It’s an unusually cool Friday evening and I am seated at a café overlooking the Indian Ocean, listening to nice band music and enjoying my cappuccino as I watch cargo ships waiting for their turn to dock.
I turn to the only company I have; my phone, and the big news is the disappearance from the public of President John Magufuli… and the speculative dross that rained down from all quarters.
“Tanzania is being ravaged by Cofit but they are in denial,” one Kenyan friend said on chat. “People are being buried in secret,” another one from Uganda chipped in.
It’s an African virtue to say a prayer for sick people and wish them a quick recovery, but when it came to Magufuli, I sensed a creepy eagerness to believe the worst; disappearance soon became sickness, then (very predictably) he tested positive for you know what, then terminal illness, then in a vegetative state, then dead, then —- much to the chagrin of all Cofit alarmists —- alive and apparently well in church on Sunday. He should have waited a few more weeks and pulled off his ‘resurrection’ on Easter to make the script even more dramatic.
It was pointless telling my friends that, at the time all this was taking place, I was actually in Dar es salaam enjoying the final days of my holiday. I had chosen Tanzania for precisely that reason; to get a taste of life as it once was, as it should be, as it might never be again.
Restaurants, pubs, bistros, beach resorts all glittering through the night, Uber drivers working until dawn as revelers switch from one happening place to another. Security guards directing parking rather than doing those annoying body temperature checks and mask enforcement.
After being in Museveni’s boarding school for a year, I am rather used to restaurants emptying out close to 9:00pm. So seeing couples sauntering in and taking their seats that late felt like bliss.
I have much to say, but let me first get this out of the way. President Magufuli is not an icon of democracy; far from it. He has unmistakable autocratic traits and doesn’t take kindly to any kind of opposition. The October 2020 elections fell far short of free and fair, internet was blocked a few days to the polls and returned in time for him to be pronounced winner. Many Tanzanians I spoke to are scared that he could move to amend the constitution and stand for a third term. With more than 95% of MPs from the ruling CCM party under his firm grip, there are no obstacles in his way, should he choose to take that path to infamy.
BUT… that is not why he is so detested by the West and all their African proxies especially in the media and academia. While the West has shown over the decades that it’s comfortable working with the worst despots —- from Mobutu to Museveni and several others in-between — they cannot stand an African leader with a mind of his own. By his handling of the Cofit ‘pandemic’, the Tanzanian strongman has proved that he is one such leader.
When it first struck, exactly a year ago, he also took a pause and studied the situation. But he soon came to the conclusion that Cofit was never going to be one of Tanzania’s — or indeed Africa’s — big health challenges. Unlike other African leaders, Magufuli refused to copy and paste extreme measures that had been adopted by other countries for whom Cofit was actually a serious pandemic. Instead he turned around and drove in the opposite direction.
When the Western world was going into lockdowns, Magufuli announced that tourists coming into Tanzania didn’t need Cofit certificates. It was a masterstroke. The airports in Dar and, especially, Zanzibar were overwhelmed with involuntary tourists running away from house arrest in their countries and ferrying dollars, euros, pounds, rubles and krona with them to Tanzania. When Uganda was sinking deeper into debt in the name of fighting Cofit, Tanzania crossed the threshold into lower middle-income status, a few years ahead of schedule.
Ali, a devout Muslim who was my cab driver in Zanzibar, told me that everyone in virtually every trade made a kill. Naturally, hotel prices went up but most accommodation, no matter how modest or posh, was at 100 percent occupancy for six straight months. Beach resorts were littered with visitors who had chosen to blow their credit card limits rather than return to the gloom of Europe. Some are still there, working online, seated by the ocean with their laptops, drinking all manner of brew, typing away to the soothing sound of the waves and occasionally placing orders for drinks in sketchy Kiswahili, a sign of how long they’ve been around. I wanted to know what it feels like being a Cofit alarmist, so asked one middle-age Mzungu man why he wasn’t wearing a mask. He gave me this LOL look, and replied, almost disdainfully, that “Cofit is just a business”. Then he ran and took a dip into the clear waters.
Amos Wekesa, that doyen of tourism, once told me that there are two ways of getting a billion dollars from the developed world. One is through loans which come with big interest and so many conditions, the other is by attracting a million tourists from their countries who each spend a thousand dollars in Uganda.
Magufuli chose the wiser way. During the darkest months of Cofit restrictions across the world, all Tanzanian tourist attractions, even those inland, were reporting 80-90 percent increase in arrivals. The country was undertaking massive expansion of its infrastructure; roads being widened, bridges built (the one joining mainland Dar to Kigamboni stands out) the Port is getting bigger, the number of cargo ships arriving is growing, life is normal.
I can hear someone screaming: “All that is good, but not at the expense of people’s lives”
I have one answer for that person. Switch on your brains!
I asked everybody I spoke to in my 14 days in Tanzania and none of them knows anyone who has suffered from Cofit, much less died of it. Interestingly, they believe Cofit is ravaging Uganda and Kenya. These are not official responses that you can pin on Magufuli-induced fear, this is street talk. Besides, in Uganda, many more people died from Cofit measures than from the virus itself.
Imagine for a moment if the tables were turned and it was Africa with the hundreds of thousands of Cofit deaths while Europe and America had just a handful. We all know what they would do. They would simply shut their borders to us and carry on with their lives like we never existed; beating their breasts over TV images of dying Africans (nothing new!).
But our minds are so colonized we don’t even know when we have an advantage. We dare not enjoy our lives when our masters are suffering. If we must pretend that a mild respiratory dis-ease (that’s all it’s been in Uganda) is a pandemic, then we shall. And yes, they will give us a few sweeteners in the form of payable loans to aid our silly charade.
Nothing has accentuated the master-slave relationship between the West and Africa like this so-called pandemic. It has stripped us bare and shown that our minds are still as captive as they were 100 years ago. With all these degrees and PhDs, may be even more so now.
Cofit is not — and will not be —- in the top 20 of Uganda’s (or Africa’s) causes of death. Closing down our economy and causing so much disruption to our fragile societies will rank as the most idiotic decision taken by many African leaders.
That’s why Cofit alarmists hate Magufuli; because he made them look stupid. And nobody wants to look stupid. Because he refused to be conned. That’s why they were celebrating his ‘death’; because it would give them a hollow victory. I know some Cofit alarmists reading this will quietly pray for the day Joseph Kabuleta catches the virus, and possibly even dies of it, so they can have their “poetic justice”. It’s petty. It’s silly. Even if that happened, it wouldn’t change the fact that we were conned.
But if you are the kind of person that wants somebody dead just so you can prove a point, then your problems run deep; much deeper than I can fry in one rant. @jkabuleta
The author is a Ugandan former presidential candidate
Disclaimer: The views expressed in Kabuleta’s Weekly Rant are his own and do not necessarily reflect Africa Tembelea’s editorial stance.