HE MAY have been celebrated on the streets of Dar Es Salaam, but John Pombe Joseph Magufuli had left a dark legacy in his final year in office.
While other nations around him locked down and sat tight for a Covid-19 vaccine, Magufuli disputed the existence of the virus in Tanzania at all.
The infection rate and death toll from coronavirus in Tanzania is still unknown, with the latest official Covid-19 published in April 2020.
Samia Hassan became the nation’s first female leader when she was sworn in last week – but she’s unlikely to deviate from Magufuli’s botched response to the pandemic, an expert has said.
Dr Daniel Paget of the University of Aberdeen told Redaction Politics: “It’s anyone’s guess what comes next, but Magufuli’s death is unlikely to make the regime less draconian.
“Tanzania’s authoritarian turn began before Magufuli came to power. It was initiated by the regime and embraced by its leader. All the strategic reasons to crush the opposition which existed before Magufuli died still exist now.
“In fact, in this moment of vulnerability during succession, some of them are greater still.”
Many crucial decisions await Hassan in her first few weeks in office, including a choice whether to, unlike her predecessor, procure vaccine supplies from India.
Late last month government ministers began to perform a U-turn on face masks, and also encouraged citizens to practice social distancing.
Sources tell Redaction Politics that Tanzanian doctors have been unable to reveal the true extent of the Covid-19 death toll due to fear of the regime cracking down on health officials, even as hospital beds filled up during various waves of the virus.
And though many turned out on the streets for Magufuli’s state funeral, there is a growing sense of discontent with the authorities.
[Read more: Tanzania election: How Magufuli cemented his power – but strayed further from Julius Nyerere’s legacy]
“My sense is that the credibility of the regime’s COVID-19 denialism fell away as dignitary after dignitary fell sick and died,” Dr Paget said.
“I imagine that it has made even Magufuli’s most ardent supporters question whether it can the regime’s statements at face value.
“My sense is that those people that can have taken their health and their risks of infection into their own hands.”
With opposition leaders cracked down upon and protestors gunned down in the run-up to last year’s election, however, Tanzanians may have to sit tight and hope for the best with Hassan.
Dr Paget added: “There are many things that people might wish to protest, but protest is perilous in Tanzania.
“After a score of deaths and hundreds of arrests last year, Tanzanians will hesitate before protesting.
“There is a possibility, albeit a slim one, that regime seems divided and lacking in resolve.
“If would-be protestors sense such weakness, they might take to the streets, but knowing this, the regime is likely to snuff out any hint of protest with an iron fist.”
Dr Daniel Paget is a lecturer in politics at the University of Aberdeen. You can find his most recent publications below:
‘Mistaken for Populism: Magufuli, Ambiguity and Elitist Plebeianism in Tanzania.’ Journal of Political Ideologies first online (2020), 1-22.
‘Again, Making Tanzania Great: Magufuli’s Restorationist Developmental Nationalism.’ Democratization first online (2020), 1-21.
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