Tanzania and its peculiar pandemic of conspiracy theories

Tanzania and its peculiar pandemic of conspiracy theories

Tanzania was a land of whispers. Even doctors could not talk about Covid-19 on their own. They had to hide their diagnoses or share them privately with their patients, but no one could disagree with the rhetoric of authorities, who insisted that Tanzanians had conquered coronavirus through prayer. For many citizens, especially those watching international media as the global pandemic spreads to other countries, the fear of getting sick is compounded by the fear of ending up in jail.

“We journalists spent enough to drive up the death rate, especially among people with veteran purchasing power,” recalls Sandra Kitinga (name changed to protect her identity). “As a result, many of us feel compelled to speak out about these deaths, which are likely coronavirus-related, even though we feared the reaction of the authorities. It was regular to receive calls from the information task asking for details about our stories. When we mentioned the virus in our articles, they accused us of scaring the population.

Under John Magufuli, who became president of Tanzania in 2015, this type of intimidation aimed at restricting press self-determination was so popular that it became routine. The authorities attacked any journalist who, like Kitinga, questioned their decisions. The 30-year-old journalist, who now works for one of the largest newspapers in the African country, not only lost her documentation to cover government events, but also received numerous reprimands. But this bravery did not stop her.

Did you report on Covid-19 despite the threats? —

“Yes,” said Kitinga. But we had to be very careful. State censorship forced us to invent all sorts of tactics to keep working. For example, in the weekly newspaper I work with, they write about the increase in cases of “pneumonia” in Tanzania on the same pages that they even mention the number of deaths from coronavirus in other parts of the world. This allowed readers to match the two messages.

One of the most popular conspiracy theories in Tanzania insists that vaccines sterilize women, a hoax that could explain why the number of vaccinated men is almost double that of women

Those whispered days lasted until April 6, 2021, two weeks after the sudden assassination of President John Magufuli. His successor, President Samia Suluhu Hassan, then decided to change course and created a commission of experts to study the state of the pandemic in the region. Shortly after, his government confirmed the presence of the new coronavirus. The images of his room with masks, as well as those of the President receiving the vaccine against this disease, have become symbols of a change of direction.

However, this change is happening more slowly than expected. Even the Hassan-sponsored media campaign to talk about Covid-19 has not erased the traces of 10 months of rejection rhetoric. The scars of the previous government still darken this country: they are felt both in medical offices, which avoid any discussion of the subject because they consider it controversial, and in the streets, where only a handful of passers-by wear masks.

the plot continues

The madness started in June 2020 when Tanzania became a coronavirus-vacant country, according to President Magufuli. It was therefore not necessary to follow the precautions dictated by the health authorities of the rest of the world. The Tanzanians were able to continue their routines. On the side of wearing a mask or vaccination, the Minister of Health, Dr. Dorothy Gwajima presented three alternatives on state television: pray; Eat a mixture of ginger, garlic and lemons and inhale the herbal vapors.

Ten months after the assassination of Magufuli (March 17, 2021), the president’s speeches persist both in the streets and in political circles. MP Josephat Gwajima, who is even an Evangelical pastor with millions of followers, demonstrated the lawsuit against the health regulations that the President of Tanzania is now proposing. In this momentum, Gwajima, among other unscientific theories, insists that vaccines alter human DNA to the point of turning us into zombies.

MP Josephat Gwajima, among other unscientific theories, insists that vaccines alter human DNA in ways that turn us into zombies.

Hand in hand with President Magufuli – who liked to identify himself as a very religious figure – the churches have become mouthpieces for many Covid-19 conspiracies that have reached every corner of this nation. But religious centers are not the only defenders of these theories. Social networks and word of mouth even play an important role.

In fact, conspiracies continue to be an obstacle to the vaccination campaign. So far, health officials have vaccinated just over 2.11% of its 57 million citizens – 1.2 million doses administered, according to government data – one of the lowest rates in the world . The government announced its intention to vaccinate at least 60% of the population, but many people were reluctant to get vaccinated.

