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Wednesday, 23rd June 2021
9:42:26pm

East Africa

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Opposition political parties in Tanzania are beginning to find their voice again after being almost totally silenced over the last five years.

A few months after he was sworn in for his first term in office in 2015, former President John Pombe Magufuli, who died on March 17, 2021, banned opposition parties from conducting political activities until the next elections, which were held in October 2020.

The order, which was zealously enforced by the police force and regional and district administrators, effectively paralysed Tanzania’s opposition parties which normally depend on public meetings to rally grassroots support.

A number of party officials were arrested after they were accused of defying the order.

-The East African

Tanzania’s soft-spoken Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan on Friday was sworn in as the East African country’s first female president after the sudden death of John Magufuli from an illness shrouded in mystery.

“I, Samia Suluhu Hassan, promise to be honest and obey and protect the constitution of Tanzania,” said Hassan, dressed in a black suit and red headscarf before dignitaries at a ceremony in the capital, Dar es Salaam.

In her first public address as president, the 61-year-old leader announced 21 days of mourning for Magufuli and public holidays on March 22 and on March 25, the day the late president will be buried.

“It’s not a good day for me to talk to you because I have a wound in my heart,” said Hassan. “Today I have taken an oath different from the rest that I have taken in my career. Those were taken in happiness. Today I took the highest oath of office in mourning,” she said, after being sworn in at 10am local time (07:00 GMT) on Friday.

Hassan ascended to the presidency after President Magufuli’s death due to heart disease was announced by the government on Wednesday, more than two weeks after he was last seen in public.

Magufuli’s absence since February 27 had fuelled speculation about his health and sparked rumours he had contracted COVID-19, although officials had denied he was ill.

According to Tanzania’s constitution, the vice president serves out the remainder of the term of a president who dies in office. Magufuli, who was first elected in 2015, secured a second five-year term in polls in October last year.

The constitution also states that after consultation with their party, the new president will propose a deputy, the choice to be confirmed by the votes of no fewer than 50 per cent of the National Assembly.

Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi, reporting from Kenyan capital Nairobi, said: “She has just given her maiden speech and it was a very emotional tribute to her predecessor John Magufuli.”

“I’ve been speaking to people in Tanzania to get a sense of what she is about and what they’re telling me is that her leadership style is very different from the late president. They say she listens to counsel more and is not one to make unilateral decisions.”

‘Time to stand together’

Described as a softly spoken consensus builder, Hassan has become the country’s first female president and the first to be born in Zanzibar, the semi-autonomous island in the Indian Ocean that forms part of the union of the Republic of Tanzania.

She said that Magufuli “who always liked teaching” had prepared her for the task ahead. “Nothing shall go wrong,” she said, urging all the country’s people to work to unite the nation. 

“This is the time to stand together and get connected. It’s time to bury our differences, show love to one another and look forward with confidence,” she said.

“It is not the time to point fingers at each other but to hold hands and move forward to build the new Tanzania that President Magufuli aspired to,” she said, amid opposition claims about the cause of Magufuli’s death.

Exiled opposition leader Tundu Lissu insists the president died of COVID-19. 

Residents of the Kawe Kanisani district watch the swearing in of new Tanzanian President Hassan [AFP]Hassan rose through the ranks over a 20-year political career from local government to the national assembly. A stalwart in the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), she was named Magufuli’s running mate in the 2015 presidential campaign.

The pair were re-elected in October last year in a disputed poll marred by allegations of irregularities.

Her leadership style is seen as a potential contrast from Magufuli, a brash populist who earned the nickname “Bulldozer” for muscling through policies and who drew criticism for his intolerance of dissent.

Magufuli was a vocal COVID-19 sceptic who urged Tanzanians to shun mask-wearing and denounced vaccines as a Western conspiracy, frustrating the World Health Organization (WHO).

Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi said that Hassan did not talk about coronavirus.

“A lot of people are looking to see if she will change strategy. Magufuli had faced a lot of criticism for how he handled the disease. He never put the country in lockdown and never encouraged people to wear masks or sanitise,” she said.

“People are waiting to see how she is going to deal with this disease and if she’s going to change the policy that had been in place by Magufuli.”

Hassan’s swearing in will assuage opposition fears of a constitutional vacuum.

“The VP has to be sworn in immediately,” opposition leader Zitto Kabwe told Reuters by phone from Dar es Salaam on Thursday. “The constitution doesn’t allow a vacuum … I will be concerned if the day passes without her being sworn in.”

