Restriction-free Zanzibar saw visitor numbers skyrocket during the pandemic. But as the rest of the world emerges from self-inflicting downturns, Judy Cogan discovers the Tanzanian archipelago is looking to build on its tourism success, with a new 70-storey skyscraper, airport and multi-billion-dollar investment opportunities designed to lure foreign investors to its white-sand shores.

The foiled attack on World Health Organization-critic Andry Rajoelina has raised concerns over foreign interference in Madagascar. By Jerome Armstrong in Zanzibar.

A scientist with a PhD in chemistry, President Magufuli abandoned Covid-19 testing after his own trials allegedly showed fruit juice tested positive for the virus. Yet despite being widely ridiculed at the time, many are asking whether the late Tanzanian president was right, with European courts declaring tests unreliable – while the inventor of the Covid-19 PCR test is facing a multi-million-dollar law suit for ‘misleading’ world governments. By Sonia Elijah.


In May 2020, the former chemistry teacher and late-Tanzanian president John Magufuli made a speech that has since been removed from much of the internet. In it, he revealed that he secretly sent samples of goat meat and fruit juice to the country’s official PCR testing lab – and the samples came back as 'positive' for the novel coronavirus.

Magufuli’s simple stunt threw into question the claim that PCR tests were the ‘gold standard’ for diagnosing Covid-19, as the SARS-CoV-2 virus is commonly known in the media.

The statement unleashed ridicule and condemnation against the president from the rest of the world and led to him being smeared as a ‘Covid-denier’ in Western media. The BBC, for instance, incorrectly reported that Magufuli ‘used the results to justify his denial of the virus’.

However, President Magufuli never denied the existence of the Covid-19 – he simply questioned the accuracy of the PCR test used to diagnose the virus.

Now, almost a year later, and questions surrounding the reliability of the PCR tests are growing louder. Christian Drosten and the other scientists who created the PCR testing protocol used to ‘diagnose’ Covid-19 are being sued by the top trial lawyer Dr Reiner Fuellmich in a historic class-action law suit in Germany and the US.

If successful, it could lead to national governments being sued by businesses and individuals over lockdowns, mask mandates and other restrictions imposed on the basis of ‘positive’ Covid-19 tests.

The law suit against Drosten and his colleagues was spurred by an independent review of their ‘gold standard’ Covid-19 tests by 22 international scientists, which claims to have exposed 10 major flaws of the way the PCR tests were being used to detect the virus.

The alleged flaws and conflicts on interests of the scientists behind the tests, led Fuellmich to declare that ‘those responsible for it must be criminally prosecuted, and sued for civil damages'.

Dr Mike Yeadon, former vice president and chief scientist of Pfizer, who co-authored the review, highlighted another major flaw with the PCR test in ‘its propensity to suffer from contamination’.

He said that the ‘integrity of a PCR is very easily destroyed by invisible levels of contamination even in the hands of an expert, working alone and on a small handful of samples’.

A health worker prepares in a mobile NHLS testing lab at a Diepsloot COVID-19 screening and testing site at Diepsloot Sarafina Park (1).jpg

The Nobel-prize winning inventor of the original PCR method, Kary Mullis, famously said in 1993 that his technology was never meant to diagnose a virus, adding: ‘It doesn’t tell you that you are sick. These tests cannot detect free, infectious viruses at all.’

This crucial fact was completely ignored many years later by countries around the world that bought millions of PCR tests to conduct mass Covid-19 testing on their citizens, many of whom were ‘asymptomatic’ – showing no symptoms of being sick with the virus.

There is mounting evidence that shows the PCR test is unreliable, resulting in false-positives and was never designed to test for a live virus. Dr Pieter Borger described the PCR test as having ‘no relevance for the diagnosis whatsoever’.

While Dolores Cahill, Professor of Translational Science at the University College Dublin, warned early on in the pandemic that ‘a positive PCR coronavirus test may testify to the presence of the common cold’.

Concerns about the use of PCR tests are growing around the world. The pathologist Dr Clare Craig explained, for instance, how one Spanish study showed that ‘87 per cent of people in hospital who tested positive for Covid on PCR had not been infected according to antibody testing’.

‘Even for those with Covid on intensive care, 53 per cent did not have antibodies.

