tanzania

People look at newspapers without adhering to physical-distancing guidelines in Dar es Salaam [Ericky Boniphace/AFP] Also no one is wearing a mask.

Current count in Kenya as of Thursday, May 21: 1,109 confirmed cases, 50 deaths, 375 recovered, and 52,507 people tested for the virus. This is an increase in the last week of 351 confirmed cases, 8 deaths, 91 recovered, and 15,589 people tested (2,227 per day). Kenya has 21 cases per million people while the United States has 4,900 cases per million people and 0.9 deaths per million people while the United States has 291 deaths per million people. 

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As readers of my updating on the Kenyan response to Covid-19 will note, I have been mostly positive on how the Kenyan government and people have responded to the pandemic. There are 55 countries in Africa and each one is going to respond differently and have its own story. The response to Covid-19 varies with some countries doing well, others not so well, and others badly. In eastern Africa, three countries – Uganda, Ethiopia, and Rwanda – are doing well; two others – Somalia and South Sudan – are having difficulties, and two more – Burundi and Tanzania – are questionable in their response. In this Report I am focusing on the alarming situation in Tanzania which has significant parallels to what happened in the United States.

One of the major sources of infection in eastern Africa is Covid-19 positive truck drivers who are carrying necessary goods for the economy but also easily spreading the virus. Last Monday, Kenya turned back 51 Tanzanian truck drivers who tested positive for Covid-19 at their border crossings. This increased the total number of Tanzanian truck drivers who have tested positive and not allowed to enter Kenya to 126. As a result Kenya has closed the border with Tanzania and required every Tanzanian truck driver to have a clean Covid-19 certificate before entering Kenya. This implies that there are thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands, of Covid-19 cases in Tanzania. The official count two weeks ago was 509 with 21 deaths, but Tanzania is no longer publishing updates on Covid-19 in order to “not spread alarm.”

Contrary to this evidence, the Tanzanian President, John Magufuli, claims that the virus is under control. While schools were closed and large gatherings restricted, all business, churches, and mosques were allowed to remain open.  On Sunday, March 22, at a church service in Dodoma, when Tanzania had an announced total of 12 cases, President Magufuli said he would not close churches and mosques because he likened the pandemic to Satan so that it needed divine intervention to be quelled. Prayers, he said, “can vanquish” the “satanic” virus. The government wouldn’t prohibit prayers in mosques and churches because that’s where “there is true salvation.” While international travel had been closed, he has now re-open its airspace and welcomed tourists again.

This is a chart of the reported cases in Tanzania with Kenya added for comparison. Note how the number of cases in Kenya increases day by day as the government spokespeople report new cases in their daily afternoon briefing. The straight lines for Tanzania indicate that there is no updating of the cases, deaths, and recoveries as is happening in Kenya and most other African nations. While Kenya has reported that it has tested 52,507 people, Tanzania does not report the number of people tested, but it may be less than 1,000. As Donald Trump has said, “If we didn’t do any testing, we would have very few cases.”

In early May, President Magufuli claimed some animal, fruit, and oil samples disguised as human samples tested positive for the virus raising questions on the credibility of the country’s influenza laboratory. He then replaced the Health Principal Secretary and the Chief Medical Officer. Since that time there have been no more announcements of testing results.

When a Tanzanian lawyer, Albert Msando, claimed on April 29 that the government was underreporting Covid-19 cases, he was arrested on sedition charges.

A clip of a night burial in Tanzania. Ansbert Ngurumo an author, journalist, and self-proclaimed human rights defender, uploaded a video to Twitter on 28 April, which shows night burials in action, allegedly of people who have died of Covid-19. Picture: Twitter | @ngurumo. Note the people dressed in personal protective equipment.

On May 4, BBC reported (see here)

Videos of night burials have been circulating on social media in Tanzania causing some to call into question the government’s approach to the coronavirus pandemic.

The footage shows the funerals taking place under tight security with people wearing personal protective equipment and very few mourners in attendance.

Opposition politicians and activists believe it may be part of cover-up by the authorities who have not been releasing regular updates on coronavirus.

Unlike other countries, Tanzania has not opted for strict lockdown measures although mass gatherings at funerals, like weddings, have been banned.

But the secretive nature of the filmed burials is fuelling speculation that the true scale of infections around the country is being hidden.

“I don’t want to feel like the government is hiding something. I want it to perform its role. Right now, we are witnessing a lot of mourning, burials and dead bodies everywhere,” said opposition leader Zitto Kabwe.

“Without transparency, the citizens will be more scared, which may cause even more deaths.”

Is Covid-19 spreading undetected in Tanzania as it did in the United States while the government was in a state of denial? Is the disaster that so many are predicting for African nations unfolding in Tanzania? If so many Tanzanian truck drivers are testing positive at the Kenyan border, this can only indicate a serious epidemic in the Tanzanian population. As one of my Kenyan facebook friends wrote, “If 51 Tanzanian drivers test positive of Covid-19 in a single day, it may mean this thing is in 1000s in Tanzania.” The situation in Tanzania is alarming.

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Jina Moore, former East Africa Bureau Chief for The New York Times, who covered Ebola in West Africa, has written an article for The New Yorker (May 15, 2020) titled, What African Nations Are Teaching the West About Fighting the Coronavirus (see here). The article substantiates what I have been reporting about Covid-19 in my postings on the virus. Although this Report indicates that Tanzania is doing badly, this should be balanced with the realization that Uganda (160 cases, 0 deaths, 54,400 tests) Ethiopia (399 cases, 5 deaths, 69,519 tests), and Rwanda (320 cases, 0 deaths, 78,953 tests) have done even better than Kenya. Here is a quote from the article on why Africa has contained the virus so much better than the West:

Meanwhile, a rather obvious possibility stares us in the face: What if some African governments are doing a better job than our own of managing the coronavirus? “One reason why we may be seeing what we are seeing is that the continent of Africa reacted aggressively,” John Nkengasong, the director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, told me. “Countries were shutting down and declaring states of emergency when no or single cases were reported. We have evidence to show that that helped a lot.”

Note that Tanzania has not “reacted aggressively.” I encourage you to read the article.

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Here is the current case load in nearby African countries (plus the United States for comparison) as of Thursday, May 21. The increase is compared to the previous week’s total number of cases. The total population of these 8 countries is 306 million people, while the total population of the United States is 333 million people.

CountryCasesCasesIncreaseDeaths  Recovered
5/21/20205/14/20205/21/20205/21/2020
      Burundi           42  15  27  1  20
Ethiopia   399263163  5123
Kenya1,10975835150375
Rwanda   320287  33  0217
Somalia1,5941,21937561204
South Sudan   481203278  4    4
Tanzania*   509509    021    4
Uganda   160139  21  0  66
Eastern Africa4,6143,3781,2481421,013
United States  1,620,902  1,425,656   195,246   96,354    382,169

*Tanzania is no longer publishing updates on Covid-19 in order to “not spread alarm.”

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David Zarembka

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Reports from Kenya: www.davidzarembka.com/

Email: davidzarembka@gmail.com

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