One of the most popular conspiracy theories in Tanzania insists that vaccines sterilize women, a hoax that may explain why in this country the number of vaccinated men is almost double that of women.

“You would be surprised how widespread these rumors are,” says Siriacus Buguzi, a senior journalist from Tanzania, from his home in Dar es Salaam. “Most of the nation’s healthcare workers even believe these hoaxes surrounding the coronavirus and its vaccines, according to a new, yet unpublished medical study. I’ve heard all kinds of theories. Without going any further, I heard this morning that the scientists who developed the vaccines want to change the religious beliefs of people who get vaccinated.

“This table is not durable”

Not all citizens are opposed to vaccinations. Judith Kitomari (name changed to protect her identity) has never accepted speeches without competition from her president. He hid his opinions on the street or in conversations with acquaintances. But instead of tolerating the government’s actions, the 27-year-old safari program listened with concern. When her savings disappeared from her pockets, Kitomari felt that Tanzania was entering a dead end. Although authorities have kept international borders open at all times, restrictions in other countries have caused visitor numbers to plummet. In this country where up to 11.7% of gross domestic product (GDP) depends on tourism, it has been a blow for millions of people, from drivers to chefs and hotel receptionists. For this reason, Kitomari has no doubt: “We have to return to normality. This table is not durable. I decided to get vaccinated to bring my sandstone. We all want this pandemic to end.

Up to 80% of infected Tanzanians don’t even know they are sick as they show no symptoms or go to hospital

The government began listing positive coronavirus cases in late July, a year after President Magufuli froze the count. However, in truth, no one knows exactly the state of this flow. Health authorities have recorded 26,480 infections and 734 deaths related to this disease. But they admit the true numbers are likely much higher: up to 80% of infected Tanzanians don’t even know they’ve gotten sick because they don’t show symptoms or go to hospital, according to estimates. of the government.

Similar scenarios are repeated in the rest of the continent. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), authorities detect one in seven infections on African soil. In addition to the small number of tests carried out, younger people in the population are more likely to contract Covid-19 without developing serious symptoms. Tanzania’s median span – about 18 years – is more than double that of Spain, which exceeds 44 springs.

As the pandemic unfolds quietly, with the Omicron variant the latest threat, the chrematistic disorder symptoms of this general crisis are much more visible. The East Africa Business Council (EABC) presented figures on this disaster: in 2020, this region lost more than 4.2 billion euros and two million jobs due to the collapse of tourism.

forget covid-19

Journalist Siriacus Buguzi describes the Magufuli government in the most resounding terms: his regime has not only fostered an avalanche of false information about the coronavirus, but even unleashed a flood of fear. In the early days of her term, President Hassan allowed the reopening of several media outlets banned by the previous government, but deeper reforms are needed to restore the self-determination of expression for Tanzanians.

“The Tanzanian state has always firmly controlled all institutions,” Buguzi explains. “Magufuli simply exploited this fact to further increase his power. It wasn’t difficult. On this pad, he created a set of strict laws to control mainstream media and even internet users. For example, since July 2020, we cannot talk about pandemics or disasters unless the government allows us to.

– Is it for this reason that many Tanzanian doctors do not want to argue with us journalists, when now they can theoretically independently agree that the coronavirus is present in Tanzania? we asked Buguzi.

— The laws I mentioned remain in the Penal Code. Even after Magufuli’s murder, many Tanzanians do not feel safe. It is not clear to us whether we can discuss independently or not. In truth, few doctors dare to express their opinions independently. The previous regime created a climate of fear. And he made sure fear was a tycoon. fear of money

-It must be frustrating for doctors in Tanzania to work on the streets with their limited self-expression and few hygiene measures…

-I do not agree. I spoke to many health workers. My conclusion is that like the vast majority of people in Tanzania, they do not identify coronavirus as a major problem for this country. Many Tanzanians now believe that Covid-19 only attacks Westerners. And since the hospitals aren’t so full of patients with the disease, the doctors don’t care too much about it.

According to Buguzi, Tanzanians just want to forget the coronavirus as soon as possible. Without looking back

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