‘Every test can go wrong and we can check how well they are working by comparing with other tests.’

Her concerns about the reliance on PCR testing is shared by the public health scientist Abir Ballan, who told NewsAfrica that it is possible that the test could have ‘picked up some other viruses that are closely related to SARS-CoV-2’, adding: ‘The E gene used in the PCR test, as described in the Corman-Drosten paper, is not specific to SARS-CoV-2.’

Interestingly, while Thailand, a country applauded for extremely ‘low’ Covid levels, screens for up to six genes, many of the countries hardest hit by Covid-19, like the UK and the Netherlands, are known to have run a high percentage of their tests using this flawed single-gene approach.

In the UK, for instance, 38 per cent of all positive test results in the first week of February 2021 had been screened for just one gene, raising serious questions about the true extent of the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths as a result.

But it’s not just the tests’ inability to distinguish between different viruses that concerns Ballan. She fears that the samples are being amplified to such an extent – known as ‘cycles’ – that they are picking up traces of dead virus in patients who were previously infected and have since recovered.

Nick Hudson, the South African who co-founded the international research group Pandemics Data & Analytics, told NewsAfrica that PCR testing was ‘being deployed in the wrong way.’

He doesn’t doubt President Magufuli’s claims that engine oil, fruit and meat tested positive for Covid-19, adding that ‘its sensitivity is being ramped up to an absurd level’ that everyday items like tap water have been returning false positives for Covid-19.

‘Cycling these tests up to such an extreme sensitivity has given rise to this notion of the ‘asymptomatic’ case – another medical absurdity.’

Hudson, like most independent scientists, scoffs at the notion of asymptomatic spreaders of the virus, questioning how someone can spread a respiratory disease ‘if you don’t have symptoms’.

It’s a position supported by several studies around the world, which found little or no evidence of asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic spread.

Kenyans walk past a mural about the coronavirus, Haile Selassie Avenue, Nairobi. Press Association.jpg

This hasn’t stopped labs running tests on people without symptoms, though. In Canada, for example, not a single province has run tests below the suggested 30 cycles. While one province, Quebec, has run tests as high as 45 cycles.

This has led to inflated ‘cases of Covid-19’, according to the scientist.

It’s a problem Hudson thinks may be common in South Africa too.

He revealed that one lab he had contacted had been running tests at up to 42 cycles – something he described as ‘utter madness’.

Hudson fears the mis-use of PCR in this way may have led to thousands of healthy people being incorrectly misdiagnosed as infectious, and, in turn, contributed to the government’s decisions to impose draconian lockdowns that have impoverished millions and led to economic stagnation in the African powerhouse.

President John Magufuli.jpg

Such examples led Dr David Bell, a former World Health Organization (WHO) programme head, to praise President Magufuli’s response to the virus.

He told NewsAfrica that the late-Tanzanian leader was one of the few world leaders to correctly follow the WHO’s guidelines for dealing with a respiratory illness.

‘There is not compelling evidence elsewhere that mass PCR testing has averted significant Covid-19 mortality, once community transmission is well established,’ explained Bell.

‘Magufuli had a science background and would have understood that PCR tests are appropriate for detecting sequences of genetic material, not as a sole way of defining ‘cases’ as is used, against WHO advice, in many other countries.’

The WHO has repeatedly warned against mass-testing of asymptomatic people.

This apparent misuse of PCR testing by countries like South Africa and Canada hasn’t gone unnoticed beyond the scientific community.

In November, 2020, an appeals court in Portugal made a landmark ruling stating that ‘the PCR process is not a reliable test for SARS-CoV-2, and therefore any enforced quarantine based on those test results is unlawful’.

The judges, Margarida Ramos de Almeida and Ana Paramés, referred to several scientific papers on the PCR tests, including a study by Jaafar et al, which found that when running PCR tests with 35 cycles or more the accuracy dropped to three per cent, meaning up to 97 per cent of positive results could be false positives.

With evidence mounting against PCR accuracy, the WHO issued a warning statement on December 14, that using a high CT value will result in false positives and advised labs to use the ‘positivity threshold’ recommended by the manufacturer.