-Aljazeera

The United States said on Wednesday that Tanzania, whose president has advised citizens to shun coronavirus vaccines, is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases and its healthcare facilities could be quickly overwhelmed.

In a statement, the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam said it was “aware of a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases since January”.

“The practice of COVID-19 mitigation and prevention measures remains limited ... healthcare facilities in Tanzania can become quickly overwhelmed in a healthcare crisis.”

Tanzanian leader John Magufuli has said citizens should avoid vaccines and the country does not need a lockdown because God will protect his people.

Homespun precautions such as steam inhalation, he said, were better than dangerous foreign vaccines.

The east African country stopped publishing coronavirus data in April last year.

The U.S. embassy did not give figures for the surge in infections but said “limited hospital capacity throughout Tanzania could result in life-threatening delays for emergency medical care”.

Magufuli has also rubbished imported COVID-19 testing kits, saying they had returned positive results on a goat and a pawpaw fruit. He has promoted traditional remedies, without offering data or scientific evidence.

-Reuters

Kenya will receive the first batch of Covid-19 vaccines this week, with reports indicating the consignment might land on Tuesday.

The news comes as the virus caseload continued to rise, with 325 more people testing positive on Sunday from a sample size of 3,282.

 This represents a positivity rate of 9.9 per cent, the highest rate ever recorded in February. 

Kenya has ordered 24 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, enough for 20 per cent of the population.

However, Gavi said it will initially supply just a few doses to cover frontline workers and people with pre-existing health conditions (4,176,000 doses, according to a schedule shared by Unicef, Gavi and the WHO).

In a Cabinet meeting, it was revealed that the first batch of the vaccines will be  given to health care workers, frontline workers including security personnel and teachers, vulnerable persons and hospitality sector workers.

The government plans to reach at least 1.25 million Kenyans with the Covid-19 by June in the first phase of the vaccination drive.

According to a brief prepared by the Council of Governors and presented to the counties ahead of rollout, deployment and vaccination plan for the programme will cost Sh34 billion over 30 months.

The death toll in the country due to Covid-19 continued to rise after two more patients succumbed to the virus on Sunday, pushing the fatalities to 1,856.

In a statement, the Health CS Mutahi Kagwe confirmed a total of 347 patients were admitted while 1,495 patients were on home-based isolation and care. 

“Fifty eight patients are in the intensive care unit, 26 of whom on ventilator support and 28 on supplemental oxygen. Four patients are under observation,” Kagwe said.

Another 15 patients were separately on supplementary oxygen with 14 of them being in the general wards and one in the high dependency unit.

“Today, 69 patients have recovered from the disease, 58 from the home-based isolation and care while 11 are from various health facilities. Total recoveries now stand at 86,678.”

The second phase is expected to run from July 2021 to June 2022 during which 9.7 million more Kenyans will receive the jab depending on availability of the vaccines.

The target population in this phase will be Kenyans aged above 50 years and those above 18 years of age with underlying health conditions.

Plans by the ministry show the third phase of the vaccination drive could run concurrently with the second phase, depending on availability of adequate vaccines, with the hope of reaching 4.9 million people who will include all other vulnerable populations.

“It is important to note that if vaccines become available sooner than expected and resources are available the targets may change,” Kagwe said.

Nairobi recorded 207 new cases followed by Busia with 30, Mombasa 21, Machakos 14, Kiambu 11, Kajiado nine while Uasin Gishu and Garisaa had five cases each.

Other counties that recorded new infections include Meru and Tharaka Nithi with four, Murang’a and Kercho with two cases each while Kirinyaga, Makueni, Migori, Narok, Kakamega, Bungoma and West Pokot had one case each.

-Star

Until recently, Tanzania gave the impression that the coronavirus pandemic — which has brought the world to a standstill — was under control.

President John Magufuli assured the 58 million inhabitants of the East African nation that they need not worry about observing COVID-19 preventative measures.

He also vowed last year that his country would never face curfews or lockdowns that had been introduced in neighboring Kenya and Uganda.

On March 16, 2020, Tanzania's health ministry announced the country's first confirmed case of the coronavirus.

"When the cases were being reported, President Magufuli was out questioning the standard of the lab equipment," Thabit Jacob, a political analyst at Roskilde University, told DW. 

"He said the testing kits were made by western countries and were programmed to give many positive results." 

