DODOMA, 6 April 2021 – Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan on Tuesday hinted at what is seen as a major change in the country’s response to COVID-19 pandemic.
Suluhu Hassan announced Tuesday that she plans for an expert task force to advise her government on anti-coronavirus measures.
“Tanzania cannot isolate itself as an island in the fight against Covid-19,” Suluhu Hassan said in a speech during the swearing-in ceremony for ministers.
Her remarks are being seen as signaling a major shift in Tanzania’s hitherto unorthodox approach to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.
President Suluhu Hassan’s predecessor, John Pombe Magufuli, was one of the world’s best-known COVID-19 sceptics.
He dismissed the presence of the virus in Tanzania, claimed that the east African country could defeat the virus with prayer, fasting and the use of herbal-based steam therapy.
At the height of his denial of the existence of the virus, Magufuli declared that Tanzania was COVID-19-free.
On Tuesday, Suluhu Hassan also hinted at potential changes in Tanzania’s foreign policy.
She directed the new foreign affairs minister, Liberata Mulamula, to set about mending international relations, explaining that “no country can walk alone. Cooperation is the only way”.
Magufuli was well-known for lambasting Western nations as imperialists.
He did not visit the West during his tenure as Tanzania’s president, appearing to embrace the Chinese as being better friends of Africa than Westerners.
The Tanzanian leader also signaled that her government is in favor of greater freedom of the press and freedom of expression.
“I understand that there are media organisations that have been closed – let them open and ensure they follow the law,” President Suluhu Hassan said in the address.
Media rules, regulations and penalties should be transparent, she said, explaining that this would make it possible for everyone to know what to expect should they do wrong.
Government must not be seen to curtail media freedoms, she said, explain that punishment for any violation of media rules and regulations must be proportionate.
“We should not ban the media by force. Reopen them and we should ensure they follow the roles,” said Suluhu Hassan.
Media operators who had been impacted by the media closures said Suluhu Hassan did not go far enough.
“Well put,” said Maria Sarungi Tsehai who runs the Tanzanian TV station, Kwamza.
“However,” she added, “repressive laws have to be repealed”.
“We cannot operate in an environment where the same oppressive laws that were used to shut us down exist,” the BBC cited Maria Sarungi Tsehai as saying.
“We are not asking for favors – just laws. Real change will happen when we are legally free to operate without government intervention,” said Sarungi Tsehai.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists reported at the end of 2020 that the government of Magufuli had banned three media organizations between March 2019 and December 2020.