Even as global cases climb to 100 million, Tanzania holds firm to the idea that the pandemic is nothing but an overblown scare.
Tanzania’s president, John Magufuli, has declared the country Covid-19 free. How did that happen? Well, Magufuli’s administration stopped counting coronavirus cases in April of last year and where the numbers have remained since, 509 infections and 21 deaths.
Magufuli’s approach to the coronavirus hasn’t just been a relatively benign attempt at ignoring the pandemic that has struck the whole world.
Those that have sought to raise awareness around the virus have been arrested and the politicians and activists believe their phones have been tapped.
“Corona in our country has been removed by the powers of God,” said the country’s president in a church service last year in June, weeks after firing the country's fifth health minister who contradicted the president's advice on Covid-19.
Magufuli’s coronavirus advice has ranged from encouraging people to take up steam therapies and to drinking ginger-lemon tea in a bid to fight the virus.
The head of the country's laboratory testing for Covid-19 was also fired after the government produced the facility of producing incorrect positive results.
Tanzania’s government's full-throttled attempt to make sure that little to no information gets out has made it an outlier in Eastern Africa, where the virus has been treated more seriously.
The country’s rejection of lockdowns and prioritisation of the economy has hampered the spread of information around the virus in the country, leading many to doubt whether the pandemic is a threat to them or whether it even exists.
Tanzania’s approach to Covid-19 has set it apart with only two other world leaders following its laissez-faire approach, Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro and Alexander Lukashenko, President of Belarus. Together, they have been dubbed the “alliance of the ostriches.”
Not everyone inside Tanzania has gone along with the government’s approach to the pandemic.
In a bid to stop the emergence of other narratives, the government shut down a local TV channel for what it said was “unbalanced” coverage of the pandemic.
Journalists who have sought to report on the virus have been hounded or faced government censure.
“Access to information is an essential part of the fight against COVID-19, yet the Tanzanian government is choosing to censor journalists and media outlets who report on the disease,” said an Amnesty International report on the government's handling of the pandemic.
Foreign media outlets that have reported on the country’s pandemic situation have also faced the government's wrath.
The government spokesperson has gone on Twitter blaming its critics of only following the western approach to the pandemic, and that Tanzania’s success is down to “prayers” and not falling prey to “atheism.”
Legislation introduced towards the end of 2020 made it illegal to share news about the pandemic. The government says it would incite panic in the wider population. With little in the way of accurate information, most Tanzanians are left in the dark about what precautions they ought to take, if any.
The government’s war on information regarding Covid-19 hasn’t stopped Magufuli’s administration from seeking funds from the African Development Bank in fighting the pandemic.
As a new Covid-19 variant emanates from South Africa, and other countries close their borders to Tanzania, ignoring the disease may become increasingly untenable.