Meanwhile, just two days after President Magufuli was laid to rest in March, an Austrian administrative court acknowledged the limitations of PCR and antigen testing, declaring ‘PCR tests have no diagnostic value’. This view was echoed in April by one of Germany’s lower courts, which described PCR tests as not ‘suitable for determining an ‘infection’ with the SARS-CoV-2 virus’ and ordered the lifting of various restrictions in the region in question, Weimar.

Yet despite growing legal and scientific support for his warnings about PCR misuse, Western coverage of the Tanzanian president’s funeral repeated many of the earlier slurs against him, deploying dog-whistle terms like ‘African leader’, ‘Catholic’ and ‘Covid denier’, while omitting his scientific credentials.

The use of such phraseology smacks of ‘prejudice’, according to ex-WHO scientist Dr David Bell, who thinks the Tanzanian should be applauded for his approach to the pandemic. Magufuli rejected the Chinese-inspired lockdowns embraced in the West and Western-leaning African countries like Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya, and encouraged Tanzanians to go about their everyday lives instead.

‘Magufuli followed the evidence-based pandemic guidelines released by WHO in 2019, and those of the US CDC,’ explained the American.

‘These did not envision mass business closures and restrictions on religious freedom. Most Tanzanians are of relatively young age, are not obese, and so are at very low risk from SARS-CoV-2 infection. He acted as you would expect a well-trained scientist.’

With yet more court cases slated over the use of PCR testing and the lockdowns they triggered, Bell thinks there will be a major re-assessment of Magufuli’s legacy.

Even the BBC, whose coverage of President Magufuli’s response to the pandemic has been particularly scathing, has been forced to acknowledge major flaws with the PCR tests recently, after its flagship Panorama programme sent an undercover reporter to work at a UK lab earlier this year.

The journalist discovered a series of bio-security breaches, leading to cross-contamination of samples and potential misdiagnoses of Covid-19 during its so-called ‘second wave’.

Whether such breaches led to over-inflated death figures will be difficult to prove.

But with the test branded ‘not fit for purpose’ by an increasing number of scientists, perhaps world leaders should have taken heed rather than ridicule the former scientist in their ranks.

He may have been ridiculed in the West for rejecting lockdowns and encouraging prayer-a-thons. But as ex-World Health Organization scientist Dr David Bell explains, Tanzania's late president John Magufuli is not seen as a pariah by many in the scientific community – he’s seen as a life-saver.

If you read the BBC website, you probably think Tanzania’s late president was either a rebel, a ‘Covid denier’ or just plain stupid.

In reality, he was none of these.

President Magufuli was actually a highly educated scientist with a PhD in chemistry, who probably saved thousands of lives by refusing to embrace lockdowns and other knee-jerk reactions foisted on the people in much of Africa and the West. 

Magufuli’s decision not to lock down was consistent with the evidence-based pandemic guidelines released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2019.

He rightly predicted that Covid-19 mortality in Africa would be very low compared to other major killers like malaria, tuberculous (TB) and HIV-Aids, and followed good public health principles in prioritising these higher burden diseases that particularly afflict the young, while telling Tanzanians not to panic.

He also prioritised keeping the economy growing, which is in the long term the most effective way of improving life-expectancy and health. In short, he acted as you would expect a well-trained scientist and rational public health expert to act in the Tanzanian context. 

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, the media has demanded longer and harder lockdowns, as if they were normal – or helpful.

But they rarely point out that no pandemic plan recommended mass business closures and restrictions on religious freedom, travel, or normal societal function before 2020, because removing these is expected to cause greater harm, and impinges greatly on fundamental human rights.

We never implemented any of these measures during the SARS, MERS or swine flu outbreaks of recent years. People attended places of worship, caught packed buses and trains, the young went clubbing and danced and sang and kissed.

The same was true for Tanzanians during this pandemic too.

And rightly so. 

Most Tanzanians are young and not obese, and so are at very low risk from Covid-19.

President Magufuli received a lot of bad press for telling his countrymen to go to church at the start of the pandemic to ‘pray’ Covid away.

But mass gatherings would not be expected to put the vast majority of the Tanzanian population at significant risk.

Tens of thousands of sports fans went to stadiums in Florida and Texas recently, and there was no noted uptick in cases afterwards.

