/ 7 May 2020

Mr President, just tell us the truth

John Magufuli Afp
Tanzanian President John Magufuli. (AFP)

Your Excellency, President John Magufuli.

Let me first begin by stating that no one blames you or your leadership for bringing the coronavirus to Tanzania. It is not your fault. This illness knows no borders. But your administration will be measured and judged on the basis of how you have responded to it. 

Mr President, allow me to use my constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression to speak peacefully.

Mr President, the day I lost my cousin — to an illness the government said later was related to Covid-19 — and decided to speak publicly, people said to me: “Mishy, congratulations for your bravery.” Have we come to the point that acknowledging bereavement requires courage? We all know that bereavement is very painful and death is inexplicable, but losing your relatives in circumstances in which their death could have been avoided hurts even more.

Mr President, when it gets to the point of being deprived of your right to grieve, cry and be comforted, the pain is unbearable. That is why I am writing this letter to you. I am writing it with the great pain of having lost my loved one.

Mr President, we are Tanzanians. We don’t wait for an invitation to a funeral. When you hear about a bereavement, you join the bereaved and attend the funeral. In our culture death is not a secret — bereavement is not a shame — and to say you have lost someone has never been a sin.

Mr President, funerals should be a place of comfort and community. But now, to say that you are bereaved is seen as a sin, a grave mistake or a courageous act. We have seen in unverified video reports people being buried at night, like witches. Worse, they seem to be buried without following and respecting traditional and religious burial etiquettes.

Mr President, our elders used to say: “He who covers up illness, gets discovered by death.” And indeed, the deaths are exposing us. Tell us the truth, even if it’s bitter to swallow. The truth will set us free and will bring us together to find a solution to the coronavirus and its overt economic and social harm. It is an undisputed fact that we cannot solve the problem by either denying or diminishing it. Sadly, the heaviness of the coronavirus is too big — not just for us, but everywhere.

Mr President, this is a time to unite the nation. I am a Tanzanian and I know one of Tanzania’s greatest qualities is our unity, especially when we face a common enemy. Right now, our enemy is the coronavirus, and not the victims of the virus. Tanzanians are thirsty and eager to be led into a real fight to destroy the coronavirus, because every Tanzanian life is precious.

Mr President, fear is not relieved by threats, torture or shackles; rather, it is fought by sincere and intentional government actions in the fight against this scourge. Fear is overcome through comfort and fraternal love. Tanzanians deserve to sleep confidently, knowing our leaders and government are fighting hard to ensure our safety. Then we can all join in to fight this common enemy, shoulder to shoulder, and from dawn till dusk.

Mr President, we don’t need at this time to be afraid of the government and those in power. We don’t need to fight authorities and state machinery. We want to channel our energy to fight the coronavirus, as part of our shared humanity, fraternity bond and our collective responsibility.

Mr President, your fellow head of state, President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana, said recently: “We know how to bring the economy back to life. What we do not know is how to bring people back to life”, which is true. The world has no shortage of economists to advise on economic recovery, but there is no scientific or logical evidence that we can raise the dead. Those families whose loved ones are dying will not come to find another father, mother or any other loved one to fill the gap. They will be gone, forever.

Mr President, I know that anyone who knows me, who is reading this message, will fear for my safety. But I know that, that day — October 25 2015 — when I queued to vote, I voted for my right to have freedom of expression, security and protection in accordance with the Constitution. I voted for my patriotism. Today, I am writing this letter while still believing that patriotism is when you stand for the public interest, even when it might mean fighting with my sweat and blood against any enemy that will attack my country.

Mr President, let me end by saying that a captain’s courage is tested in a storm. We are facing a terrible storm. Right now, Tanzanians are dealing with so many challenges — economic, social, and health challenges, both physical and mental. They deserve to be led with the highest levels of freedom, justice, fraternity and peace. Humanity first. Wealth will come later.

Mwanahamisi Singano is an African feminist, human rights activist and global active citizen