A Tale of Two PhDs

Angela Merkel in this clip is what one would expect of a leader during a time like this – a firm grasp of the issue, a clear appreciation of her country’s capacity in tackling the issue, measurable indicators that would warn her if her government is not handling the threat well and a way forward that she can be judged against. The elegance is clarity of approach and confidence in understanding the numbers. There is benefit in approaching a problem that is rooted in science in a scientific way this way. Angela Merkel holds a PhD. Her thesis was on Quantum Chemistry- obtained from Germany Academy of Sciences at Berlin.

In Tanzania, we find Dr John Joseph Pombe Magufuli. His ardent supporters refer to him using his full name and prefixed with “Dr”. Actually, that is not complete. The first prefix is His Excellency. In response to COVID-19, he has asked his countrymen to continue praying. He will not shut churches because the virus “cannot exist in the body of Jesus Christ”. He is in a comfortable position – whatever he claims cannot be interrogated and anybody who calls out his nonsense will land in problems. Citizen TV has been taken off air for a week and is running an apology to the president. For the past few days, anybody switching to Citizen TV is met with a screen pouring out a heartfelt apology to His Excellency. The TV station made a grave mistake of of referring to Dr Magufuli’s tactics of fighting COVID-19 with faith as “defiant”.

I doubt Angela Merkel insists on being called Dr Merkel. One would imagine that she is secure in her credentials so it does not matter whether we call her Dr or not. That is what happens when you are busy defying limits in an excellent manner.

Back to His Excellency Dr John Joseph Pombe Magufuli, President of the United Republic of Tanzania (see, I am learning fast). He holds a PhD in Chemistry, obtained from University of Dar es Salaam. The title of his thesis, in all its heavenly glory is “The Potential of Anacardic Acid Self – Assembled Monolayer from Cashew Nut Shell Liquid as Corrosion Protection Coating“. It is a pity that he obtained a PhD in a scientific field without understanding the importance of scientific methods but that does not stop his alma mater from writing glowingly about him.

It is true we cannot hold Europe to be our example in everything because to do so would mean losing the context of our issues and there are definitely matters in which Africa needs to chart its own approach. However, that is the beauty of science. It is based on laws and principles that can demonstrated and we test our theories against them. Principles are timeless and they apply universally. Beliefs and superstitions, even when masked as devout religion, simply fail to measure up. If we are to deviate from doing things in an objective manner, then we must have a good reason and we must be able to live with the consequences.

There is a place for faith and those who seek help through their faith should do so (preferably in the confines of their homes) as other measures are being taken. However, 17 days after the first case of COVID-19 was detected in Tanzania, one would hope the good president would be doing much more than just calling for prayers.

There is another thing that does not lie – data. When all this is over, let us look at the data and evaluate these two leaders who both hold PhDs in Chemistry. We will see if it possible to defy science and when one does so, what sayeth the data? 

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