THE way Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli has handled the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated yet again that he is in away a genius global leader.
While most of global and regional leaders were panicking and locking down businesses including imposing curfew to their people, President Magufuli chose to go the other path and stood by it. One of important traits of a good leader is to provide leadership to people on what he/she believes in and remain focused.
The President has done that against all odds. The first thing he did was to allay fears to Tanzanians that Covid-19 is a disease just like other ailment, noting that people ought not to panic, because fear is more dangerous than Coronavirus itself, and this statement helped a great deal to easy public tension.
He refused to ‘lockdown’ his people and businesses, arguing that no one knows for how long the pandemic would last. Locking down people and closing businesses would have greater social and economic impact than the impact of the disease itself.
While insisting and reminding people to observe basic Covid-19 hygienic procedures, such as frequently washing hands and wearing masks, he urged them to carry on with their own normal businesses, especially workers. This move helped millions of Tanzanians, who depend on daily activities to earn a living make their ends meet.
President Magufuli was the first leader to doubt the efficacy of the face masks imported from abroad, where instead; he encouraged local industries to produce masks and tailors to design clothing masks domestically.
It did not take long before we started hearing other countries complaining that some of their masks imported from certain country were contaminated with Coronavirus. He also doubted the accuracy of the test kits and laboratory equipment used to test the Coronavirus.
He submitted samples taken from a goat, a sheep, a pawpaw, car oil and a bird, where the results were surprisingly weird as some of the samples tested positive and others negative. No one else in the world had thought about this trick!
When he ordered government officials to stop quarantining people arriving from abroad, people were surprised. But he was right; there is no difference between releasing someone today or after 14 days, when the pandemic is already spreading at community level.
What would make the difference is the attitude of the arriving passengers when they mix with people in the community. If they observe basic Covid-19 hygienic procedures, they remain safe and protect others, regardless if they were allowed to integrate on arrival or after 14 days.
The President also stopped government officials from fumigating and spraying the city with chlorine saying that it was not an effective way to combat the pandemic, an argument that was later supported by one of the WHO senior official.
While Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda borrowed a combined $2.3billions from the World Bank, President Magufuli did not want to fall into the debt trap and instead he called on the Briton Wood institution to grant debt relief or debt deferments to countries instead of burdening them with new loans.
Tanzania pays 200bn/- to the World Bank every month and the President called on the global financial institution to allow Tanzania use it to combat Covid-19. One of the reasons the President did not close borders, including the Dar es Salaam Port was the fact that Tanzania borders eight countries.
He said he did not want to affect the welfare of the neighbours. Most of these countries are land-locked depending on Tanzania for their transit goods and for agricultural produce. That’s why I was personally surprised to hear Zambia closing border with Tanzania.
Can you imagine Zambia, a land-locked country closing a border with Tanzania, a country that has port and a Railway line (TAZARA) connected to them? Who stands to lose if Tanzania decides to close the border? Then came Kenya, they also announced that they were closing their borders with Tanzania for fear of Coronavirus spread to Kenyans by Tanzanians.
Just after two days, the Kenyan Ambassador to Tanzania came out at a press conference in Dar es Salaam, after Tanga and Kilimanjaro Regional Commissioners announced ‘minor adjustments’ to border procedures. Probably some countries underestimated the power of Tanzania in the region.
At least they could have repaid the trust that President Magufuli had shown to them by leaving Tanzania open to allow goods and people to flow across borders. A lot of noises have been about why Tanzania is not announcing Covid-19 cases on daily basis like other countries.
When you look at it deeply, apart from creating fear to people, what purpose does it serve? At least this is the experience from Tanzania, the more cases were announced more people became desperate.
When the President asked Tanzanians to use local methods in treatment of Coronavirus, many people did not believe it will work but within a short period of time many people adopted and it worked miracles.
Most of us got Covid-19 like symptoms and became sick but we used home based treatment of inhaling steam from a concoction of traditional medicines/leaves and regular drinking of hot tea with a combination of lime, ginger and honey.
The result is that, according to the President speech on 17th May 2020, there has been a significant drop in cases of patients admitted in hospitals and most of the patients were doing fine. For instance, Amana Hospital which used to admit up to 198 patients had remained with only 12 patients.
Mloganzila Hospital the number has dropped from 30 to six patients, Kibaha Centre from 50 to 22, Arusha and Kilimanjaro have 11 patients with four centres having zero patients. In Mwanza out of 10 centres there were only six patients while in Dodoma the number has gone down to just two cases out of 42.
At Aga Khan Hospital there are 31 patients, Hindu Mandal 16, Regency 17, TMJ 7 and Rabininsia hospital 14. This trend and the figures show that Tanzania is doing much better than its neighbours who are implementing the copy and paste method of lock-down.
At the global level it has been proven that countries with lockdowns such as UK and the US have been far more affected than countries such as Sweden and Taiwan, which did not implement it. Because of the success registered by Tanzania in recent weeks, the President has ordered the opening of the aviation and tourism industries to allow for foreign flights to land in the country as usual.
It is now evident that when Covid-19 will disappear, Tanzania will emerge as a winner as her economy is likely to rebound faster than other countries in the east African region. The good thing is also that while other countries will be swimming into debt, Tanzania will be free from such additional debts.