When the rest of the world shut down, Zanzibar was open for business.
Like the rest of Tanzania, Zanzibar has had an exceptionally low number of COVID-19 cases since April 2020. That’s because after April 2020, Tanzania stopped reporting any cases at all. In June 2020, Tanzanian president John Magufuli declared his country completely cured of COVID-19. And in February 2021, Magufuli declared the government would refuse to accept any vaccines from abroad to inoculate his nation against coronavirus, even as unnamed “respiratory diseases” tore through the country.
“Maybe we have wronged God somewhere,” the president wondered aloud at the funeral of his chief secretary and urged Tanzanians to repent, fast and pray the coronavirus away.
Great place for a party, huh?
Over the last year, Zanzibar has become a crucial station on the international plague rave circuit, welcoming well-heeled and hedonistic European party-goers and a smaller number of DJs to join a crowd escaping mandatory lockdowns, mask and other restrictions in Europe and North America. And while the influx of Americans at documented super-spreader events has made Tulum in Mexico notorious in the electronic music scene, Zanzibar’s remoteness and efforts by promoters, DJs and promoters to limit exposure via social media have largely kept the Tanzanian island out of the news.
They received cover from the Tanzanian president. Unfortunately, he can do so no longer. Known colloquially as “The Bulldozer” for plowing through obstacles when he was Minister for Works, John Magufuli vanished from public view shortly after attending his aide’s funeral and questioning if he had wronged God. Tanzania’s vice president announced he had died on March 17, reputedly from “long-standing heart problems.” Rumors that he and several members of his government had contracted coronavirus have fueled belief that the president himself died of complications from the virus.
“President Magufuli defied the world, defied science, defied common sense in his approach to COVID-19 and it finally brought him down,” exiled opposition leader Tundu Lissu told Associated Press.
Let’s be clear: Tanzania had COVID-19 in April 2020, after April 2020, & at all times since April 2020. If you didn’t have a financial or ideological stake in the matter, the truth was easy to find out.
Lissu would have been jailed had he said such things — or even mentioned the word “coronavirus” — on his native soil. “Under Magufuli’s regime,” Prospect Magazine notes, “only three people were allowed to utter the c-word: the president, the health minister and the prime minister. Due to laws written during Magufuli’s first pre-pandemic tenure, anyone else could be jailed for pronouncing unofficial statistics.
“In the week before the president died, four people were arrested for circulating social media posts regarding his ill health.”
Let’s be clear here: Tanzania had COVID-19 in April 2020, after April 2020, and at all times since April 2020. If you didn’t have a financial or ideological stake in the matter, the truth was easy to find out. While one could argue about the extent, there was no question about the existence of the pandemic virus in Tanzania and Zanzibar throughout the past year. And we now know the extent was worse than imagined.
Much of the information about COVID-19 transmission in Tanzania comes from relevant world bodies and from Tanzanians themselves. During the period when COVID-19 was reputedly eradicated in Tanzania, the World Health Organization was tracking “a number of Tanzanians traveling to neighboring countries and beyond [who] have tested positive for COVID-19.” In 2020, Tanzania’s Catholic church began to boldly contest the government’s claims. In early March the church announced that 85 clergymen and nuns had died in the previous two months with symptoms similar to coronavirus. The death of several other prominent Tanzanians from COVID-19-like symptoms was also noted, including several former government ministers.
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Another victim was Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad, national chairman of the opposition party, ACT-Wazalendo and — this is important — also the vice president of Zanzibar’s semi-autonomous government. When he was first admitted to a hospital on February 1, Hamad became “the first person in Tanzania to publicly reveal a COVID-19 [positive] status” in nearly a year, according to The EastAfrican. His wife and aides were also infected before his death was announced.
On February 20, 2021, World Health Organization Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus released a statement extending condolences on the passing of Hamad while once again urging Tanzania to “scale public health measures against COVID-19 and to prepare for vaccination.” He called the situation “very concerning” and pointed out that despite high level talks, WHO had “yet to receive any information regarding what measures Tanzania is taking to respond to the pandemic.”
Stripping through WHO’s diplomatic language, it’s been incredibly obvious to the rest of the world that:
1. Magufuli was full of shit,
2. Tanzania probably had as many positive COVID infections as any of its neighbors if not more, and
3. that prayer was not a valid safety precaution against viral contagion.
