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After the death of President Magufuli : Is Tanzania finally taking up the fight against Corona?

She is already going down in history as the first woman to head her country: Samia Suluhu Hassan becomes the new head of state of the Republic of Tanzania. The previous Vice President succeeds John Magufuli, who died on Wednesday in a hospital in Dar es Salaam - after having gone underground for weeks.

Heart failure is officially the cause of death, but since Magufuli's last public appearance at the end of February there have been rumors of Covid disease. "Magufuli died of Corona," opposition leader Tundu Lissu said on Thursday. With a view to Magufuli's death, he spoke of “poetic justice”. In an interview with the Kenyan broadcaster KTN, he said from exile in Belgium: “I don't celebrate, but I don't mourn either.” Officially, 14 days of state mourning are imposed.

If Magufuli actually died of Corona, it would not be a surprise. The politician, dubbed the “bulldozer” because of his uncompromising leadership style, has denied the threat of the virus since the beginning of the pandemic - with a mixture of conspiracy theories and secrecy.

Although the chemistry teacher should have known better, he sowed doubts about the hygiene measures and corona tests. In a Tanzanian laboratory, a goat and even a sample of a papaya fruit tested positive for the virus, he claimed in the spring of 2020. The best medicine against Covid-19 are medicinal herbs and, above all, prayers. "Corona cannot survive in the body of Christ," said the devout Catholic. "It burns immediately."

No infection figures from Tanzania

While other African governments reacted quickly to the pandemic outbreak last year, Magufuli refused to lockdown, close churches and mosques, and shut down tourism to the last. Unguja, the main island of the Zanzibar archipelago, attracted tourists from all over the world with the prospect of a "corona-free" vacation on the snow-white sandy beaches of the Indian Ocean.

In May of last year, the government stopped counting corona infections in the country. The publication of the number of infections was "counterproductive" because it could stir up panic in the population, they argued. Doctors were muzzled and were no longer allowed to speak publicly about corona cases in the clinics.

Christoph Bonsmann from the aid organization Medeor, who was last in Tanzania in January, says: “The intensive care units in the hospitals have been full since the beginning of the year, and the demand for oxygen supply is also increasing. In February and March in particular, the numbers rose sharply, as reported by our partners in Tanzania. "

In the end, however, it seemed that not everyone in the government agreed with the course of denial and cover-up. “We have not imposed a lockdown and we will not do that either because God is on our side,” a statement from the Ministry of Health said at the end of February.

At the same time, however, the authority asked people in the country to take precautionary measures, such as wearing masks. More than a year after the start of the pandemic, the ministry admitted the danger of the virus for the first time. Magufulis refused to do so until the end.

Even when his chief secretary, John Kijazi, died in February of a “respiratory disease” that was not described by official sources, Magufuli said at the funeral: “Maybe we angered God somehow. We should all repent. "

Now the President himself has died at the age of 61. Previously, Tanzania had allegedly lost a number of celebrities to the corona virus, including the opposition politician Seif Sharif Hamad, the vice-president of the semi-autonomous island group of Zanzibar.

A divided country

With Magufuli's death, there is now a chance that Tanzania will finally be able to press ahead with the fight against Corona. The Catholic Church in the country dared to go on a confrontation course with the President at the end of January. In a letter, John Nyaisonga, the archbishop of Mbeya in the south of the country, called on people to wear masks. According to media reports, 25 priests and 60 nuns died of Covid-19 in the first two months of this year alone.

The new President "Mama Samia" Suluhu inherits not only the health crisis in the country from her predecessor, but also an overall divided country. Some worship Magufuli, others hate him. In Zanzibar, the island group in the Indian Ocean mostly inhabited by Muslims, violence and deaths occurred after election fraud allegations at the end of October.

Photos that went around the world on social media under the hashtag “ZanzibarLivesMatter” showed opposition politicians abused by the police, with bloody wounds on their backs and broken arms. Magufuli had officially won the election with 84 percent, in Zanzibar - where the central government is traditionally viewed critically - there were clear doubts about the result. The US and the EU shared the criticism. The fact that Suluhu comes from Sansisbar and is a Muslim could possibly help pacify the conflict.

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Magufuli started in 2015 as a beacon of hope who wanted to reform Tanzania - a kind of stability tanker in East Africa. Above all, he had declared war on corruption. He also promoted the expansion of the infrastructure. But the president quickly developed into an autocrat, restricted freedom of the press and had critics persecuted.

Opposition leader Lissu calls from the exile of the new president to "repair" the country and to shake hands with the government's critics. “She has no other choice,” says Lissu. Suluhu must take a different course. Lissu is confident that her style is completely different from Magufulis.

It remains to be seen whether the new president will actually usher in a change of course in the fight against Corona. But even if, unlike its predecessor, it recognizes the danger of Covid-19, it should not be easy to contain the pandemic. Because, as in many places in Africa, there is a lack of vaccine against the coronavirus in Tanzania.

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