Tanzania’s minister for Information, Culture, Arts and Sports, Innocent Bashungwa, has warned the media and members of the public against falling for what he termed as rumours as pressure mounts on authorities to come clean on President John Pombe Magufuli’s whereabouts.
The Tanzanian government is yet to issue any official statement on Magufuli’s health status and whereabouts even as the opposition in the country claim that the President is receiving Covid-19 treatment at the Nairobi Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya.
Sources in the know revealed to several news outlets in Kenya recently that Magufuli, who is on record denying the existence of Coronavirus in Tanzania, was flown to the Capital Nairobi on Monday after his condition deteriorated following a positive Covid-19 diagnosis.
Magufuli, the sources claimed, is on a ventilator, a machine that provides mechanical ventilation by moving breathable air into and out of the lungs, to deliver breaths to a patient who is physically unable to breathe, or breathing insufficiently.
Reacting after the reports went viral on social media, Bashungwa, urged media houses in Tanzania to only publish verified information from the right channels in the country and not accept any information that is not officially verified.
The minister said publishing unverified reports is a violation of the country’s laws governing the media industry.
“Natoa wito kwa wanahabari na wananchi wetu kuendelea na utaratibu wa kupata taarifa kupitia vyanzo rasmi vya habari. Kutumia rumours/uvumi kama habari rasmi ni kukiuka sheria zinazosimamia sekta ya habari. Epukeni kusambaza habari ambazo mtawajibika nazo,” he said in a tweet on Wednesday.
Natoa wito kwa wanahabari na wananchi wetu kuendelea na utaratibu wa kupata taarifa kupitia vyanzo rasmi vya habari. Kutumia rumours/uvumi kama habari rasmi ni kukiuka sheria zinazosimamia sekta ya habari. Epukeni kusambaza habari ambazo mtawajibika nazo.
— Innocent L. Bashungwa (Bash) (@innobash) March 10, 2021
Tundu Lissu, who unsuccessfully ran against Magufuli in the October 2020 presidential election, was among the first leaders in Tanzania to raise questions on the President’s whereabouts.
“The president’s well-being is a matter of grave public concern,” Lissu said in a tweet Tuesday. He cited public announcements of previous Tanzanian leaders’ illnesses, before asking: “What’s it with Magufuli that we don’t deserve to know?”
The President, who regularly addresses public rallies and congregants on Sundays, was last seen in public on February 24.
He used the forums to encourage Tanzanians to use steam therapy and other traditional methods to keep the virus, which he claimed had been defeated by “prayers”, at bay.
Recently, he discouraged Tanzanians from receiving the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Western countries.
Magufuli claimed that Tanzanians who had been vaccinated against Covid-19 in other countries “brought a strange variant” back home.
During his last public appearance, the President visited the commercial hub, Dar es Salaam, where he inspected projects and addressed public gatherings.
He was scheduled to attend a virtual heads of state summit for the East African Community regional bloc on February 27 but was represented by Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan.
The Tanzanian government had for months remained adamant against implementing public health measures such as wearing of face masks, regular hand wash and sanitisation as well as banning large public gatherings.
It was not until February 20 that Tanzanian authorities softened their stance on the pandemic after a warning issued by the World Health Organization (WHO).