By January of this year, only an idiot or a sociopath could believe that Tanzania was COVID-free. The US Center for Disease Control which is not bound by diplomatic protocol had classified Tanzania as a “Level 3” country — advising Americans to “avoid travel” to the country on account of COVID-19 transmission. In February, the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam warned of a “significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases since January” and again noted that travelers from Tanzania had tested positive upon arrival in foreign countries. On February 26, the US Ambassador, Don Wright, addressed the Tanzanian people directly in stating that “it has become clear that the virus variant has arrived in Tanzania.” In early March, the CDC elevated the threat to Level 4 — the highest possible rating on the CDC’s chart — which in blood red coloring signifies a “very high level of COVID-19 in Tanzania.”
Even Tanzanian government officials are starting to hedge their bets now that Magufuli is dead. Contacted by the BBC, Deputy Health Minister Godwin Mollel pointed to interviews he’s previously given which suggest not that the country was COVID-free but that releasing actual data would be “counterproductive” and spread panic — which would hardly be the case if the data showed no infections.
It seems the only people who believed COVID-19 was of little concern in Zanzibar and Tanzania was the now-dead president — and the European DJs and plague ravers who coincidentally stood to make some money playing there.
THERE IS NO DEFINITIVE LIST OF PLAGUE RAVE DJS though the person or persons behind the @BusinessTeshno account on Twitter have done their best to make one. Their feed is a series of videos, screencaps and other evidence showing international DJs playing (mostly bad) music in plague rave conditions, which we might define as consisting of a crowded area with no common safety precautions (such as masks or social distancing) against COVID-19 transmission.
Many of the earliest events appeared to be outlaw parties in the UK or the US, similar to the notorious July 25 Chainsmokers event in a tony town in the Hamptons. As the pandemic wore on, however, the videos increasingly showed European DJs playing before predominantly and often exclusively white crowds in exotic locales. Dixon was immortalized spinning in India as were a slew of DJs playing before packed, sweaty and maskless audiences in the Mexican resort town of Tulum. The crowds in these clips, like the DJs, are overwhelmingly white and seemingly have no connection to the cities or countries they’re partying in.
“These are sociopaths in headphones,” one person commented on a story about the Chainsmokers’ drive-in rave in the Hamptons (DJ’d by, among other notables, the CEO of investment bank Goldman Sachs). It’s an artful turn of phrase for the phenomenon.
Yet it seems like it’s only been recently that notable videos from Zanzibar began to show up. A booking agent who has previously handled several DJs who have played in Zanzibar attributed this to anti-social media measures at Zanzibar’s clubs. (The agent, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to her business contacts, has not booked any shows anywhere since March 2020.)
As a result of clamping down on publicity, most of the people we know of who have played in Zanzibar during the lockdown have played recently — which means they played after the church’s warning of widespread infection, after Vice President Hamad’s death and long after WHO, the CDC and other warnings about the reality of Tanzania’s high levels of COVID-19 infection. The real situation in the country could be understood by anyone capable of pulling up a webpage.
Zanzibar (Tanzania) pic.twitter.com/ZTyN29UGzG
— Business Teshno (@businessteshno) February 22, 2021
One video showed DJ Luciano playing at a crowded event with no masks or social distancing. On February 12, an image of Luciano on a beach in swim trunks was posted to his Facebook account with the caption “Zanzibar” and the hashtags “#Zanzibarmusictravel #Tierra #Luciontour.” While Zanzibar’s vice president lay dying in a hospital, Luciano next posted an image of himself standing in front of a pool with the caption “Thinking about the next time we will all hug.”
Luciano was contacted for comment and did not reply.
From March 6 to March 13, superclub Amnesia Ibiza “teamed up” with a Swiss outfit called “Musiqtrip” in promoting a series of events at The Sandbank in Zanzibar. Headlining the event was Chilean/German DJ Ricardo Villalobos, joined by “Ibiza Sonica Radio’s Igor Marijuan, Karlos Sense and Valentin Huedo… along with Amnesia residents Caal and Mar-T.”
Ibiza Sonica Radio posted the event flyer on their Facebook page, noting that the event would adhere to “all protective measures by the local authorities.” They did not mention that there were no protective measures enforced or even suggested by those local authorities.
Ibiza Sonica Radio was contacted for comment and did not reply.
“Zanzibar has been largely spared Corona and has not imposed any particular strict measures. So full freedom still applies. No masks required!”
Sometime after the start of the event, Musiqtrip’s website began to forcibly redirect visitors to an otherwise blank page that reads “Maintenance work is being carried out at the moment. Please check again later.” Multiple photos tagged “Zanzibar Central, Tanzania” were posted on the company’s Facebook page in March, one on March 7 of a beach with a message written in the sand reading “DON’T SEND HELP.”
5 Mag obtained an archive of Musiqtrip’s website prior to the redirect. One page with the URL “musiqtrip.com/infos-zanzibar” is titled “COVID-19 INFORMATIONS” and cheerfully informs potential travelers that — this is a quote — “Zanzibar has been largely spared Corona and has not imposed any particular strict measures. So full freedom still applies. No masks required!”
