Written by: Tom Osanjo
Article source: religionunplugged.com

Recently President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya announced a three-day national prayer initiative to ask God, among other things, to help his country deal with a phone call from President John Pombe Magufuli of Tanzania.

Magufuli was later to reveal that he had assured Kenyatta that prayers work. He also asked his fellow Tanzanians to set aside time to pray for their Kenyan neighbors. It was befitting that prayers could unite the two leaders whose opposing approaches to handling the pandemic had earlier led to a diplomatic spat.

Whereas Kenyatta introduced stringent measures that included a lockdown in the capital Nairobi, the second city Mombasa and dawn to dusk curfew all over the country, Magufuli, on the other hand, claiming the virus was a conspiracy, took a laid back approach and never closed places of worship, had schools reopen faster than medical experts recommended, and had his country resume normalcy even as the rest of the globe went into panic mode.

In April, the holder of a PhD degree in chemistry called for national prayers, proclaiming that God was powerful enough to deliver Tanzanians from the virus—the same message he would pass to President Kenyatta six months later.

“A few months ago, we were among countries that were suffering from the coronavirus pandemic. However, we called religious leaders and prayed relentlessly and now we have defeated coronavirus here, it does not exist in Tanzania.

“This morning, I talked to my friend and neighbor President Uhuru Kenyatta and he told me he was also following the route of prayers. I urge you to pray for Kenyans as they go into three days of national prayers so that they can also eradicate coronavirus in their country,” Magufuli said.

As Kenya was wracked with allegations of theft of cash and equipment donated towards fighting the pandemic—including equipment donated by Chinese business magnate Jack Ma—Tanzania on the other hand went about its business unbothered, although some human rights bodies claimed Magufuli was spinning the coronavirus figures to conform to his narrative.

Kenyan church leaders and parents constantly brought up Tanzania as an example of a country where leaders were focused. Kenyans were particularly incensed that they could not go to church, while their neighbors to the north were worshipping as usual, with no major casualties being reported.

In an interview with Religion Unplugged just as Kenya announced a ban on church gatherings while Tanzania did not, Apostle Nickson Orieny of Temple of God Ministries said he has been educating his congregation about washing their hands and preventing the spread of disease, but he thinks COVID-19 is “overrated.”

“Look at the numbers of daily deaths caused by tuberculosis, AIDS, cancer, heart complications, road accidents etcetera,” he said. “This corona thing is a rich man’s nightmare/disease. Churches and other places of worship that have closed down due to the corona virus have only given credence to the rumors that such places of worship were not sanctioned by God, that they were establishments of men. If they were established by God, then they would have gained knowledge that God is the real healer of the incurable.”

Even as Magufuli was being praised beyond his country’s borders, back home his challenger in the elections, Tundu Lissu, has said he disagrees strongly with the Tanzanian government’s decision to reopen the economy early and ignoring all public health guidelines issued by the World Health Organization on the pandemic.

‘’Coronavirus is there and it’s killing, in the region and Tanzania at large, the diversionary approach taken by President Magufuli is making things worse, he has opened schools, bars and even disco places, everything is going on normally in Tanzania. In a world hard hit by a deadly virus, he thinks if he doesn’t release corona updates the virus will disappear,’’ said Lissu, a member of the opposition Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA) which means the Party for Democracy and Progress.

Lissu was the victim of a gun attack 2017 when yet to be apprehended gunmen sprayed his car with bullets, leaving him for dead. He was rescued and airlifted to Kenya for treatment. He was later moved to Belgium where he has been staying until July, when he returned to Tanzania.

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Date published: 07/11/2020
Feature image: President of the United Republic of Tanzania, President John Pombe Magufuli. www.flickr.com/GovernmentZA

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