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Credo Francis* lost his job as a sales officer at Vodacom Tanzania, a leading telecommunication company in the country. The reason? It was the company’s way of coping from the sudden impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Francis represents a large number of workers in Tanzania who lost their jobs because of the pandemic as companies and organisations were forced to cut staff.
It’s a scenario repeated across the country, but one that doesn’t appear to be taken into consideration by the government.
What could have been in 2020
In 2020, Tanzania was declared a middle income status country by the World Bank. Middle income countries (MIC) are defined as those with a Gross National Income (GNI) between $1,036 and $4,045.
But this drastically changed with the arrival of the pandemic.
In a report published in April 2020 by the UN Development Program, Rapid social economic impacts assessment of Covid 19 in Tanzania, the economic impacts to Tanzania from COVID-19 were outlined.
The private sectors were hit hardest, for example Mwananchi Communications Limited, a leading print media company. It relieved more than 30 workers including journalists. One journalist, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, says the company told him that if he wanted to continue working he should be ready to do so without a contract.
“I am struggling, life in Dar [es Salaam] is not easy at all. Working without contract is not an easy task,” he tells The Africa Report.
Another media company, the New Habari Corporation stopped publishing its newspapers completely, citing a difficult environment of doing business.
Nestory Maiko, a teacher at a private school in Kigoma in western Tanzania, also lost his job after the arrival of the pandemic.
“My employer said he cannot pay me anymore because the government has closed school for three months so he terminated my contract,” says Maiko who is still struggling to get another job.
The Tanzanian government had closed all education institutions from March until June.
Speaking on the situation, economist and ACT Wazalendo Party leader Zitto Kabwe says the situation is worse because of the government’s reluctance to truly understand the situation.
“We saw how the government’s revenue was declining at the start of the pandemic and even the authorities stopped publishing monthly data. The set strategies put in place by the government cannot support our people in the short or long term,” says Zitto, a fierce critic of President Magufuli.
Opening the economy
The government had declared back in April 2020 that the coronavirus was no longer a threat to Tanzania.
“We tried as much as we could to open up the economy as soon as possible and that is why you see tourists coming in large numbers. All the measure taken were aimed at saving our economy,” Hassan Abbas, a government spokesperson, told the Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation.
Measures taken included:
- Early opening of air space for international flights
- No border closures to facilitate imports and exports of goods and services to and from landlocked countries like Zambia, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC
- No lockdown, unlike other neighbouring countries
The government also insisted that companies and organisations should continue on with operations while taking precautions during certain activities such as transportation of goods and services.
Tourists coming to Tanzania were also assured by the government that they would not undergo a mandatory quarantine.
Strong economy entering 2021?
These measures were meant to keep the economy alive, hoping that going into 2021, the country would begin to bear economic fruit.
The government remains confident that 2021 will be good to its economy. During his New Year speech, President Magufuli stressed that with the coronavirus already defeated, people should continue working.
“We must work hard, Corona is no longer a threat to our country. Farmers must use this rainy season to plant food and commercial crops. People in civil and private workers should also continue working hard to promote our economy,” said Magufuli while speaking at Igunga, Tabora Region.
Statistics from the Bank of Tanzania and the National bureau of statistics state that nearly 65% of Tanzania’s economy depends on agriculture.
But economist Livino Haule says the government’s perception of the economic situation even before the start of the pandemic has remained oblivious to the reality on the ground.
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“2020 was a tough year for our people despite being labelled a middle income country. Most of them [Tanzanians] still need employment…and this stems from good economic policies. So despite measures taken, people need to see concrete changes on their daily lives,” adds Haule.
Former MP for Traime Constituency John Heche also disagrees with the rosy outlook from the government and the so-called ‘measures’ taken to help the economy and Tanzanian people.
“The National Bank should direct commercial bank to ease loan repayments for borrowers, with some of them being farmers and even mobile companies should be forced to institute zero charges on mobile money transfer. These are the type of measures that would have helped our people,” says Heche.
While the government firmly believes that its measures to combat the virus and keep the economy open will guarantee a strong growth in 2021, the reality is quite different.
There are many others like Francis who are still suffering from the hard economic hit the country took from the early days of the pandemic. Rather than boast a fruitful year ahead, perhaps Magufuli’s government would do better to accept the reality of the situation by opening its eyes.
*name changed for security reasons
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