Of course, protecting the vulnerable from harm is important in any epidemic, and it’s difficult to say whether the mass prayer-a-thons were a good idea from a purely transmission standpoint, as they may have increased risk to older people early on in Tanzania’s outbreak.


Building so-called ‘herd immunity’ in young people rapidly through such gatherings would however be expected to exert a protective effect, if the vulnerable are well protected until such transmission-suppressing immunity is achieved.

The policy overall was probably far better for public health than strict lockdowns, which led to the first recessions in a quarter of a century in many African countries, as well as a reduction in treatment for major killers like malaria, tuberculous (TB) and HIV-Aids.  

The virus that leads to Covid-19, SARS-CoV-2, is likely to become endemic, and as herd immunity is reached through natural infection or through vaccination, severe disease and death will become increasingly uncommon.

Multiple studies have shown very limited impact of stricter lockdowns on Covid-19 mortality.

Therefore, one would expect Tanzania, like Sweden, Croatia, Belarus and other ‘non-lockdown’ countries, to have similar overall Covid-19 deaths and epidemic trajectories as comparable lockdown countries in the end. 

The vehement criticism of President Magufuli in the media is therefore disappointing and highly ignorant. It does appear that Western journalists find it easier to smear leaders in African countries than European leaders. Sweden's leaders, for instance, have never been labelled 'Covid deniers'.

This is not new, but perhaps shows how much hypocrisy and prejudice persist in Western society.

Tanzania appears to have done better from a health point of view than most other low-income countries through this last year. While millions of Africans have been thrown into hunger and poverty, Tanzania has seen GDP rise throughout 2020.

Falls in GDP and general impoverishment are associated with increases in all-cause mortality.

This is particularly the case in sub-Saharan Africa, where food security is often a real problem and control of endemic diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and HIV-Aids is fragile.

It is therefore highly likely that, in maintaining a well-functioning economy, he and his government were responsible for greatly reducing mortality. UNICEF estimate almost a quarter of a million additional child deaths in South Asia in 2020 due to the responses to Covid-19 there.

It is likely that similar tolls will be seen in sub-Saharan Africa but we would expect that Tanzania will now be relatively protected from this. 

Let us hope, for Tanzanians’ sake, that this continues with his successor.

Western media may have had a good laugh at President Magufuli – and Tanzanians in general – for thinking they could ‘pray’ away a virus.

But, rhetoric aside, by refusing to lockdown, and by refusing to divert health resources away from malaria and TB to test people with no symptoms for a virus with a very low fatality rate, Magufuli was following an orthodox pandemic response. 

He was also orthodox in his approach to human rights. Religious freedom was considered an important human right by most Western journalists only 18 months ago, and fear should not change fundamental human rights. 

Honest journalists should acknowledge the benefits of Magufuli’s approach, however much it may contradict their current preferred world view.

Ridiculing religious observances that fall outside their experience, and denigrating public health science that they clearly don’t understand, is not good journalism.

It just highlights how ignorant they are. 

The government says John Magufuli died of heart problems, but questions abound over what really happened to the 61-year-old, who had a doctorate in chemistry and warned against devastating Covid-19 lockdowns in Tanzania.

After spending the last year disputing the global narrative about Covid-19, lockdowns and vaccines, Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli was pronounced dead from a heart attack on March 17 at the age of 61. 

The official announcement came on March 17, when Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan disclosed Magufuli’s death to the nation during a television address.

‘Dear Tanzanians, it is sad to announce that today 17 March 2021 around 6pm we lost our brave leader, President John Magufuli, who died from heart disease at Mzena hospital in Dar es Salaam where he was getting treatment,’ proclaimed Hassan. 

Hassan said Magufuli had been admitted to the hospital on March 6 but discharged the next day.

A week later, he was taken in again for his heart condition, which Hassan and government authorities have insisted was the cause of his death. 

Magufuli made headlines for defying the global narrative and response to Covid-19 since the virus was found in Tanzania.

He rejected closing churches and businesses, calling on people to pray to God instead of being afraid.

Contrary to the majority of the Western world and other African nations who have seen their economies collapse and other health conditions spiral out of control after embracing Chinese-style lockdowns, Magufuli declined to lock the country down, and the country has not reported any information about Covid-19 to the World Health Organization (WHO) since April 29, 2020.

On that day, 509 cases and 21 deaths were reported.

