Alagi Yorro Jallow
Mamudu: In Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe takes us into life and death in pre-colonial Africa. After the death of Ezeudu, for instance, one of the then oldest men in Umuofia, the setting of his book, and egwugwu who came to mourn Ezeudu cried out that “If your death was the death of nature, go in peace. However, if a man-caused it, do not allow him a moment’s rest.” This sentence personifies a significant number of African communities where the idea of natural death is alien.
In his 1969 book, “African religions and philosophy,” the father of modern African theology, the late John Samuel Mbiti, echoes these sentiments by arguing that “Africans are notoriously religious,” a phenomenon permeating all their lives. Anything has to be tied to religion or illogical explanations.
It is no wonder then that Africans have been quick to weave stories to explain the “unnatural” nature of late President John Pombe Magufuli’s death. In Africa, no matter how ridiculous our arguments are, they will gain traction. The only time it does not gain traction is when it makes logical sense.
Brainwashed by capitalism and the mass media, they vilified President Robert Mugabe, rejected Colonel Muammar Muhammed Gaddafi, and Captain Thomas Sankara, an enemy of the global neo-colonialism capitalism system, assassinated him in a coup backed by France, UK, and the US. In what is perhaps so gross it unnerves me, we are now gaslighting and slighting late President John Magufuli over a mistake that we all are very capable of. Men, by definition, are fallible, and we should be gracious enough to forgive others, especially when we are liable to fall. Mamudu: I do not know what lousy spirit ails Africa, but we almost always never accept our sons’ most illustrious. Even in their death. Capitalist Western media propaganda controls the narratives about Africa. This is a legacy of our colonial past. They are the primary news source on the continent, and as far as we are concerned, it is not news-worthy if BBC, CNN, Fox News, TRT World Daily News, New York Times, Ouest-France, or France 24 have not carried it. He who feeds you news also controls your thought process. This is why it does not surprise some of us that President Magufuli and Tanzania’s discourse has been entirely one-sided.
This is all we hear in digital and print media. However, is this the whole truth? After listening to the various commentaries by fellow Africans on late President Magafuli and Tanzania, we conclude that most Africans have watched too much capitalists propaganda from such news outlets, the BBC, CNN, Fox News, and TRT Daily News and listened to much western propaganda.
Dr. Magufuli, during the first years of his first term, was everything Africa desired but did not have. A genuine and tough stance against corruption and promoting integrity, practical and reflective leadership. A deep commitment to public service and investing in socio-economic development for his people. There was no time for laxity. He espoused the belief and practiced servant leadership and placed the average Tanzanian issues at the government policy center. He was too good to be true. He was building a firm foundation for the Tanzanian economy to take off.
He was telling China off with its colonial structuring of infrastructure loans. Tanzanians, he insisted, must get value for money. Everything screamed and centered on his commitment to servant’ leadership.’ His zealous pursuit of accountability and integrity ensured all national projects were completed on time and within budget. He was ruthless with cartels and cut off government waste and grandiose. Things Gambians can only dream of.
Mamudu: What a loss! To the people of Tanzania and Africans who have lost a genuine fighter of corruption, something Africa desperately needs. He was a dedicated leader, who albeit misinformed, was convicted he was doing the best for his people. All is not lost. Despite Dr. Magafuli’s iron hand, Paul Kagame has shown us how pandemics should be managed in modern Africa. We no longer have to look for the best examples in Europe and America. Rwanda has been ticking all the right boxes consistently.
In politics, just like the rest of this life, there are always two reasons for something: the “good” cause” and the real reason. Dr. Magufuli’s disregard for scientific evidence was driven by the need to keep the country open because his party badly needed to win an election. They were closing the government would have negatively affected turnout. Moreover, given Tanzania’s opposition’s restless nature, winning such an election for his CCM party, rigging and all, was pegged on achieving sizeable turnout. The strategy was to scare citizens from even imagining or talking about the existence of Covid-19.
