NGUGI: It’s tragic to sacrifice lives at the altar of false ideology

Friday February 12 2021

A number of African countries including Kenya, South Africa, and Morocco, have made orders for Covid-19 vaccine. PHOTO | AFP

By The EastAfrican

Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli is reported to have advised Tanzanians to be wary of Covid-19 vaccines and said the country will not import the jabs until their efficacy and safety had been proven.

Magufuli justified his caution and skepticism on vague notions of the Western world’s dislike for Africa.

This stance will further sour relations with the World Health Organisation which has previously criticised his government’s “denialism” and the consequent reluctance to enforce wearing of face masks and social distancing guidelines.

Now the WHO, disregarding Magufuli’s views, has instead asked that his government prepare to vaccinate its citizens.

We have seen this skepticism before and the consequences thereof. The late Burundian president Pierre Nkurunziza refused to enforce WHO guidelines on wearing face masks and social distancing. Football matches went on as scheduled as did the presidential election. It was only when the top leadership was infected that the country decided to change course.

In Madagascar, President Andry Rajoelina downplayed the gravity of Covid-19 and refused to enforce WHO preventative guidelines. Instead, he touted a concoction of herbs as both vaccine and cure for the disease. A spike in infection and deaths rates convinced him to change course.


In America and Brazil, Trump’s and Bolsonaro’s reluctance to follow WHO Covid-19 guidelines led to the highest infection and death rates in the world; over 400,000 and 200,000 deaths respectively.

In the 1990s, President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa infamously denied the linkage between HIV and the AIDS disease. At an international AIDS conference, his Health minister, like Rajoelina, touted beetroot as both preventative and curative treatment for HIV. Mbeki refused to administer anti-retroviral drugs to the millions who were infected and were dying in their hundreds.

In all these cases, people in positions of power refuse to let science lead policy. Instead, they have chosen to subjugate science and reason to wild philosophies and superstitions.

In Burundi, the president based his Covid-19 policy on the religious belief that God would protect the country. Trump’s and Bolsonaro’s Covid policies were influenced by unhinged rightwing conspiracy theories. Rajoelina was persuaded by belief in unproven traditional medicines. Thabo Mbeki was convinced by fringe Aids denialists.

John Magufuli’s Covid-19 policy is influenced by Pan-African orthodoxy. The central theme of this orthodoxy is that Africa is underdeveloped because of a western conspiracy to retain Africa as merely a supplier of raw materials for the West’s development.

So everything coming from the developed world has the sinister motive of keeping Africa underdeveloped. This theory has more to do with nationalist propaganda than reality. It would be a tragedy indeed if Tanzanian lives were to be sacrificed at the altar of a patently false ideology.