Tanzania: A nation of no masks as Magufuli final journey begins

Tanzania's new President Samia Suluhu Hassan (C) walks after viewing the body of late Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli during the state funeral at Uhuru stadium, Dar es Salaam. [Reuters]

At a time many countries are imposing more restrictions to stop the spread of coronavirus, it is business as usual in Tanzania.

Yesterday, thousands of mourners who congregated at the Uhuru Stadium in Dar es Salaam to bid goodbye to the late President John Magufuli wore no masks.

The mourners were led by newly sworn-in President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who did not wear a mask, either.

Other notables were Magufuli’s widow Janet and her family, Tanzania Prime Minister Kasim Majaliwa, popular Musician Diamond Platinumz and his entourage, as well as the military.

At the 23,000-capacity Uhuru Stadium, only a handful, led by church leaders, wore masks, a reflection of how the late Magufuli’s canons on Covid-19 were deeply entrenched in the citizenry.

Magufuli, who died this week, had declared Tanzania “Covid-free” and would later express doubt on safety of masks and vaccines.

He was an avowed Covid-19 skeptic who urged Tanzanians to shun mask-wearing and denounced vaccines as a Western conspiracy, frustrating the World Health Organisation (WHO) efforts to contain the pandemic.

He instead advocated traditional medicine and faith healing.

Magufuli took on anyone with a divergent view and he even at one point sent papaya and goat meat samples to be tested for Covid-19 and used the results to justify his denial of the virus.

But in February, he asked citizens to “wear locally-manufactured masks” and observe health safety precautions amid fears of Covid-19 spread and a surge in confirmed cases.

Failure to wear masks was also a feature during the swearing-in on Friday of Ms Suluhu as Tanzania’s new president. The swearing-in ceremony took place at State House in Dar es Salaam.

During the event, only a few people, led by former President Jakaya Kikwete and former ministers, wore masks.

But as Suluhu took the oath of office, the on looking crowd that included dignitaries, Chief Justice Ibrahim Juma, Speaker of Parliament Job Ndugai, Prime Minister Majaliwa and other high-ranking government, didn’t wear masks.

Same script

The script was the same during the 21-gun salute ceremony and when President Suluhu inspected a guard of honour.

Meanwhile, viewing of Magufuli’s body will go on for five days before his burial on March 25.

Yesterday, the body left Jeshi Lugalo Hospital in Dar es Salaam for St Peter’s Parish, Oyster Bay. It was later taken to Uhuru Stadium for final respects by leaders.

At Uhuru Stadium, President Suluhu was the first to view Magufuli’s body. She was followed by the Prime Minister, then President of Zanzibar Hussein Mwinyi, who was later followed by the country’s top leadership.

The Magufuli family then took to the podium where body was. They gave way for the military and later the public to pay their last respects. The viewing of the body was slated to run until midnight.

Today, residents of Dar es Salaam will have a chance to view the body before it leaves for Dodoma.

On Monday, the body will be in Dodoma where residents are also expected to pay their final respects to the late president.

It will then be transported to Mwanza for viewing on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the body will be taken to Magufuli’s home in Chato where residents of Chato and neighbouring areas will view it.

He will be buried on Thursday at his Chato home.

It was during the viewing of his body yesterday that it became clear that even in death, Magufuli led a simple life.

For starters, Magufuli’s body was fitted in a casket and will remain in the casket for the next five days until his burial. In other African countries like Kenya, the body of a sitting or former Head of State usually lies in state for public viewing and only put in a casket on the burial day.

Magufuli’s body was fitted in a simple coffin.

However, it remains to be seen whether the citizenry, who have proved to be dyed in wool supporters of Magufuli even in his death, will start using face masks and accept Covid-19 vaccine.