Such propaganda included admonishing sections of the population for wearing masks. Such hubris is not just obtaining in Tanzania. While the Gambia government has issued directives to prevent the spread of Covid-19, politicians are at the forefront of not heeding to such notices, including wearing masks in public gatherings.
COVID-19 is real. Viruses do not climb trees like Lazarus to listen to political propaganda, pseudoscience, and conspiracy theories. No one knows their day, but let us put on masks and if you are next online for the vaccine shot, go for it to protect yourself, your family, and others.
It must not also escape our minds that President Magufuli was a practicing Roman Catholic. There is a historical record to show that the church has occasionally been opposed to medical science to solve human problems. Sometimes, for a good reason, sometimes for nefarious grandstanding.
Suppose Covid-19 did not kill as many people around the Vatican in particular and Italy in general as it did. In that case, it is plausible that the church would have been vehemently opposed to the many rapidly developed vaccines against Covid-19. Most of such vaccines were intended for Africans in the past, and nobody was dying in Italy.
Mamudu: As much as Dr. Magufuli was a scientist, many of his executive decisions, including blind faith and superstition, must be seen from this angle, including “national prayer day” without masks, against Covid-19, the primarily useless proclamation. That “Tanzania is virus-free.”
He was among the first leaders to welcome some herbal tonic that Madagascar was promoting, turned international merchant of hopeless cures. Andry Rajoelina’s “COVID Organics” has “refused” to stop the spread of the virus in Madagascar. He even questioned the competence of Tanzania’s apex medical labs and personnel to further political propaganda. Covid-19 became an alien domiciled in the West.
Dr. Magufuli had underlying health issues but decided to trade his health for fundamentalist religious beliefs, conspiracy theories, and pseudoscience. Moreover, those African countries were of idiotic disposition for closing their international borders or demanding Covid-19 tests before entry. Even where credible scientific evidence from Tanzania’s healthcare system continued to prove that his hypothesis was not tenable, the man now nicknamed the “Bulldozer” persisted. There they still exist countrywide suppression of medical data in this area.
However, when asked why he was ignoring science and putting his population at risk, he insisted that Tanzania’s economy must remain open – a common refrain of populist leaders around the world at this time. That was a good “explanatory” reason for the consumption of the masses.
Mamudu: Before his dictatorial tendencies began emerging. It started with curtailing media freedom. Tanzanians lost the ability to criticize their President. Media stations were shut down. Journalists jailed. Musicians are forced to sing inane praises or face the risk of censorship. In the run-up to his re-election, it became blatant. Opposition figures were arrested and jailed without trial. Most were disappeared by the state. The extremes of this became the path through which opposition figures seeking exile for medical treatment for gun wounds from unsuccessful assassinations.
And then COVID-19 happened, and Magufuli, a man with a Ph.D. in Chemistry, took the most populist, religious fundamentalist, and pseudoscientific approach to managing the pandemic. Some of us, who had devalued accusations of dictatorship over the years, openly and harshly criticized President Magufuli and Tanzania’s handling of COVID-19.
President Magufuli Covid-19’s strategy consistently exposed East Africa to the possibility of a long-term confrontation with the deadly virus. The observations of mishaps, stupid tests on paw and goats, ludicrous anti-vaccine statements, and open denial are way too many a big mistake.
Mamudu: It is now time for Tanzania to do the necessary and put essential health interventions to protect themselves and protect Tanzania and neighboring countries from emerging virulent strains of coronavirus. Rebuild healthcare capacity and reinstate disease screening, testing, diagnosis, and surveillance. The presence of many vaccines is an ample opportunity that Tanzania should grab. Sub-Saharan Africa already suffers from a heavy disease burden, and we should be careful not to let COVID-19 become endemic hereafter the developed world has eliminated it from its borders. No need to reinvent the wheel with “Churai Gonga” aromatherapy. There is no time to waste.
Mamudu: Dr. Magufuli is a sad lesson of the illusion of invulnerability and indestructibility that newly-minted dictators revere. Africa’s most educated leader and most promising leader has died from COVID-19, holding the title of Africa’s most prominent COVID-19 denier and anti-vaxxer.
Alagi Yorro Jallow