COVID-19 in Tanzania: Magufuli has lost it

Magufuli: "RemarkablyTrumpian"
These are headlines from Tanzania in the first week of February: “Zanzibar VP Seif Hamad says in  hospital after Covid-19 diagnosis, Tanzania embarks on steam therapy to fight coronavirus, Tanzanians urged to use traditional medicine for Covid-19,” and they debunk the myth of a Corona free- Lockdown- free- mask –free Utopia.

Instead, these are signals to a country deep in trouble and desperate for a false solution. The last two headlines are an inadvertent admission that Coronavirus is real in Tanzania.  It is ravaging the country, anecdotal evidence suggests.

This reality is a slap in the face for President Magufuli who downplayed the virus and its control protocols. He must now confront the consequences of his miscalculation. President Magufuli, described by the US publication, The Daily Beast, as “remarkably Trumpian,” downplayed the pandemic citing economic reasons. Now he is opposing the vaccines to cover the economic consequences of his choice.  Last year, he faced political circumstances similar to his soul brother, former President Trump of the US. The pandemic struck during an election year, they both were running on a good economic performance platform and were unwilling to impose measures that hurt the economy.

According to a US scholar quoted by the Daily Beast, Magufuli openly and incredibly was concerned about the effects pandemic control measures might have on Tanzania’s economy. He “planned to run on… a sunshine, two-chickens-in-every-pot platform. A raging pandemic would upset that message.”

This is why he clang to and exploited every positive economic news in the country to advance his narrative. In July Last year, when the World Bank officially certified Tanzania as a middle-income country, his government bragged that the status came five years ahead of time. This was a lie. In 2014, when Tanzania rebased its GDP accounting to 2007, it was projected that Tanzania would reach the Lower Middle-income status in 2020.  Also, Read 

Tanzania did not impose any COVID-19 control measures. However, the world- including her neighbors- did. Her economy suffered nevertheless.  Tourism in Tanzania, for instance, as in all other parts of the world, was hit hard. Tourism incidentally is Tanzania’s leading Forex earner. In 2019, it earned US$2 billion. The pandemic shaved this amount off in 2020.

Mid last year, Tanzania released container loads of gold -held at the Port of Dar-es-salaam for more than three years- for export. Reports indicate that gold was the leading export earner last year at $2.5 billion due to price increases. Other exports shrunk due to low demand.

At about the same time, the country began showing signs of forex distress. It began with a crackdown on Forex Bureaus leading to the closure of many of them. Importers also complained of delays in the settlement of foreign debts. Foreign exchange accounts of businesses were closed and the value converted into Tanzania Shillings without their consent.  These are indications of forex shortages.

Available data shows that Tanzania Foreign Exchange reserves stood at US$5 billion in 2018, an equivalent of six months import cover.  However, the pandemic shut down economic activity drying forex inflows. In addition, Tanzania’s attitude towards COVID-19 locked her out soft loans from multilateral lenders for COVID-19 relief while it is still servicing old debts.

Her Forex reserves stock is depleted, anecdotal evidence suggests. To cover this up, the country has extended its conspiracy theories to include opposition to the COVID-19 vaccine. She does not have the money to import vaccines given that she does not qualify for multilateral support since she has locked herself out. The calls to embrace homemade therapies are shooting in the dark, say, experts, a sort of gamble that something might work.

 This leads to the question: which way forward?  COVID-is real in the country. Deaths due to “severe Pneumonia” which according to analysts, is a euphemism for CPVI deaths, are increasing. Tanzania watchers cite a  Radio station, which used to devote 10 minutes daily to death and funeral announcements which has expanded the slot to 50 minutes.  Worse still, the more contagious South African, variant, which is reportedly more contagious and resistant to the available therapies, has been found in European travelers returning from Tanzania.

The pandemic is spreading amidst a deluded government, how are its neighbors to respond? First, the country is a threat to the gains made so far in controlling the pandemic in the region. In Tanzania, COVID-19 is a public health crisis that can spread elsewhere. Fear of the pandemic will force Tanzanians to leave the country to the neighboring countries, taking it with them and thus spreading it further.  The region is already reeling under the weight of the pandemic and can ill afford an extra burden.  

 Second, the vaccine flow is limited due to excess global demand. It is therefore no remedy for the pandemic in the short run.  Economic turnaround will be impossible in the light of this uncertainty. To ensure a measure of economic recovery, the pandemic’s control measures must be enforced.

Nevertheless, control measures will be in vain if your neighbor does not play ball.  Consequently, for the good of their own countries, Tanzania’s neighbors must treat her as a national security threat worse than terrorism and clamp down on her.

Magufuli’s delusion will embolden conspiracy theorists in other countries, making enforcement of COVID-19 protocols difficult.  His soulmate, Donald Trump, was voted out by Americans and, in his delusion, almost brought a coup d’état in the US that resulted in a clampdown on him. Africa needs to clamp down on Magufuli!


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