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‘My Tanzanian family is split over coronavirus’



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BBC Tanzania reporter Sammy Awami writes that President John Magufuli’s faith-based approach to coronavirus has caused tension in his family.

Since the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in Tanzania in March, I have been bombarded with messages and phone calls from colleagues, friends and family members living abroad.

They’ve been wondering: how did a country with some of the most relaxed coronavirus measures in Africa manage to so far escape the kind of crisis which has visited many parts of the world.

It’s a question puzzling even those of us who are living in the country.

President Magufuli was among the few leaders who declined to impose any sort of lockdown and has scorned what he’s termed unnecessary panic in other countries.

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President John Magufuli feared that poverty would worsen if businesses were shut

Yet, despite what many of his critics – and the more anxious among us – feared was a woefully reckless approach, the nation seems to have avoided for now the catastrophic number of deaths that many anticipated.

The most confusing thing about all of this, is that no-one really knows how.

‘Prayers are true healing’

One of the issues is that we don’t have any figures to go on.

President Magufuli chose to put statistics in lockdown rather than people.

As analyst Aidan Eyakuze said: “He officially made the country operate in data darkness.”

Three doctors I spoke to off record said hospitals had not been overwhelmed.

Some would argue that they support the government’s narrative because of fear of possible retaliation if they were to speak out.

The president of the Medical Association of Tanzania, Dr Elisha Osati, has said there has never been a cover up, but he now wants to run for parliament as a candidate for the governing Chama Cha Mapinduzi party.

In a situation where the government is not releasing figures and journalists cannot access health facilities to investigate independently, it’s the doctors’ word against their doubters.

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While some government health officials warned the public that the virus posed a real threat and urged them to follow basic hygiene guidelines, the president encouraged people to carry on with their business and pray to God for protection.

As a devout Catholic, he told a congregation of worshippers that prayers are where “true healing” is found, and the disease had been been “eliminated thanks to God”.

The president’s stance made things awkward between me and both my immediate and extended family.

Most of my close relatives are supporters of the president and all of them are die-hard, thoroughly devout Christians.

‘WhatsApp battleground’

From the very start of the outbreak, when daily reports of case numbers started to climb, I became increasingly worried about their safety.

But the creeping politicisation of coronavirus in the country made it hard to convince some of my loved ones that they needed to take precautions.

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Media captionEverything you need to know about the coronavirus – explained in one minute by the BBC’s Laura Foster

The family WhatsApp group became a battleground.

It was flooded with a cocktail of re-shared media supporting the president and pseudo-science urging people to throw caution to the wind and hope for the best.

They were also anxious about the loss of income that could result from a fierce lockdown.

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And as we learnt of the police brutality used in neighbouring countries to enforce such restrictions, this was only compounded.

Take three of my uncles for instance, all of whom are full-time pastors.

For them, the church is not only their core spiritual and social community, it is also their main source of income.

‘I tried to educate older relatives’

My parents run a convenience store in their neighbourhood in the capital, Dodoma.

It’s their sole source of income and a spot where they meet with their neighbours and friends on a daily basis.

Because they are older I was concerned that their daily movements put them at risk.

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Sammy Awami

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Sammy Awami’s parents see their convenience store as a place to catch up with friends

So, I set out to craft WhatsApp messages tailored to older family members to try to educate them about the pandemic, and convince them to stay at home.

Unlike people living in other countries, they do have a choice.

Do they listen to me, stay at home and lose their livelihood? Or follow the president’s advice to carry on their business and pray for the best?

‘Inventing a new enemy’

Of course they believe the virus is deadly. But they also believe in prayers – perhaps even more so when their earnings are on the line.

In a country where almost everyone identifies with one religion or another, and where the majority of people live hand-to-mouth, the president honed in on faith and income to promote his strategy.

The president also made sure to invent a new enemy in the fight against the pandemic – the West.

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In one of his freestyle speeches the president even suggested that the West could plant the virus on imported goods just to hurt Tanzanians”

He consistently refers to powerful Westerners as “mabeberu”, literally “male goats”.

The term was coined during the independence struggle which referred to a colonialist. This resonates well with the older generation, like that of my parents and uncles.

Mr Magufuli alleged that the “mabeberu” and their cronies in the country were keen to use the virus to distract the country from achieving its economic goals.

In one of his freestyle speeches he even suggested that the West could plant the virus on imported goods just to hurt Tanzanians.

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Tanzanians have been told to follow basic hygiene guidelines

The president hearkened back to the era of measles and the early years of HIV/Aids, reminding people of a time when some parents stopped their children from visiting neighbours, for fear that their sons and daughters would be infected.

At this point the government’s policy seems to be: “If people are not dropping dead in the streets, then life should go on.”

It’s a risky strategy, but one that many here are willing to accept, and pray that the government is right.

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Minister Rukutana charged with attempted murder, remanded




The state minister for Labour, Gender and Economic Development Mwesigwa Rukutana has been remanded to Kyamugorani prison in Mbarara district.

Rukutana appeared before Ntungamo Grade One magistrate Nazifah Namayanja this afternoon from where he was charged with seven offences related to attempted murder, assault, malicious damage, and threatening violence.

Rukutana was captured in a video that went viral on social media showing him grabbing a gun from one of his bodyguards and started shooting at a vehicle belonging to supporters of his political rival Naome Kabasharira. At the time of the incident, Rukutana had just lost the Rushenyi country NRM flag to Kabasharira.

