Tanzania’s new President Samia Suluhu Hassan announced on April 6 she will be creating a coronavirus task force to advise her.
“It is not proper to ignore it,” Hassan said at a swearing-in ceremony for her newly-appointed secretaries. We cannot reject or accept it without any evidence from research.”
“[Experts] will tell us more about the pandemic, and advise us about what the world is proposing. We cannot accept everything as it comes, but we also cannot isolate ourselves as an island while the world is moving in a different direction.”
This is a reversal of the policies of her predecessor John Magufuli, who was succeeded by Hassan, Tanzania’s first female president, after his death in March, according to Al Jazeera.
“If she changes course decisively on COVID-19, the rest of the country will follow suit,” said Tundu Lissu, a leading opposition figure and Magufuli’s main opponent in last year’s presidential elections. “The denialism that defined Magufuli was becoming increasingly untenable even before his death. I think a change of course here would be very much welcome.”
Magufuli was a controversial president. Although well-liked at the beginning of his presidency— earning the nickname “The Bulldozer” for his popular infrastructure improvements—he was later accused of suppressing press freedoms after he began to ban newspapers and arrest reporters that were critical of him and his government.
The beginning of his second term was plagued by accusations of voter fraud after he received 85% of the vote in the 2020 election. Magufuli responded by ordering the arrest of opposition party members and protesters.
Magufuli was also believed to repeatedly downplay or deny the effects of COVID-19. He refused to implement lockdown procedures, instead asking his citizens to pray and use traditional medicine. Magufuli implied that going to church and taking the Eucharist would cure coronavirus.
“Coronavirus, which is a devil, cannot survive in the body of Christ…it will burn instantly,” said Magufuli on March 22, 2020 from the altar of a church in Tanzania’s capital, according to BBC.
Magufuli’s death was announced on March 17. The official cause of death—heart failure—has been disputed, as on March 10, a Kenyan newspaper reported an unnamed African leader was being treated for coronavirus in a private Kenyan hospital.
Lissu has repeatedly claimed that the unnamed politician was Magufuli. Two days before Magufuli’s death was announced, Lissu stated on Twitter, “My own sources in TISS say he’s on life support with COVID and paralyzed on one side and from the waist down after a stroke. Tell the people the truth!” These claims remain unverified.
Hassan has begun reversing Magufuli’s more controversial policies. In addition to her coronavirus task force, she also rescinded the ban Magufuli placed on certain news organizations.
The state of Tanzania’s coronavirus outbreak remains unknown. The last official report was from May and reported 20 deaths. According to BBC, some doctors have reported significant increases in patients with breathing problems, but have been forbidden from referring to these cases as coronavirus. In addition, the World Health Organization released a report stating it found a coronavirus variant originating from Tanzania.
“We cannot be reading about COVID-19 in the world and when you reach sections about Tanzania, one find[s] gaps,” Hassan said. “I think we need to be clearer whether we accept or not.”