Tanzania has made it into the international news, and not for good reasons. What made it glaringly apparent that we are in trouble were the articles that put us in the same group as North Korea and Turkmenistan. There is absolutely no way you want to be in the same group as North Korea and Turkmenistan and be considered fine.
North Korea is the world’s shorthand for when things go awry in state-building because of an unhealthy divorce from reality as well as the rest of the world. Turkmenistan is “interesting” and also probably the inspiration for mockumentaries about central Asia.
Both are downtrodden countries riddled with insane dictators that represent the worst of humanity. Why would anyone put Tanzania there? Well, because: Tanzania earned its place in world news recently as one of three countries that deny the presence of Covid-19 within its borders.
Covid-19 has been affecting us all. The government, however, has a policy in place: refuse to talk about it. It is a problem. It means that Tanzanians are required to deny the reality of a pandemic disease that has spread across the globe. That is a long stretch for anyone. We cannot do it. If one couples this with the environment created by the methodic suppression of local journalism, you get a lot of misinformation out there. I want to bear witness so that this does not go unsaid.
We are not okay.
I live in a world where science works. The fact that scientists were able to come up with a vaccine for the coronavirus in the space of one year is astounding. Not just the one laboratory or the one team, but many. And said vaccines are going to be available worldwide? That is amazing. We can try until we get it right, and that fills me with hope. But imagine, if you will, being a Tanzanian right now. It matters little what faith I have in science, at the end of the day I will be denied a vaccine as will my fellow countrymen and women.
We are not okay.
There is actually nothing technically wrong with the preventive measures that Tanzania is promoting. Most of them are good for you because of the vitamins promoted therein.
As I am sure you know, nutrition matters a lot in health. I thoroughly encourage the ingestion of vitamins and garlic, for sure. It’s just that I wish that we were not forbidden from going further with this, like vaccination. Prevention is better than cure, but denial is not the fix.
We are not okay.
A lot of people are trying to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in Tanzania, though it can be hard. Wearing a mask in public can be seen as an act of defiance. Although it is becoming more common to do so, it still attracts stares and glares. Considering all that we have endured with the loss of loved ones, things would be different. At the beginning of the pandemic we were careful. For at least three months we put out handwashing stations at shops and did our best to manage.
Unfortunately, last year was also the year of general elections. It is clear that decisions were made to encourage public assemblies and to make people to feel safe coming out to support their favoured candidates.
In the pursuit of “democracy” we sacrificed public health, and the opposition parties were just as much to blame as anyone else. We somehow made it alright to ignore this disease together because some people needed to be in power.
So here we are today, and we are not okay.
Sometimes, the coverage on how Tanzania is dealing with Covi-19 favours our method. Our borders are open and we have been making a lot of money from tourism as people from locked down countries come to escape their confinement. This has been popular and we suffered a rush of guests over the winter holidays. I think it is clear that we made money, but was it worth it? None of the newsrooms that make a fuss about the aftermath of this territorial generosity.
We test for Covid-19 by the way, for all the people who are travelling abroad. This has not helped. It is not clear how accurate our tests are, we have no preventions from infections from abroad or within, and it is more or less illegal to talk about it.
This is why I like to follow North Korean news as a meditation. And news from Turkmenistan is a revelation.
For both of these countries, I sit and wonder about the lives of the people on the ground. Having had no choice in their Head of State, and saddled with the men that they must endure, how do they cope? What do they eat for breakfast, how often do their children laugh? What constitutes a life well-lived over there, and how do they feel about the price of rice in China?
More specifically, what can these citizens teach us all and Tanzania in particular about resilience?
These country comparisons are good in the sense that they might alert readers about our situation. I don’t know if there is any patriotism left in us, but if there is I hope that we have learned something about the dangers of leadership and the importance of surviving. We are not okay.
Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report: E-mail: [email protected]