In June, Magufuli declared that the country had eradicated the virus.

Nor is this the only way that Tanzania’s former president is likely to have angered globalist politicians.

After Covid tests yielded ‘positive’ results from a goat and a pawpaw, Magufuli rejected them as unreliable, saying they had ‘technical errors’. His words have since been supported by an independent group of 22 scientists, who identified ‘10 fatal problems’ with the widely used PCR tests, noting that each problem on its own was enough to render the tests ‘useless’ in identifying Covid-19.

Magufuli, who had a doctorate in chemistry, also warned Tanzanians against becoming ‘guinea pigs’ for the various experimental Covid vaccinations, saying: ‘If the white man was able to come up with vaccinations, then vaccinations for Aids would have been brought, tuberculosis would be a thing of the past, vaccines for malaria and cancer would have been found.’ 

He was replaced by Hassan, who was sworn in March 19 with her hand on the Koran.

She will serve the remainder of Magufuli’s five-year term, which began in November 2020. 

Magufuli casket. Edited

Mystery surrounding Magufuli’s death

After Magufuli had disappeared from the public eye for a number of days, by March 11 rumours surfaced that he had died.

Then by March 12, the rumours intensified, with a number of social media posts and media reports claiming he had died.

Opposition leader Tundu Lissu claimed that Magufuli was being treated for Covid-19 and flown to Kenya and then to India for treatment.

However, this was ardently denied by government sources.

By March 13, Magufuli was still missing, not having been seen since February 27, and rumours were running amok.

However, on March 12, former Tanzanian intelligence officer and political analyst Evarist Chahali announced that Magufuli was confirmed dead earlier that evening.

Chahali wrote that the president had been put on life support in order to prevent Vice President Hassan from announcing his death and assuming power.

The attempted coup was being orchestrated by a group called ‘Lake Zoners,’ Chahali wrote, which was looking to place General Venance Mabeyo in Magufuli’s place.

The official announcement rejects Chahali’s assertion, however, and the government narrative remains that Magufuli died March 17.

Aside from confusion and secrecy surrounding the date, the leadup to his death was marked by growing international pressure on Magufuli to change his response to Covid-19.

At the start of February, the country’s health minister once again refused to accept any Covid vaccinations, prompting the World Health Organization to increase its pressure on the country to rejoin the fold and take part in the organization’s response to the infection.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus issued a statement urging Tanzania ‘to scale public health measures against Covid-19 and to prepare for vaccination’. 

Describing the situation as ‘concerning’, he reissued his call for Tanzania to take part in the global vaccination rollout, demanding Tanzania implement the public health measures that we know work in breaking the chains of transmission’.

Then, just one day after the Director-General’s statement – and in the wake of the death of Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad, the first vice president of the semi-autonomous Zanzibar region – Magufuli signalled a slight change in policy and commented on the use of masks, and acknowledged the presence of the virus.

‘I have not said people should not wear facemasks, don’t misquote me, however, some facemasks are substandard, if you have to wear them, please consider those locally made,’ he said.

‘Most people who have been affected are in urban areas. We will defeat this virus by faith.’

Magufuli swearing in. Edited

Some days before, on February 8, an article appeared in the left-wing British newspaper The Guardian attacking Magufuli’s response to Covid, calling it ‘a danger to public health’ and calling for Magufuli to be reined in.

The op-ed claimed that the president was ‘fuelling denialism and conspiracies’, and ridiculed his rejection of lockdowns and mask wearing. 

The article was sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which invests and makes billions of dollars on the global vaccination drive. The Foundation, along with the WHO, has been accused of profiting from DTP vaccines in Africa, which some scientific studies have alleged led to more deaths than the diseases they are supposed to protect against: diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough). 

In an attempt to curry favour with the liberal movement, Melinda Gates proclaimed last June that the experimental Covid-19 vaccines should be given first to ‘black people’ and ‘indigenous people’ in America. 

Certainly, in the run-up to his death, Magufuli faced the renewed wrath of both Bill Gates and the WHO, who took issue with his rejection of their lockdown and vaccination measures.

It remains to be seen what further details will emerge to shed light upon Magufuli’s death after he disappeared from public view for 18 days before he was announced to have died at just 61.

