Our rulers thought this virus is a joke, but now they know

Saturday May 2 2020

Tanzanians carry on daily life despite the confirmed Covid-19 cases in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on April 4, 2020.

Tanzanians carry on daily life despite the confirmed Covid-19 cases in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on April 4, 2020. PHOTO | ANADOLU | AFP 

JENERALI ULIMWENGU
By JENERALI ULIMWENGU
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Slowly, stealthily and steadily, Covid-19 describes its macabre route through our African communities, leaving in its wake death, confusion and morbid fear.

Africa has played unwilling host to a couple of other viruses before–HIV, Ebola, are but examples—and yet nothing tells me we have become more savvy in dealing with such nasty invaders.

Africans are, almost by our very predisposition, fatalistic. Things tend to happen in certain ways because they tend to happen in certain ways, and there is very little one can do about it. The (in)famous Dr Pangloss of Voltaire's Candide all over again.

The weight of ignorance and obscurantism holding us down has meant that no matter how many times we go through these traumatic events and processes, we learn very little from the fires that have roasted us and, not quite like the Phoenix, we manage to remake ourselves whole, and fly again.

Only we continue to fly very close to our fires, not quite recognising them as the cause of our most immediate past tears.

I suppose we can say that we are resilient, for otherwise tell me why we are still her... beaten, broken, mauled, spat-on, but here still, if it were not for that incredible staying power and the singular DNA of perpetual renewal?

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One can only worry that it will come a time when such insouciance will allow expose us to mortal blows from which we will not be able to rise again. To say that will never happen, or that ‘we’ll survive because God is on our side’ belongs to the realm of superstition, and you can include me out.

We have not seen the worst that can happen with this virus in our region just as yet, though there are indications that our people, already dying, will die some more.

But even as this realisation is hardly disputable, there is scant evidence that our rulers are acting in tandem to organise a coordinated response. Though muted, criticism has been heard about some of the countries in the East African Community regarding their actions that have not been viewed as useful in anti-corona action.

Tanzania has taken a lot of stick for this, not only for not falling in line to impose restrictions similar to those adopted by our neighbours, but especially for the declarations of some of our people in power making light of the pandemic—‘this insignificant little malaise’, the top man is reported to have sniggered—at the very time that people were dying.

Some of the online comments have been scathing, not least of them the sarcasm of my younger brother Andrew Mwenda of Uganda.

Increasingly, though, Tanzanians have come out to urge their government to wake up and smell the bitter coffee of Covid-19.

Mid-week, the head of the main opposition Chadema, Freeman Mbowe broadcast a hard-hitting address against President John Pombe Maguful’s government’s attitude toward the virus, accusing the president of dereliction of duty by ensconcing himself in his home village for a month instead of being at the centre of things and directing operations.

Mbowe was critical of Magufuli’s apparent belief that prayers would save the country from the ravages of this disease, saying firm steps had to be taken to enhance medical interventions, providing adequate supplies, recalibrating budgetary provisions to face up to the new challenges of the virus, among many other enumerated proposals.

Many of those who listened to Mbowe’s call for action agreed with the thrust of his speech, although they doubted it would get the requisite response from the authorities, seeing as officialdom is given to believing it has the monopoly of wisdom and whatever it decides is good for everyone, except, that is (as put by the chief spokesman of the government), a ‘few misguided, hypocritical scandal-mongers and naysayers.’

After three MPs died while in session (cause unknown), Chadema announced its parliamentarians were suspending their participation in the ongoing sessions and would go into quarantine for two weeks.

It also called on the Speaker to suspend the sessions and to have everyone around Bunge go through isolation and testing.

In the meantime, even would-be do-gooders trying to make contributions to the anti-corona fight have been turned away by police who ‘do not want to see more than two people assembled’, although ruling-party honchos can gather a hundred people or more, it does not matter, and Corona does not affect them. Except, of course, they tend to die ‘from breathing difficulties.’

Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]

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