African Christians Debate if Coronavirus Is God’s Punishment as the Presidents of Burundi and Tanzania Die From It

Image: AP Photo. Tanzania's President John Magufuli speaks at the national congress of his ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi party in Dodoma, Tanzania, on July 11, 2020.
Image: AP Photo. Tanzania’s President John Magufuli speaks at the national congress of his ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi party in Dodoma, Tanzania, on July 11, 2020.

The Tanzanian government confirmed today that President John Magufuli has died.

“It is sad news. Our beloved president passed on at 6 p.m. this evening,” said Vice President Samia Suluhu Hassan, who per the East African nation’s constitution will now become its first female president. “We have lost our courageous leader. All flags will be flown at half mast for 14 days.”

What officials did not confirm was weeks of speculation by opposition leaders and regional media that the 62-year-old had contracted COVID-19. The official cause of death: heart complications.

However, the situation echoed the chatter in neighboring Burundi last June, when President Pierre Nkurunziza died of COVID-19 at age 55, as both leaders drew criticism for their approach to the pandemic.

During a recent prayer service at Rugombo Pentecostal Church in the Cibitoke area of Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, more than 100 worshipers followed pastor Joseph Ndayizeye as he led them in prayer.

He addressed the ongoing pandemic, stating that God is punishing human beings for their sins.

“It is not normal for the virus to invade the country and even kill the president,” prayed Ndayizeye, referring to Nkurunziza. “God punished us with the coronavirus pandemic because of our sins. Let us repent our sins and ask God for forgiveness and our prayers will be heard.”

His prayer is mirrored across the country of almost 12 million people. Many religious leaders in Burundi are reminding their congregants that God is angry with mankind for constantly sinning without repenting.

Ndayizeye noted that Burundian authorities have continued to commit serious human rights abuses against civilians and detainees with impunity.

“You cannot kill innocent people and promote evil like same-sex marriage and go unpunished,” he warned. “But our God is merciful. When we pray to him, there’s nothing impossible. He will defeat the coronavirus and we will be free.”

Burundi has recorded about 2,500 coronavirus cases, with 3 fatalities. In response, many citizens have intensified prayers and sought divine intervention in the fight against the deadly virus.

Although the landlocked country has closed its borders as new measures against the pandemic, officials said they have no plans to accept COVID-19 vaccines after the health minister, Thaddee Ndikumana, expressed reservations.

“Since more than 95 percent of patients are recovering, we estimate that the vaccines are not yet necessary,” said Ndikumana, noting the nation will focus on prevention measures.

Pascal Nyabenda, a politician who served as president of the National Assembly of Burundi from 2015 to 2020, has claimed that the virus was brought by God to punish the nation for its sins and urges churches to continue praying so that citizens will be safe from the pandemic.

“Only God can save this nation as we continue to observe the health protocols laid down by the ministry of health. Let us pray and ask for forgiveness from God,” he recently said at a Pentecostal church in northern Burundi.

However, pastor John Bigirimana has warned religious leaders and government officials about misquoting Bible verses and using them out of context to misinform the public about the pandemic. He said being born again does not mean that people should stop thinking and act brainwashed as in a cult. Instead, he urged Burundians to protect themselves from the virus and to embrace vaccines, saying Christians should have faith in both science and God.

“People should realize that COVID-19 is alive and seek medication and even get vaccinated,” said the pastor of Buterere Pentecostal Church in Bujumbura. “There’s nowhere in the scriptures where God commands Christians not to seek medical assistance. This is a pandemic all over the world. It’s not only to Burundians. Let’s not be cheated, unless we all want to die.”

Across the border, Magufuli on several occasions insisted that his country of 60 million, with a population roughly two-thirds Christian and one-third Muslim, had long defeated the virus through prayers. Before he was hospitalized, the president urged Tanzanians to pray for three days to defeat the new coronavirus variants amid warnings that the nation was seeing a deadly resurgence in COVID-19 infections.

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Source: Christianity Today


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