His successor, Hassan, praised Magufuli in her swearing-in ceremony and called for unity and an end to ‘finger pointing’.

Hassan, who previously worked for the United Nations’ World Food Program, was warmly welcomed to her new role by the WHO Director-General, in a marked change of tone from his previous comments to Magufuli, saying: 'I look forward to working with you to keep people safe from #COVID19, end the pandemic and achieve a healthier Tanzania. Together!’

This article was originally published on and has been edited for NewsAfrica Magazine.

With poaching on the rise thanks to the pandemic, Tanzania has alarmed conservationists further by legalising bushmeat markets, writes Zachary Ochieng.

The Tanzanian government has decriminalised bushmeat markets as part of an unusual strategy to control poaching in the East African safari hotspot.

The opening of the first butchery in the capital Dodoma in late-December followed President John Magufuli’s 2019 calls to open game-meat selling points across the country in a bid to stop illegal hunting.

An estimated 2,000 tonnes of meat, worth $50 million, is illegally caught and sold in Tanzania each year.

Explaining the strategy, Tanzania’s former minister for Natural Resources and Tourism Hamisi Kigwangalla said: ‘Tanzanians who wish to open such butcheries will be given special licences to run their businesses while the harvesting of game meat will only be done by professional hunters.’

But conservationists are concerned that legalised bushmeat sales in Tanzania will drive an increase in poaching, both within Tanzania’s national parks and reserves and outside the country, with meat smuggled into Tanzania to be sold in its new legal markets.

Angela Sheldrick, CEO of the Nairobi-based Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which funds anti-poaching and de-snaring operations, said she expects Kenya’s wildlife to be hard hit by Tanzania’s decision.

She explained that as the animals become increasingly aware of the threats in Tanzania, they will venture over to the Kenya side – and ‘where they go, bushmeat poachers will follow’.

‘An increase in poaching threatens Kenya’s fragile environment and could have dire consequences for its biodiversity,’ explained the environmentalist, whose parents, David and Daphne, famously led Africa’s efforts to save the elephants.

‘Already, we are grappling with a significant rise in illegal poaching brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. The added pressure of legalised bushmeat poaching next door could push our conservation efforts to the brink.’

It’s not just Kenya that has reported an uptick in poaching since the Covid-19 lockdowns.

The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) announced that there had been 367 poaching cases between February and June last year, compared to 163 in the same 2019 period.

Its director for conservation, John Makombo, blamed the increase on the coronavirus lockdown, which not only cut local income but the UWA’s ability to patrol conservation areas.

Yet despite the economic hardships resulting from lockdowns, Sheldrick believes legalising bushmeat is not the answer, and said the demand for bushmeat will always outpace any sustainable quotas set on hunters and butcheries.

She also warned that such moves would threaten Africa’s biodiversity, placing its natural inheritance – so important to the continent’s tourist industry – in jeopardy.

The threat posed by bushmeat hunting is a matter of increasing concern in Africa’s wildlife areas.

In Tanzania, where more than 11,800 people have been arrested in the past four years for poaching inside game reserves, the problem is intensifying, and research has already established that wildlife populations across different ecosystems are contracting.

‘Bushmeat poaching has become the most pervasive, immediate threat we are dealing with on the ground,’ warned Sheldrick.

‘In 2019, we confiscated 5,026 snares from the Tsavo Ecosystem [which straddles the Kenya-Tanzania border]. In 2020, we confiscated more than double that. The numbers confirm the story we already know: bushmeat poaching is on the rise.’

Other than being a threat to biodiversity, the consumption of bushmeat also poses a potential health risk.

A study in Scientific Reports looking at bushmeat eaten in the region around Tanzania’s iconic Serengeti ecosystem found that meat and organs poached from the area were associated with the zoonotic spill-over of dangerous pathogens.

Put simply, the local population had been exposing themselves to the risk of new pandemics and illnesses by eating bushmeat.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 50 per cent of the new infectious diseases in humans are caused by pathogens originating from animals or animal products, of which 70 per cent have originated from wildlife.

Similar studies have indicated that the handling and consumption of bushmeat contributes to the transmission of pathogens from animals to humans.

It’s an issue that concerns the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust CEO, who said: ‘Bushmeat hunting puts us at risk. Research indicates that human handling and consumption of bushmeat is linked to some of the most fatal [human] disease outbreaks in recent history, from HIV to Ebola.’