Musiqtrip also advised potential clients that “Zanzibar is not on the FDFA’s quarantine list. This means that no one has to go into quarantine after the trip to Zanzibar.” The number of COVID cases in Tanzania was “extremely low,” they wrote, “much lower than in Switzerland, [so] the island will probably remain unaffected by this list in the future.” (The Swiss embassy in Tanzania has since stated that everyone arriving from Tanzania will have to go into quarantine.)
From these statements and others, it appears Musiqtrip was assuring potential travelers that President Magufuli’s claims that Tanzania had prayed coronavirus away were credible. “Coronavirus,” Magufuli explained, “is a devil, and cannot survive in the body of Christ. It will burn instantly.”
On February 22, @BusinessTeshno wrote an open letter urging the organizers of The Sandbank events to cancel, pointing to reports by Tanzanian church and law societies that the pandemic was undergoing a “rapid surge” in the country. Amnesia, Ricardo Villalobos (described as a “leftwing idealist”) and several others were tagged in the letter. Several apparently responded by blocking the account on Instagram.
Zanzibar (Tanzania) pic.twitter.com/jcR7S1zFzk
— Business Teshno (@businessteshno) March 29, 2021
5 Mag reached out to Musiqtrip for comment and did not receive a reply. Attempts to contact Ricardo Villalobos were unsuccessful.
o o o
AS HAPPENED IN TULUM, there was a price for this sociopathic behavior by European DJs and party goers descending on a poor country, partying like they never could or never would in their own countries and then leaving the locals to deal with the consequences. The party people and the superstar DJs didn’t pay it, of course. They never have.
In Tulum, several plague raves became bona fide super-spreader events; local hospitals were filled with tourists sapping Mexico’s precarious health care system, to say nothing of America’s pathetic one.
In Zanzibar, the constant flow of tourists and travelers fleeing lockdown restrictions may have contributed to what scientists on March 25 described as the “most mutated variant of the coronavirus yet.” A report submitted to the World Health Organization has revealed the existence of a new variant of COVID-19 with 31 amino acid mutations. The discovery of “the most diverse A lineage sequencers ever described” was “found in three travelers from Tanzania in Angola.” The authors say this warrants “urgent investigation as the source country, Tanzania, has a largely undocumented epidemic and few public health measures in place to prevent spread within and out of the country.” Scientists are now determining how well the new variant from Tanzania evades antibodies, according to an interview with Tulio de Oliveira, director of Krisp by Bloomberg News.
Far from being “COVID-19 free,” and despite belief in President Magufuli’s abilities to pray away viruses, it seems Tanzania has been hosting the most mutated strain of coronavirus yet — and its spread was aided by the country’s lack of safety measures which European travelers and the DJs they hired to play for them were all-too-eager to exploit for fun and money.
Because no matter what anyone claims, it is the lack of masks and social distancing and occupancy limits that is the primary appeal for plague ravers in paradise. It’s worthwhile to observe who else fled to Zanzibar to flout the COVID-19 guidelines in place elsewhere. Prospect Magazine noted that among them was “another type of traveler to be found: western conspirators, convinced that George Soros or Bill Gates produced the pandemic to exert mass control, who saw Zanzibar as the last bastion of truth.”
This strange alliance of MAGA true believers, superstar DJs and plague ravers has become the norm in mask-free tourist traps — a strange alliance of self-absorbed sociopaths.
The Secret DJ addressed this in a February open letter published in PRSForMusic’s M Magazine. “‘It’s not illegal to play parties in Tulum right now,’ I hear you cry,” they wrote. “But you don’t need to be a professor of history to understand that, today more than ever, law and personal morality diverge frequently. A useful rule of thumb is to look at who else is on your side. If it’s anti-mask moon howlers, perma-stoned faded celebs, corporate-funded faux libertarians and swivel-eyed Trumpy politicians, then let this be your ‘Are we the baddies?’ epiphany.”
Luciano, Villalobos and the rest may tarnish their personal brand by posing in a MAGA hat — but the hat sort of fits, doesn’t it? If your average plague raver traveling in business class is not already familiar with the “plandemic” variety of conspiracy theories, well… blaming their behavior on self-absorption and greed isn’t much better.
“This may be a big wake up call to Tanzania,” de Oliveira said about the new, massively mutated strain of coronavirus found in Tanzanian travelers.
Maybe not only Tanzania. One hopes not only Tanzania.
Read 5 Mag’s earlier report on Tulum plague raves: Namaste Bros: superstar DJs and plague raves in paradise