Between March and June, 2011, his story was the craze of the local media. It attracted thousands from inside and outside Tanzania, making him perhaps the most reported celebrity in the history of Tanzania for three whole months.
Journalists from both the electronic and print media camped at Loliondo, waiting to tell the story of a man who became a celebrity at the age of 76 simply because he assured the world that God has revealed to him ‘a healing cup’ for a number of diseases, but particularly the dreaded Aids.
The dusty village is 400 km from the city of Arusha in Loliondo district. It is home to the self-proclaimed magical healer, and for most of last year it could have been mistaken for Africa’s biggest open market or those crowd-pulling evangelical crusades for any new visitor who arrived there.
People in their hundreds of thousands from all over the world thronged the village hopefully to get healed by a cupful gulp of the herbal formula known exclusively to the pastor. That gulp was believed to immediately heal the ailment, according to witnesses and officials who took the pain to make the pilgrimage to Samunge.
Never had the village received such world attention, and the country’s boost in the tourism sector must have left a record high which, to some extent, explains why the state took it upon itself the task to improve the infrastructure.
Stories were told of helicopters criss-crossed to the once unknown heavily Maasai populated village, otherwise reached through a treacherous and sometimes tricky road.
Instant action to refurbish the road and turn it into a proper one road was put into gear, alongside other measures, to transform the remote village into modernity. Ministers, religious leaders, the high and mighty, all rushed to get the ‘healing cup’ as the poor struggled to raise the fare for the journey to Loliondo, hoping to get cured. Government rushed into building the road to Loliondo as well as establishing an airstrip, thanks to the man who became a celebrity overnight.
Passenger vehicles suddenly turned Loliondo their favourite destination, charging ten times the authorized fare rates, but nobody questioned or opposed them as everyone wanted to get the cup at any cost to save their lives. With the media giving prominence to the Loliondo healer, the man became so popular and important that even the government chipped in by providing security for him.
Overnight, he was transformed from a humble, poor man living in the dusty village of Samunge to a magnet that pulled millions of people after he started administering a ‘God-revealed’ herbal concoction that he claimed cured all ailments, including Aids, which has so far claimed an estimated 40 million people in Africa alone.
The 76-year-old clergyman-turned-miracle- healer, Ambilikile Masapila, was at this time last year hosting an endless stream of patients (plus curious visitors) who included the country’s political and business top brass, as well as ordinary men and women, because of his highly publicised magical herb.
A man who had up to the end of last year been unknown beyond family circles, fellow villagers and the Lutheran community, for which he had been a spiritual shepherd some years, is now back in the media again – but this time around for a different reason.
Ironically, about 52 people died while waiting to drink Mwasapila's concoction made from herbs and water, which he still sells for Sh500 ($0.30). But, despite the deaths, many still waited in a motorcade queue which stretched for 26km just to see him.
But today the Loliondo celebrity has been almost forgotten, with his fame fast vanishing into thin air. Neither the media nor the government remembers the man they created and promoted to continental prominence last year.
His story and that of those he ‘treated’ has suddenly disappeared just as it appeared, leaving the public wondering about what might have happened to the Loliondo celebrity as well as his patients – and the potency of his celebrated concoction to cure.
However, if it was a win-and-lose game, the Loliondo healer won, laughing all the way to the bank. Apart from attracting thousands of patients, he also used what economists describe as economies of scale by charging peanuts to earn a lucrative pension from desperate Tanzanians as well as foreigners.
In all his seven decades of working as a farmer and a pastor, judging by his poor lifestyle, he never dreamed of having a good house, a brand new Toyota Landcruiser and millions of shillings in his bank account at the twilight age of 76 years.
Last February the Loliondo healer announced that, after taking a break, he was preparing for a major comeback, saying that this time around the crowds would be bigger than last year’s.
But a survey conducted by The Guardian on Sunday recently shows that till today no major comeback has hit Loliondo, casting doubt about the promised second comeback from the Samunge healer.
What has happened? How is Samunge today? What’s the fate of those who ‘drank’ the pastor’s herbal dose? The Guardian on Sunday will offer the inside story of Loliondo’s magic healer next Sunday.