With the recent passing of Tanzanian president, the late John Pombe Maghufuli, one can be forgiven for wondering if the untimely death will lead to a reduction at the very least of covid denial in the region and across Africa generally. His death came as no surprise to many both in and outside of Tanzania. The leader of the opposition in Tanzania, had repeatedly declared that the late president who died under unclear circumstances had been suffering from Covid-19, a disease whose very existence he had repeatedly questioned, while simultaneously declaring that Tanzania had overcome it through prayer.
A video of his final speech before his passing, delivered in late February, depicts the late President issuing a series of incoherent ramblings, reminiscent of Donald Trump. In the rambling speech, the late President railed against mask wearers during a funeral service for a senior Tanzanian official who had also died of Covid.
In embarrassing scenes not fitting of a head of state, the late president singled out individuals for ridicule due to their wearing for masks, including members of the clergy, a judge and his wife among others while praising as courageous those who had no masks. He questioned the faith of nuns and priests in attendance for their wearing of the protective gear.
The late president went on to declare that masks produced overseas probably contained corona, adding that people were better of wearing home-made masks or masks made in Tanzania. While this last message is a welcome one, his incoherent ramblings that Covid-19 was western economic warfare defied logic especially considering that western countries are among the worst affected by the clearly deadly virus.
Sadly as embarrassing as that speech was, Maghufuli still has his supporters. One may be tempted to hope that his passing might serve as a cautionary tale for Covid deniers, the anti-vax crowd, irrational religious extremists of various faiths as well as the anti-mask crowd. Sadly however, the cognitive dissonance that has allowed people to reject not just the science but all the evidence right before their very eyes will continue among still too many across not just Africa but the broader Pan African world.
The fear of course is that as western countries and others in the Northern hemisphere succeed in achieving herd immunity via vaccinations, populations in Africa and across the global south may be left out due to the lethal combination of what has been referred to by some as the “vaccine apartheid”, vaccine skepticism, spread, ironically, by the ultra right, white supremacist and racist white evangelical movement in America, as well as the anti-science irrational covid denial.
While the majority of Africa and the Pan African family has thankfully been spared the worst of covid, what we are seeing in both Brazil and South Africa provide cautionary tales. Both are countries within the sunny tropics, consisting of majority populations of Africans or African descent and yet what we see is that clearly Africans are neither immune nor necessarily protected by the sun as many have often speculated.
Additionally, while Maghufuli may have been the most vocal Covid denier in Africa, clearly he was not alone. Brazil’s Bolesanaro has continued his railing against covid, despite his own infection and many religious leaders have continued to lead their faithful in irrational anti-science campaigns.
Tanzania’s neighbors in East Africa including Kenya and Uganda are hoping that they will now have a new partner in the fight against covid in newly sworn in President Suluhu Hassan. Hopefully we will begin to see a unified voice of reason across all of Africa and stepped up efforts for self reliance in the fight against the deadly virus. The west has shown that they have no qualms about leaving Africans behind as European and North American countries hoard doses of vaccines for their own populations. Africans need to step up with a unified effort at developing solutions from right within Africa for vaccines for this as well as other viruses, for PPE as well as for home grown remedies including those using traditional African healing plants and other natural remedies.