier this month, at a funeral for the senior aide who succumbed to the virus, President Magufuli said Tanzania had defeated Covid-19 last year and would win again this year. The President himself is known to not take the precautions seriously and despite regularly attending public events, he has never been seen wearing a face mask.
Last week, the Catholic Church in Tanzania urged people to take Covid-19 precautions more seriously, saying 60 nuns and 25 priests had died in the last two months after showing symptoms of coronavirus.
Lissu made further claims on Wednesday evening that President Magufuli was being transferred to India to avoid scrutiny by Kenya’s media. Unlike Tanzania, their neighbours have a less restrictive mainstream and social media environment which he claims could be used to embarrass the Tanzanian government.
The latest update from Nairobi: “They’re planning to sneak him out to India to avoid social media embarrassment from Kenyans. They feel that it’ll be more embarrassing if the worst happened in Kenya.” The most powerful man in Tanzania is now being sneaked about like an outlaw!
— Tundu Antiphas Lissu (@TunduALissu) March 10, 2021
If it turns out that indeed President Magufuli was infected with Covid-19 and flown out of Tanzania for specialized treatment, it would be egg on the face of his administration that has downplayed the severity of this pandemic. It would raise more questions about his administration’s handling of the crisis as hospitals that serve ordinary citizens who cannot afford to be flown abroad for specialized treatment continue to be strained.
Last year, Burundi’s outgoing President the late Piere Nkurunzinza also downplayed the seriousness of the pandemic only to be killed by the virus himself. His wife and some of her top aides had to airlifted to Nairobi for specialized treatment.
This is however not to mean that countries like Kenya have effectively contained the virus. Political leaders in Nairobi have also been speaking from both ends of their mouths. While on one end they have been proclaiming policies that seek to contain the virus, politicians have been going around the country attracting large crowds as they campaign for and against a proposed amendment to the 2010 constitution that seeks to reorganize the government structure. At the time in-person learning resumed across Kenya in January 2021, the country’s positivity rate stood at below 5 percent. Today, the positivity rate stands at 14 percent going by the latest statistics from the government. Walking on Kenyan streets, you will still see many people not wearing face masks or practicing any form of social distancing.