AS the government of Tanzania positions itself to address the Covid- 19 pandemic, we applaud our President Samia Suluhu Hassan for her leadership and her acknowledgment of the current level of threat leading to the extreme measures that must now be taken to combat the virus successfully.
This is an historic moment for our country as we all face the greatest test of global solidarity in generations. The Tanzanian diaspora congratulates the President for being courageous and for ‘taking the bull by the horns’ in its intention to form a ‘committee of experts’ to professionally evaluate the Covid-19 pandemic in order to advise the government on the way forward.
It is vital that we take action, given the very high probable transmission rates of the Covid-19 viruses in Tanzania. As an experienced public health practitioner, with a strong background in Global Health Diplomacy, my argument is that from the perspective of available knowledge and skills, the government should make it possible for representatives of the Tanzanian diaspora to be engaged.
Without exception, there is overwhelming evidence that Tanzania’s public health physicians, consultants, scientists, and researchers who make up much of the diaspora, have a productive history of access to the brightest minds and the best technology in the areas of Covid- 19 pandemic control around the world.
It should always be remembered that members of the diaspora are Tanzanians and stand ready to contribute to our motherland in terms of sharing the gained knowledge, perspectives, and skills that we apply to our fields of expertise in our adopted countries.
Engaging the Tanzanian diaspora’s experiences in seeking solution to contain the pandemic can make a difference. Highly competent health care experts, already trained in the management of infectious diseases, as well as public health specialists in infectious disease pandemic control, are available to be called upon by the Tanzanian government from the broader Tanzanian diaspora through the Tanzania Global Diaspora Council (Tdc Global), the Peak body representing interests of all Tanzanians abroad and their connection to their motherland Tanzania.
Some of the expatriate bodies are the Tanzania UK Healthcare Diaspora Association (TUHEDA), a network of healthcare professionals and researchers, the Tanzania Medical Experts Network in Australia and DICOTA – Diaspora Council of Tanzanians in America.
This will allow the government to respond to this crisis in a manner that understands and efficiently utilizes all the resources, strengths and current knowledge that is available to it from around the world. It is an unquestionable fact that the Covid-19 pandemic has slammed the brakes on most activities globally; with business operations halted, initiatives postponed, and some time-bound deals and events summarily cancelled.
While this is clearly a drawback at all levels, it also provides an opportunity for us to reflect on, and plan for, a postpandemic Tanzania. The Tanzanian diaspora pays tribute to the extraordinary way in which the government responded to the beginning of the pandemic from March 2019.
The government responded by introducing Covid-19 security measures, which to led to drop in infection rate. And, last Sunday, President Samia asked religious leaders to keep on encouraging believers to observe protective measures proposed by health experts on checking the spread of coronavirus.
President Samia made the statement during a special symposium organised by the religious leaders to honour the life of the former President, the late Dr John Magufuli and pray for him. Elaborating, she asked Tanzanians to keep adhering to the protective guidelines against coronavirus as recommended by health experts such as maintaining social distancing, hand washing with soap and using sanitisers as well as wearing face masks.
She noted that since the virus has a tendency of mutating, it was crucial for the country to continue observing the recommended protective measures in a bid to prevent its spread that is affecting the globe. President Samia said she had already formed a special team of experts to examine the Covid-19 issues and as well suggest remedies.
Mama Samia said, she would meet with the team together with officials from the Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children alongside the Ministry of Finance and Planning. “Upon accomplishment of the task, I will announce the findings for the way forward as suggested by the special team,” she expounded.
It is anticipated that a committee of experts will provide the government with scientifically tested advice on the plan to develop the national strategies and implementation of the Covid-19 pandemic response initiatives across Tanzania, targeting: surveillance and testing; medical supply availability; public health and social measures (PHSMs); safe travel; livelihood and economic matters; pathogen genomics; and vaccine procurement and supply.
Indeed, this is a great move by our President. Beating this pandemic will be one of the most difficult operational challenges we have ever faced as a nation. We believe under President Samia, we are all ready, Tanzanians at home and abroad, to tackle to these challenges. The government of Tanzania alone cannot ‘WIN’ the fight against Covid- 19.
To be successful in fighting Covid-19 there must be unity of purpose. Martin Luther King, Jr once said, “We may have all come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” There is no place in a deadly infection crisis for competition, assigning blame, or political disputes.
While the government is waiting for the advice of the committee of experts, it will be beneficial to unite society to unite and foster solidarity between the private sector, party political leaders, the media, and religious institutions; encouraging each group to use their socioeconomic power, influence, and resources to promote infection, prevention and virus containment.
These groups have a responsibility for shaping government action, promoting prevention and containment measures, and providing relevant information and analysis in the public sphere. They should forcefully encourage the general public to heed scientific advice.
There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic continues to inflict unprecedented harm on Tanzania’s economy. The pandemic has pushed us towards one of the worst global recessions in modern times, which is having a devastating effect on the most vulnerable countries and peoples. Consequently, post- pandemic economy recovery is another critical area where the Tanzanian diaspora can play a critical role.
The diaspora retains strong ties to our motherland and the government should encourage their full participation in all aspects of nation building. Currently, it is estimated that nearly 3.7 million Tanzanians are living overseas. Consistently growing flows of remittance capital from Tanzania diaspora to the Tanzania have also been observed over the years.
In 2020, the Tanzania diaspora significantly injected USD 430 million to support the economy. An increase of USD 25million on the previous year and representing significant percent of Tanzania’s GDP. The contribution from diaspora is having increasingly significant macro-economic impacts.
Tanzanian diaspora remittances will be particularly important over the coming years, as it is likely that some of the traditional global sources of project financing and foreign investment will be adversely affected by the economic shocks associated with the pandemic.
However, in order to tap diaspora resources to support Tanzania developmental activities, new approaches will have to be conceived and implemented. Traditionally, most of the diaspora remittance capital flows through familial channels with far less of these funds being channeled through more formal financial instruments.
A focus on the development of more formal channels to capture remittances and diaspora contributions will be useful, as these resources can be used to fund some of the governmental formulated policy objectives identified in the development frameworks in more direct and targeted ways.
The diaspora could provide long and short-term human capital support in strategic sectors driving Tanzania’s economic growth. From the trade access and facilitation dimension; it could serve as market entry facilitators, importers, distributors, and co-investors for Tanzanian export initiatives targeting global markets in the adopted countries in which they live.
Tanzania diasporas are often well connected economically and can potentially play a crucial inter-linkage role. In conclusion, amidst many projections of human suffering and death, it would be a real tragedy if we do not learn from the Covid 19 pandemic and prepare for potential future medical surprises and disasters.
As for what lies ahead, many of us have high hopes that the government will indeed get the expert advice it needs to fight the Covid 19 pandemic in Tanzania. It is apparent that we are passing through incredibly trying times. We applaud President Samia’s efforts thus far.
We gain inspiration and encouragement from the knowledge that we, Tanzania descent are no strangers to adversity; and yet again the current times call on us to draw from our endless reserves of unwavering resilience.
Dr Joseph Masika is a Public Health Consultant, Global Goodwill Ambassador and former Africa Union- ECOSOCC Regional delegate for Australia and Asia.