However, the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) said they had found no fault with Tanzania's testing procedure.

President John Magufuli has doubled down on the coronavirus pandemic since his reelection in October 2020

Magufuli claimed that he had secretly sent several samples to the national laboratory for testing. The results: A papaya fruit, quail, and a goat tested positive, the president said, as the crowd burst into laughter.

In May 2020, he declared that through prayer, Tanzania had defeated the coronavirus.

The East African nation quickly embraced herbal medicine — particularly inhaling steam from a mixture of traditional herbs, as a therapy against the virus.

"Herbal medicine will be able to defeat the coronavirus," Obeid Maiko, a resident of Tanzania's commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, said.

"Since way back, African societies have used this kind of medicine, and we are still surviving," Maiko told DW.

The 25-year-old said the current vaccines in the market have not been able to suppress the virus, which led to a belief in herbal remedies.

'Is COVID in Tanzania or not?'

Since December 2020, Tanzanians have grown warier about the pandemic. With rising deaths attributed to "acute pneumonia," many residents have abandoned carelessness and are taking the virus seriously.

Zanzibar's First Vice President Seif Sharif Hamad was taken ill by the virus, according to his party, ACT Wazalendo, at the end of January. His wife and aides were also infected.

That rare admission sent shockwaves across the country, which last gave official statistics for COVID-19 in April 2020.

Zanzibar's First Vice President Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad became one of the top Tanzanian officials to admit he had contracted COVID-19

"The situation is not very good," Mussa Mussa, a resident of Arusha, said. "The government is not saying directly about the corona situation in Tanzania. We are wondering whether we have the virus with us or not," Mussa told DW in an interview.

"Last week, the minister of health [Dorothy Gwajima] told us to use traditional ways to protect ourselves. A few weeks ago, the president told us that some people brought corona in this country, so we are wondering, is corona in Tanzania or not?"

In January, two cases of the new South African strain — thought to be more contagious — were discovered in air travelers returning from Tanzania by Denmark's Statens Serum Institut (SSI), which specializes in infectious diseases.

"The first thing I do is to avoid unnecessary crowds," Anna, who resides in Dar es Salaam, said.

"If I have to go, I keep my distance to avoid direct contact with people," adding that she washes her hands and sanitizes herself more often than before.

Meanwhile, Tanzania's Roman Catholic Church took the plunge and went against the government's code of silence by warning its adherents to protect themselves.

"Our country is not an island. We have every reason to take precautions and pray to God so that we can move unscathed in this pandemic," a letter addressed to archbishops and retired bishops stated.

Impact of Tanzania's non-cooperation

Tanzania's refusal to provide COVID-19 data and procure vaccines could endanger the whole continent, according to Africa CDC.

"We don't truly understand how [the] COVID-19 pandemic will evolve. Not cooperating will make it dangerous. This virus has no borders," Africa CDC director, John Nkengasong, said during an online media briefing.

Nkengasong urged Magufuli's government to review their policy on dealing with COVID-19 and join the African Union in fighting the pandemic.

More Tanzanians are now wearing face masks as the country comes to terms with the coronavirus

"He [President Magufuli] denied the pandemic even before it got to Tanzania in the first place," political analyst Thabit Jacob said. "With all the news about vaccines causing trouble in different corners of the world, this is going to fuel his skepticism even further."

South Africa on Sunday announced that they were halting their planned vaccination rollout of Oxford's-produced AstraZeneca vaccine after a study revealed that the shot was not strong enough to protect against the new variant found there.

Tanzania, Burundi not part of Africa vaccine program

In February, the World Health Organization said it planned to start dispatching around 90 million COVID-19 vaccines to Africa. But two countries, Tanzania and Burundi, were excluded from the program.

While Tanzania has been reluctant to accept vaccines, Burundi said it was focusing on prevention measures and did not see the need yet to vaccinate its nearly 12 million citizens, according to local media.

During the 2020 Tanzania political campaigns and elections, there was little regard for COVID protocols

Cape Verde, Rwanda, South, and Tunisia have been allocated around 320,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, the WHO said in a statement.

The Africa CDC said 60% of Africans need to receive a form of vaccination for the continent to acquire herd immunity — that is when enough people become immune to a virus making it less likely to be transmitted within the community.

Currently more than 3.5 million people in Africa have contracted the virus and around 90,000 have died from it.

 -DW

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