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Tanzania’s New Leader Signals U-Turn on Coronavirus Policy

Wednesday April 7, 2021

Tanzania’s new president announced plans to appoint a panel of experts to advise her on how best to curb the spread of the coronavirus, reversing her predecessor’s denialism of the pandemic.

“We cannot isolate ourself as an island,” President Samia Suluhu Hassan told senior government officials in an address televised on state broadcaster TBC1. “We cannot accept everything from abroad, but we also cannot reject everything.”

Hassan’s predecessor John Magufuli, who died last month, eschewed the use of face masks and advised his countrymen to resort to prayer, steam baths and traditional remedies to safeguard their health. His administration said it wouldn’t buy vaccines and stopped publishing Covid-19 infection data in May last year, making it impossible to gauge the severity of the disease.

However, a deluge of patients displaying coronavirus symptoms seeking treatment at public hospitals and daily funeral masses indicated that Magufuli downplayed the severity of the disease. The World Health Organization joined international calls for the nation to change course.

Hassan has said her administration’s response to the pandemic will be science-based, and indicated that it may resume publishing infection data. While Dorothy Gwajima -- an ardent supporter of Magufuli’s Covid-19 approach -- was retained as health minister, Abel Makubi was appointed to the influential post of permanent secretary in the ministry in place of Mabula Mchembe.

Hassan also tasked newly appointed Foreign Affairs Minister Liberata Mulamula to improve Tanzania’s relations with the international community. Ties with the U.S. and several other nations were strained by Magufuli’s clampdown on civil liberties and his disputed reelection last year.

“We don’t want to go alone,” Hassan told Mulamula.

The president further instructed her officials to settle a tax dispute with Barrick Gold Corp., cut red tape to speed up the development of nickel and helium projects by foreign investors and lift bans the Magufuli administration imposed on online television channels and other media outlets.

“I want challenges on taxes and other issues with Barrick and other mining joint venture partners to be quickly resolved,” she said. “Let’s not reach a point where we start to flex our muscles against investors.”

Opposition leaders welcomed Hassan’s speech, with the leader of the opposition ACT-Wazalendo party Zitto Kabwe saying that she had kindled renewed hope for justice, the “creation of an enabling environment for investors and a new focus on reviving economic activities.”

“Respect to Samia Suluhu Hassan,” Kabwe said in a Twitter posting.


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