COVID-19: Tanzania is not an Island: How is this deadly pandemic likely to change our socio-economic livelihood?

By Joyce Samwel

Tanzania is among 189 countries that have had cases of COVID-19 virus or Coronavirus as commonly known. Just over a month ago, Tanzania’s Minister of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly & Children, confirmed the first case of Corona Virus in Tanzania. Although most of us were aware of its existence in other countries, the first case in our own country was a life changer. While the virus had already affected several countries in Asia, Europe, America, and Australia, it was then just making its way in Africa, and by that time, about 26 African countries had confirmed at least 1 case of Coronavirus.

World map of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus Update 17 April 2020. Image:https://www.nationsonline.org/

Extinction of sanitizers in the drug stores (pharmacies) and escalation of handwashing behaviour in the streets was a signal that something major was happening. For someone who had left in Dar es Salaam just 24 hours before this panic, if given a chance to come back, they would be shocked by how streets were ‘decorated’ with white buckets (tap buckets to be specific) and handwashing soaps next to entrances of shops, offices, and hand sanitizer dispensers at the main entrances of large buildings. The government was not asleep either, while one case may seem like not a big deal, but the state quickly took measures to contain it. Quarantine centres, border control strategies, and public health messages, which were actually in places a few weeks before the first case, were tightened.

White buckets (tap buckets to be specific) and handwashing soaps next to entrances of shops, offices in Dar es Salaam. Image: Neman Karan, Digital Photographer, Tanzania

As we share what happened in the early days of COVID-19, we must point out that this article is built based on our personal experiences and people in our circles. While we are not in complete isolation, just like most of the countries around the globe, we can’t ignore the fact that this pandemic has been creating new norms in Dar es Salaam and Tanzania at large. Taking into account all these changes, which may end up becoming new norms, here are a few aspects of our lives that called for an immediate adjustment.

Becoming Teacher Mummy/Daddy

Who knew we could teach too? As parents, we could not thank the government for closing the schools as soon as COVID-19 landed in Tanzania. Nothing made us happier than knowing that our children were home. This came with responsibilities too…! For the parents, this meant extending the time needed for child care and even becoming teachers for a few hours during the day. Who knew that marking homework with a blue or black pen sitting on our handbags was not permitted? We had to learn it the hard way anyway. At this critical point, supporting our government, schools, and most importantly, our children by giving revision exercises, buying them books, or helping with homework picked from schools or sent to us through emails and WhatsApp (thanks to technology) was and still is inevitable.

Online teaching platforms like Shule direct, shulesoft, smartschooltz, mtabe app, to mention the few, are becoming our heroes in this crisis. Attractive packages came into existence; some of these platforms offer free subscription and some lowering subscription fees to enable many students to have access to online learning directly from their homes. However, with limited infrastructures, income, and awareness, there is no doubt that online education is more likely to benefit the children of middle-class parents mostly based in the city and probably with enough devices for all their children to use. This puts a challenge for us to learn more about the effectiveness of such platforms and ways to make it available to marginalized children who are deprived of such opportunities. To avoid writing the same story every time a catastrophe like this hits the globe, we need to do something to ensure the accessibility and availability of facilities and technology to be able to exhaust online learning. A take-home note here is, it about time to seriously start sensitizing parent-teacher partnerships in the country and review our learning mediums so that we don’t rewrite the same story in the future?

What is going to happen to our Incomes?

As we are still trying to figure out various ways to absorb tensions that came with the pandemic, the first question that comes in our mind is what is going to happen to our incomes? Lucky are those in permanent contracts, with unemployment benefits or enough savings to cover them during these uncertain times. What complicates things further is that we are not even sure about the exact dates when COVID-19 is likely to exit our lives. With the likelihood of most businesses closing down, ranging from those conducted in board rooms to those taking place in the streets “kwa mangi.” We have witnessed people cutting down expenditure, hotels closing down, cancellation of international flights, and the collapse of the tourism industry. Now the bigger question remains, what is going to happen to our incomes? What are we going to do to feed our families? How will our government support us? Questions like these and many uncertainties call for us to take seriously the WHO measures to avoid reaching epidemic stages within the country. The sooner we take precautions, the sooner we are likely to see better days ahead of us.

Well, does this call for better workplace policies, insurance policies as well as benefits at times like these? We would like to have better stories to write after the pandemic, let us watch what is happening closely and have better stories to write next time.

Working from home: Is the impossible becoming possible?

For years many companies have been reluctant to let employees work from home full time. A lot of talented individuals could not work because they had permanent responsibilities that needed them to keep an eye on at home 24/7, but they could not be at two different places at the same time, so they chose not to work at all. Can you imagine how much these individuals could have contributed to the economy if they had a chance to work from home and perform both family responsibilities and the organizations they work for? The era of COVID-19, which has forced employers to let employees work from home (most of them for the first time), is showing them that companies or organizations can have individuals work from home and deliver as well. It is about time the employers make efforts to use this time to see how they can measure the performance of staff working from home and possible technological needs so that they incorporate this in their policies. At the end of the day, we want a team built of happy and productive individuals who have assured a room for flexibility to work from home without feeling that they are losing anything. We hope the Human Resource departments and responsible personnel are taking notes for the future shaping of workplace policies for increased productivity.

Amid this disarray, what options do we have?

Although the pandemic in itself is deadly, can we still see the situations it has put us into with an optimistic eye? While it is taking away the chances to be close to our friends and families for once, we have time to prove to the world that we can work from home and be productive. For parents who are already working from home, they have an opportunity to spend more time with their children, help with the chores, and even have flexible working hours. While the pandemic is affecting our businesses, it also allows us to think of the ways to come up with plans to rescue the situation in the future times of need. While doing all these, we need to know our fundamental responsibility is to support our country and the world to fight this pandemic. Let us keep our eyes on the news, get updates from reliable sources, and take precautions to protect ourselves and our loved ones from getting infected. If you are lucky enough to be able to stay home, please do not take that for granted and let us be the frontlines in supporting those who are out there working hard to rescue the situation. Understanding that some are forced to stay at home because their businesses are collapsing, their contracts have been cancelled, or they have lost their sources of income, let us join our hands in supporting one another. Humility has never been important as it is at this time in history.

What are you doing to help your community, your country, or the globe defeat COVID-19?

Appreciation: Thank you Jasmine Shio, PhD Candidate, University of Amsterdam for your insights.

We’re a research group dedicated understanding influence of digital technologies on modern societies. we are based in Africa.

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