The prosecution alleges that on September 5, 2020, at Kagugu village in Ntungamo district, Rukutana and others still at large assaulted Julius Niwamanya and threatened to kill or injure him together with three others. The others are Stuart Kamukama, Dan Rwibirungi, and Moses Kamukama. 

It is also alleged that Rukutana also willfully and unlawfully damaged a motor vehicle registration number UAR 840X Toyota Rav 4 type which belongs to Moses Muhumuza.

According to the Judiciary public relations officer, Jameson Karemani, Rukutana has not taken a plea of these charges against him since they can only be tried by the chief magistrate who was not in court today.

As a result, the magistrate decided to send him to Kyamugorani, awaiting his return to court on Tuesday.      

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Lira district headquarters closed over COVID-19




Lira district headquarters have been closed after one staff tested positive for COVID-19 last week. 

On Monday morning, district staff were blocked at the gate with only the deputy chief administrative officer, his secretary and the receptionist allowed access to their offices. 

Paul Samuel Mbiiwa, the deputy chief administrative officer says that only heads of department will be allowed at the headquarters while the rest will work from home. He adds that the restriction will help to curb the spread of the virus.

“You see corona is not a joke. We have taken a step at fighting it and that is why you are seeing the staff outside. Even in my office here I do not want people to come if there is anything we can discuss on the phone.”

Francis Okello Olwa, a senior community development officer who doubles as the district spokesperson says that the entire district offices will be fumigated and closed for two days.

Health authorities in the district are planning to take samples from all the staff because they could have interacted with the one who tested positive. Currently, there are 19 COVID-19 patients under treatment at Lira regional referral hospital.     

On Sunday four health workers at the hospital tested positive for COVID-19. Dr Patrick Odongo, a senior medical officer at the hospital also succumbed to the virus.  

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Museveni issues ultimatum to police boss




Museveni flagged off distribution of motorcycles for NRM chairpersons

President Yoweri Museveni has given Inspector General of Police (IGP) Martins Okoth Ochola a chilling ultimatum: You either do your work or I will do it myself!

Museveni disclosed the ultimatum he gave to the IGP today Monday at the NRM secretariat at Plot 10 Kyadondo Road in Kampala where he was flagging off the distribution of motorcycles to parish chairpersons of the ruling National Resistance Movement party across the country. 

“I told the IGP that if the police doesn’t do their work, I will do it myself by arresting the police officers themselves,” Museveni stunned his audience as he commented on the electoral violence that marred the NRM primaries held on Friday last week. At least 4 people were killed across the country during the primaries. 

“There was violence in Bukono county [Namutumba district] where people were beaten. I got information that police has not done much work. Some (policemen) have been arrested and given police bond; there is no police bond for somebody who has attacked Ugandans!,” Museveni added. 

Museveni vowed to deal with all persons who messed up the party primaries.  In some parts of the country, there were massive regularities where candidates who had been defeated ended up being announced winners. In some places like Namutumba, Isingiro, Ntungamo, Jinja, Katakwi, among others, there was violence that led to the killing and wounding of civilians. Museveni said that they are going to make sure that all those who participated in these irregularities and violence are held to account. 

Museveni said although the violence was orchestrated by the politicians, the police personnel are to be held accountable for failing to contain it.

Last week, police spokesman Fred Enanga warned police personnel especially those guarding VIPs against being drawn into the politicians’ political wrangles, reminding them that they would face the music if they did. With the president now threatening to go and conduct the arrests of errant policemen himself, IGP Ochola is likely to move fast to avert the spectacle. 

Museveni wondered why police would shoot at unarmed people who were fighting amongst themselves: “That policeman must be arrested; even the ones who are threatening people you will go to jail for that if we get evidence,” a seemingly incensed Museveni said.

He also said that the state minister of Labour, Gender and Economic Development Mwesigwa Rukutana who was captured on camera attempting to shoot people over the weekend in Ntugamo after he lost the  Rushenyi primaries, will be charged with threatening violence and attempted murder. 

 “This game is finished,” Museveni said.

Rukatana has since been charged and remanded to Kyamugorani prison in Mbarara district in western Uganda. Museveni called upon all those dissatisfied with the election results to write petitions to the regional panels of elders which he said are going to be constituted to hear all election complaints.

“We are going to get three respected people who are not part of the struggles, then we shall go and audit village per village and we shall discover. If you have committed forgery, the registrar or the politician who ordered,  you all shall go to jail. The game is finished; the voting is by lining and if you miss-add, you are ‘miss-add’ yourself,” Museveni said.

Museveni’s speech came shortly before that of Justine Kasule Lumumba, the secretary general of the NRM who called upon the president to reign over some senior people who with impunity were freely changing the results of the elections.

“Some of our staff were lured into changing declaration forms on the way forgetting that people who had participated at the village don’t need to write; they registered the record in their faces…Some have done things with impunity… in Butemba county Kyakwanzi district, one of the candidates who got 3,000 votes brought in soldiers, cordoned off that place and was declared a winner and off they went away,” Lumumba said. 

The ball is now in Ochola’s court to get the police to execute their duties professionally and with impartiality. In March 2017, President Museveni warned Ochola’s predecessor Kale Kayihura to clean the police force of wrong elements. As months passed with no visible sign of police officers shaping up, Museveni resorted to other security agencies who started arresting rogue senior police officers and charging them in the military court for various crimes.

Kayihura was then removed from office, arrested and jointly charged with the errant officers in the army court. To avoid similar fate, Ochola is likely to use a firmer hand on the police officers so that by the time of the February 2021 elections, there is no laxity in the force’s execution of its mandate to maintain law and order.

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