That Bishop Josephat Gwajima has the gift of the gab is an open secret. But the question that many people ask is ‘What does he want?’ He is currently dominating the airwaves and the social media. His tug-of-war with the Cabinet minister for Health Dorothy Gwajima, who happens to be his sister-in-law, is a tale all too perfect for a telenovela.
For the uninformed, Bishop Gwajima is both a Pentecostal minister heading the Ufufuo Na Uzima (Glory of Christ Tanzania Church) ministry and a Member of Parliament for the Kawe constituency in Dar es Salaam Region from the ruling party, CCM.
Bishop Gwajima has become the voice of the anti-Covid 19 vaccination campaign. He has used his pulpit with amazing effect to oppose the vaccination campaign and to castigate top officials for allegedly “conspiring” with Western countries to ‘harm Tanzanians’ through corona vaccinations. Bishop Gwajima, 51, has said his opposition to the vaccination is nothing new. He has been against the jab from the beginning, he says. He is surprised, he says, by the government’s U-turn on its stance on vaccination just months after the death of President John Magufuli.
His argument is that researchers should prove to Tanzanians that the jab does not have side effects as claimed in the many conspiracy theories circulating around. Some of these conspiracy theories, he argues, were propagated by the same government officials who are now urging Tanzanians to go for the vaccine.
Bishop Gwajima’s rhetoric has attracted a lot of attention because by openly criticizing the government he has gone against the norm. CCM MPs think twice before criticizing the government even inside the august House.
Of late, however, Gwajima’s anti-vaccine stance has changed into a war of words with Dr Gwajima and her deputy Dr Godwin Mollel. As the persons in charge of the Health Docket Dr Gwajima and her deputy had to address Bishop Gwajima’s skepticism on vaccination. Dr Gwajima made some mistakes while doing so.
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Firstly she ordered law enforcement organs, including the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Bureau, to arrest the bishop and interrogate him for alleging that senior officials were bribed in order to bring the vaccination into the country.
By the time we went to press, however, Bishop Gwajima was still a freeman. She also tried to discredit Mr Gwajima’s opposition to Covid-19 by hitting the man-of-the-cloth below the belt. She wondered why he failed to live up to his promise of resurrecting a deceased young female politician over a decade ago. She also revisited an alleged affair involving Bishop Gwajima that became a public scandal a few years ago. Bishop Gwajima denied that he was the man in the viral graphic video clip.
On Sunday, August 22, 2021, using his pulpit Bishop Gwajima retaliated. He castigated the Cabinet minister for being the trouble-maker in the Gwajima family. He alleged that she was a divorcee before she was married to his brother. He finally called Ms Gwajima and her deputy to resign because ‘they are confusing Tanzanians for now supporting what they opposed a few months ago.’
Bishop Gwajima appeared before a parliament committee on Monday over his anti-vaccine utterances.
Naturally the public is eager to see what the Parliament, the ruling party, or the government will do to him for his open dissent and for his verbal attacks on the minister for Health and her deputy. Many, however, are not surprised by Bishop Gwajima’s current outbursts. It has become his behaviour. He has, repeatedly used his pulpit for his “wars” with other public figures. He was a constant critique of President Jakaya Kikwete’s administration. He went after the former powerful Regional Commissioner for Dar es Salaam, Paul Makonda in 2017. About the same time he went after the Catholic prelate, Polycarp Cardinal Pengo, among others.
In the social media opinions are varied. Some people take the outbursts as part of Mr Gwajima’s character. Others think the outbursts serve the trouble-prone preacher both as a survival tactic and a defensive mechanism.
And yet there could be a political strategy in it. Could Bishop Gwajima be harbouring presidential ambitions? He was deeply involved in politics even before many people knew who he was. According to reports, he was a central figure in the efforts to get Edward Lowassa join Chadema and become the Opposition Coalition’s flag bearer during the 2015 elections.
In 2020, Bishop Gwajima himself ran and won the Kawe constituency seat.
But it seems the legislative seat is not enough for him. There is something else he could be seeking.
His outbursts are, definitely, aimed at capturing public attention for its own sake.
The outbursts also seem to be aimed at making him a household name in the country.
The recent tug-of-war with the two ministers seems as if it seeks to build him a personal brand as a leader who stands for what he believes come what may.
It is telling that during the Sunday August 22, 2021’s outbursts, he claimed to be representing 70 per cent of Tanzanians who oppose the Covid-19 vaccine.
Furthermore, his outbursts seem carefully choreographed to ensure maximum impact and attract full media attention. His delivery is impressive. His ex-tempore “sermons” seem to be carefully rehearsed. His employs gestures and physical movements-he moves about during his delivery-to full effect. Using wireless headset mic Gwajima dramatizes his performances with the perfection of a professional performer.
It remains to be seen where all this performance will take him.