‘We don’t yet definitively know how Covid-19 jumped to humans, but we do know that the pandemic likely originated in wet markets, which are rife with bushmeat,’ she explained.

‘The very reason that we’re seeing a rise in bushmeat poaching – the current pandemic, and the resulting economic pressures – was likely caused by bushmeat poaching in the first place.’

There was no lockdown, no recession, and just 21 official deaths in Tanzania – which goes to the polls this month. But with the country’s main trading partners reeling from lockdown-induced job losses, Zachary Ochieng asks whether economic contagion might be the real threat. 

When the world went in to lockdown, Tanzanians went to church.

They were told to by their president, John Magufuli, who implored citizens to flock to churches and mosques to vanquish the ‘satanic’ virus.

Covid-19, insisted the devout Catholic, was nothing to be ‘afraid’ of, adding that the economy was ‘more important than the threat posed by coronavirus’.

So, while Tanzania’s neighbour Kenya introduced curfews, restricted travel, banned all gatherings, and closed all restaurants, bars and schools, life in East Africa’s second largest economy continued almost unchanged.

Schools and airports were briefly closed, and large, secular gatherings banned, but throughout the pandemic, Tanzanians have continued to go to work, travel on public transport, and shop, drink and eat in public pretty much as normal. 

It was a bold move on Magufuli’s part, especially with presidential elections slated for October 28 – but not an entirely novel one, prayer vigils aside. 

Tanzania’s pandemic response loosely mirrored that of Sweden, which did not shut down its economy, hoping that social distancing, home-working, and bans on large gatherings would mitigate the coronavirus’s spread and lead to some form of herd immunity being developed.

But while Sweden has emerged with fewer deaths than many European countries that locked down, including the UK, Spain and Belgium, Covid’s true toll in Tanzania is less clear.

At the height of the pandemic, videos of alleged secret night burials went viral on social media, leading to allegations of a cover-up by the Magufuli regime.

Zitto Kabwe, leader of the opposition ACT-Wazalendo party, claimed that the number of infections was as much as seven times higher than the official figure, which would have placed Tanzania among sub-Saharan Africa’s most affected countries at the time.

The government, through its chief spokesman Hassan Abbas, however, dismissed the night burial allegations as ‘nonsensical’.

Meanwhile, the unexplained deaths of three MPs who presented with symptoms, and the authorities’ subsequent decision to fine or close down media outlets that linked the legislators’ deaths to Covid-19, was seized on by Magufuli’s critics as proof that more than 21 people died with the virus. 

The president similarly trashed a US embassy warning that the hospitals in Dar es Salaam were overwhelmed with Covid-19 patients at the start of the pandemic, and instead claimed the rate of infections had been exaggerated and those who were found to have contracted the virus were actually false positives. (The government claimed to have secretly tested a papaya, a goat and a quail for Covid-19, with all results returning positive for the virus.) 

Whether Covid-19 has been eliminated in Tanzania, as the government insists, remains a subject of debate.

The possibility that Tanzania has developed some form of herd immunity after only a few months of spiking cases has been bandied around by some government insiders.

But with most of the Covid-19 testing centres now shut down, and people no longer going for tests, it is very difficult to assess the true Covid-19 situation in Tanzania.

A NewsAfrica insider – with access to Tanzania's ICU departments – reported that ICUs were indeed largely deserted when they visited hospitals recently.

And with ‘official’ death tolls across Africa way below that of Europe and the Americas – thanks in part to the continent’s youthfulness, but perhaps, also, undercounting across the board – Tanzania’s 21 deaths, from a country of 55 million, is not as unusual as it sounds.

Burundi, for instance, is claiming just one official death from Covid-19, despite their president allegedly dying with it.

Nigeria is claiming just over 1,100 deaths in a country of nearly 0.2 billion.

And Tanzania’s neighbours Uganda and Kenya have posted official death tolls of just 79 and 731 respectively, despite having large populations like Tanzania, and, in the case of Kenya, relatively high antibody levels, meaning the virus must have circulated widely despite the lockdown.

