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Tanzania: President Samia hires Tony Blair in fight against Covid

By Abdul Halim, in Dar Es Salaam
Posted on Friday, 15 October 2021 11:06, updated on Monday, 25 October 2021 13:20

President of Tanzania Samia Suluhu Hassan
Tanzanian president Samia Suluhu Hassan is seen as more business-friendly than her predecessor. Spencer Platt/Pool via REUTERS

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has made two official visits to Tanzania since Samia Suluhu Hassan assumed the presidency in March this year after the sudden death of her predecessor, John Magufuli.

Government officials say that the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change has been hired by President Samia to handle two of her administration’s key projects: the fight against Covid-19 and rebuilding Tanzania’s international reputation.

In July, Blair paid his first courtesy call to Tanzania where he and President Samia discussed how to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

A spokesperson for the Institute says, “Mr Blair discussed the support his institute is providing to help African countries as they try to access vaccines, plan for roll out and build domestic manufacturing capacity for the future.”

I believe vaccination is the way to go. The virus can only be defeated when everyone is safe.”

For her part, President Samia urged Blair and his institute to encourage the African continent to participate in vaccine production.

The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change was set up by the former UK prime minister 16 years ago, with the aim to make globalisation work for the majority. Its clients include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone and Tanzania. Preliminary contact has been made with the Government of Zambia.

No more denialism

There has been a change of tack in Tanzania since the Covid-19 denialism period of the late President John Magufuli.

President Samia has turned out the denialism policy that was implemented by her predecessor. “I believe vaccination is the way to go. The virus can only be defeated when everyone is safe,” she said on 15 October 2021 when addressing rallies in the northern part of Tanzania.

In July this year, the Tanzanian government received more than one million Johnson and Johnson vaccine doses, which were donated by the US government.

Two months later, the East African country received another one million Sinopharm doses as a donation from the Chinese government that aims to boost vaccination rollout in Tanzania.

Statistics from the health ministry show that Tanzania has already vaccinated 900,000 people with the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, and the Sinopharm vaccine rollout is expected to kick off in a few days.

Health experts have welcomed the move.

Those who spoke with The Africa Report commend the government for its relationship with multilateral organisations in the fight against Covid-19.

“We have been [lagging] behind since the start of this pandemic and at least now we are able to see the way forward. The government is buying PPE in hospitals as well as testing people, but more work must be done,” says Doctor Shadrack Mwaibambe, president of the Tanzania Medical Association.

Professor Abel Makubi, the permanent secretary in the health ministry, tells The Africa Report that health workers are confident with the new regime.

“We receive their inputs and ideas and that is what we are working [with]. Our aim is to have multi-sectoral cooperation both inside and outside Tanzania because we are not an island,” he says.

She [stated] clearly that [the] bad days are over and Tanzania cannot isolate itself. We are [part] of the global community.

During Blair’s second visit to State House, Dodoma in September, he affirmed his support for various development strategies implemented by the government. This includes repairing Tanzania’s international image, which was tainted under the late Magufuli.

President Samia’s government recently succeeded in acquiring more than Tsh1trn ($433m) from the IMF to deal with the economic and social impact of the pandemic.

The funds, according to the government, will be directed to various sectors (such as health, education and the economy) that were greatly affected by the pandemic. The health ministry has been allocated more than Tsh400m.

However, Honest Ngowi, a professor at Mzumbe University, tells The Africa Report that money should be used carefully.

“[…] I congratulate the government for acquiring such a huge amount of money [but] there must be a check and balance while using it. This money may help our local entrepreneurs and stimulate their business. [Additionally,] the health sector should be taken into high consideration because we need to stimulate our public health to be able to respond to any disaster,” he says.

Public reactions

There have been mixed reactions to how the government is engaging with regional and international institutions.

“[…] Do you think Blair is doing all [this] without any benefit? No, I don’t think so. I still believe the vaccine issue is just a business,” says Chrispine Maiko, who is still reluctant to get vaccinated.

Nevertheless, Victor Kigosi, a resident in Mtwara in the south of Tanzania, believes that President Samia wants to gain and maintain trust with the international community, and also show donors that Tanzania has a different style of leadership.

“She [stated] clearly that [the] bad days are over and Tanzania cannot isolate itself. We are [part] of the global community, supporting each other in something good,” he says.

This article originally stated that Tony Blair was in Tanzania to help the country access global vaccine manufacturers, which was incorrect.

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