IF there’s a big lesson that we should learn as a nation, it is how Coronavirus has defined our relations with our neighbours as well as the East African Community (EAC).
I said it earlier this year that Coronavirus will come and go, but our neighbours will remain the same no matter what happens. As human beings, there are two things you can’t choose; your neighbours and your relatives. But, you can choose your friends, enemies, or allies.
In the context of Tanzania’s geographical location, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi will remain our neighbours; whether there’s Corona, or not. Likewise in the southern corridor, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique will always be our neighbours, no matter what happens.
However, since the outbreak of the pandemic, some of our neighbours have treated us unfairly. They have closed borders, questioned the way we are handling the pandemic, and in some cases mistreated some of our citizens at the borders.
We may have our internal weaknesses politically, economically and socially, but as a nation, we shall always remain a United Republic of Tanzania.
Our unity isn’t based on our gifted natural resources, or over the several tribes that we have—but it’s a union founded on values and ideals that were introduced, nurtured and cherished by our founders—led by the late Julius Kambarage Nyerere.
We, as a nation, understand the importance of having allies—because we are not an isolated island. We are part of a globalized world—and therefore value the importance of having neighbours. However, the attitudes of some of our neighbours will in the future determine how we deal with them—because at the end of the day we deserve to be respected, not belittled by those we call our brothers.
Think about this fact; Kenya has released the list of countries of which citizens will be allowed to travel to the East African nation effective August 1, this year. Now, the funniest thing is that some countries that we believe were badly hit by Coronavirus or were the source of the pandemic are on the list, while Tanzania isn’t.
The question is why are we being excluded? Because in the minds of Kenya’s top leadership, we are a dangerous nation that may import Coronavirus to Kenya—and eventually endanger the lives of millions of Kenyans!
But, one nation whose health systems have been overwhelmed because of its struggling economy as a result of the effects of the sanctions imposed by the Western countries—its citizens are free to go to Kenya any time from August 1, this year. I just don’t get it. I may be wrong, but, in this case, I strongly feel that there’s more than what meets the eye.
There is one Asian nation where it is believed Corona Virus emanated —but still the country has been included on the list, because in the minds of Kenya’s top leadership, they feel residents of such nation are very safe people who may not ‘by all means’ import the virus to the East African nation.
While I strongly and humbly respect the rights of Kenya to decide who should be allowed to travel to that country, I am puzzled by the way we have been treated by our neighbour. Kenya is not just a neighbour, but our biggest ally economically—and we are the biggest single trading partner with Nairobi within the East African region.
This is coming nearly two months since Kenya closed its border with Tanzania, in what the Nairobi government termed as “measures to curb the spread of corona virus”. When Kenya closed its borders with us, we were placed in the same group with Somalia —a country that has been described as a failed state for almost three decades.
During its heydays, Kenya Airways used to operate five flights daily between Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. Very few countries can offer such opportunities to a foreign based airline, but we did it to Kenya. One may think that we did so because at that time we didn’t have a properly functioning national airline, but that’s not the case.
We did this because of our mutual relations that we share with Kenya. Life is about choices—and some choices we make have serious consequences in the future. Likewise, leadership is about making choices—in some cases making tough choices, especially when you are confronted by a dangerous situation.
Tanzania, under President John Pombe Magufuli, chose to act and think differently in facing the pandemic. As a nation, the best we could do was to rally behind this decision, regardless of our political affiliation. Our choices should be respected.
There are prophets of dooms who predicted that by refusing to lock down our country, we were warranting the deaths of thousands of Tanzanians, and our streets, especially in Dar es Salaam, would be littered by dead bodies.
These prophets of doom are still waiting, with bated breath, to hear the bad news from Tanzania, not knowing that our way of life has remained the same—and it has been business as usual. We have opened our schools, colleges and universities at a time when others have refrained from doing so.
We decided not to lock down our country because there was an alternative, which, in this case, was to institute some measures, including wearing masks, closing all our schools, colleges and universities—as well as some businesses.
We did this at a time when the pandemic was at its ‘attacking stage’—and therefore there was no choice, but to act. Two months down the line, as a nation, we assessed our situation—and decided to slacken some of these measures.
In that note, therefore, our decisions should be respected. The author is a retired award winning journalist, editor and a media manager. The views expressed here are his opinions.