But as debates rage about Tanzania’s unconventional response to the pandemic, and whether its true death toll may be closer to Kenya’s, there are signs that Tanzania’s economy, at least, might not be as adversely affected as its lockdown-embracing neighbours.

Projections by the African Development Bank predict, for instance, that Tanzania’s economy will grow by five per cent this year, making it the best performing economy in the East African Community. 

‘The country’s decision to keep the economy open has offered a major relief to the private sector,’ said the East African Business Council’s executive director Peter Mathuki. 

Kenya, on the other hand, has seen more than 1.7 million people lose their jobs during the pandemic, with millions pushed into extreme poverty.

Only 47 per cent of Kenyans still have some form of regular income, according to research company FSD Kenya, while a worrying 17 per cent of Kenyans are now unable to meet basic living standards. 

The situation in Uganda, which had one of the harshest lockdowns on earth, is equally grim.

A report by the Development Initiatives in August estimated that ‘about 23 per cent of the urban poor could have lost 100 per cent of their daily income during and after the lockdown’, and concluded that ‘the socioeconomic consequences of [containing] Covid-19 currently outweigh the positive health impact of limiting its spread.’ 

But while Magufuli’s approach may have spared the country from the sort of mass unemployment seen elsewhere thus far – a big vote winner under normal circumstances – there have been rumblings about his laissez faire economic approach. 

Unlike Kenya, whose government injected an economic stimulus package to mitigate the effects of the pandemic, Tanzania did little to support businesses impacted by Covid-19, particularly those in the hard-hit tourism sector, which accounts for nearly a quarter of foreign exchange earnings. 

Tanzania’s lucrative mineral sector has also been badly damaged by the global economic downtown and disruptions to international supply chains. 

On the other hand, the agricultural sector, which contributed 27 per cent of Tanzania’s GDP in 2019 and employed about 67 per cent of the total workforce, has remained largely unaffected by the pandemic so far, with agricultural growth expected to decline slightly from an average of five per cent in 2019 to a still-healthy three per cent growth this year, according to a May 2020 report by Deloitte.

The levelling off has been blamed on a locust infestation that destroyed crops near Mt Kilimanjaro, coupled with decreased demand for export-focused cash crops, such as coffee, in lockdown-hit Europe and Asia.

In fact, there are signs that the global downturn might store up future problems for Tanzania, with the report warning that ‘the sector’s jobs remain in the balance,’ unless the export of key cash crops picks up again.

Meanwhile, the World Bank warned in June that growth slowdown in Tanzania’s main trading partners would lead to an increase in poverty in Tanzania too by default. 

It warned that an economic slowdown in Europe, Asia and other major trading partners had reduced demand and prices for Tanzania’s agricultural commodities and manufactured goods, and added that international travel bans and fear of contracting the virus are expected to inhibit the recovery of tourism, which had been one of the fastest-growing sectors in the economy before the pandemic.

‘Tanzania’s macroeconomic performance has been strong for the last decade, but the current crisis is an unprecedented shock that requires a sustained, targeted policy response’, the report added. 

It concluded that the volume of exports will shrink by around 10 per cent, as disruption pushes up the costs of imports and transportation, while the hit to tourism, export-oriented manufacturing and related services had already shrunk the disposable income of employees in those sectors and thus affected owners of small- and medium-sized businesses, which represent more than 70 per cent of total businesses. 

In short, the report implied that the decision by almost every other country in the world to lockdown is expected to lead to a global downturn that will act like a contagion, dragging down livelihoods and jobs in countries that didn’t lockdown, including Tanzania and export-reliant Sweden. 

But with tourism already recovering – despite critics claiming the rumours of unreported cases would dissuade tourists from returning to Tanzania’s beaches and game reserves – might talk of an impending economic downturn by contagion or otherwise be overblown? 

The International Growth Centre gave some credence to Magufuli’s economy-first approach, predicting the economic shock would be slightly lower in countries that didn’t lock down, and argued that governments in developing countries could not respond to Covid-19 as solely a health crisis, given the economic and political crises that had also emerged.

Whether Tanzanians at risk of losing their jobs will blame Magufuli for not offering more financial support, or foreign governments for causing a global downturn, remains to be seen.

But with a divided opposition, and the economy still largely intact, the president’s prayers, at least, look set to be answered on election day. 

© 2021 TruPoint Media Limited