This article explores responses to the new coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic by focusing on the role of the principles of solidarity, national unity, and peace, drawing on the case of Tanzania. At the time the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a global health emergency on March 11, 2020, no cases had yet been reported in Tanzania. Some people within the country initially thought the contagion could not spread to warm tropical areas like Tanzania. They were surprised when the country’s Minister for Health officially reported the first Covid-19 case on March 16, 2020.1The Citizen, 16th March 2020, Accessed on 13th April 2020 at https://www.thecitizen.co.tz/news/1840340_5493064. By May 7, 2020, 509 cases had been reported in Tanzania.2Pascal Mwakyoma, “Vifo Vyafikia 21 TZ, Maambukizi 509 ‘Wanatibiwa Nyumbani,’” Millard Ayo, May 7, 2020, https://millardayo.com/breaking-vifo-vyafikia-21-tz-maambukizi-509-wanatibiwa-nyumbani-video/.  Since May 7, 2020, no new figure has been issued by the government.

Tanzania, like other countries, took immediate steps to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. First, all schools and universities were shut down and students were ordered to stay at home. Second, the government provided directives on how to prevent the spread of disease including wearing face masks, handwashing, and using hand sanitizer. Third, all mass gatherings including conferences and sporting activities were banned. However, congregational forms of worship in churches and mosques were permitted to continue on the condition that religious leaders guide their followers to observe preventive and protective measures. Fourth, in some places, especially at bus stations, shops, and public markets, individuals who failed to abide by the directives given by the government, especially handwashing and using hand sanitizer, were castigated by their fellow citizens.

There is currently no lockdown in Tanzania. Individuals are allowed to go about their daily routines but are required to adopt preventive and protective measures. Markets are open, and public transportation is in operation, although observing the “level seat rule,”3The “level seat rule” is meant to avoid congestion on public transport and ensure that passengers in any vehicle are seated in accordance to the number of seats of the respective vehicle. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, buses used for public transport in cities or towns (commonly called daladala in Tanzania) could allow passengers without seats to stand in the spaces available on the bus, and the buses were very congested.  The Tanzania Road Traffic Act of 1973, which is still in use, restricts passengers from standing in buses, but there has been lax implementation of the rule. which despite having been introduced many years ago, has not been effectively implemented. Tanzania’s borders remain open, but strict testing of and a fourteen-day quarantine for all new arrivals in the country is being enforced. Government leaders including the president have appealed to members of different religious denominations to pray as a way of fighting Covid-19.4“Magufuli Awaomba Watanzania Kufunga na Kuomba,” DW, April 17, 2020, https://www.dw.com/sw/magufuli-awaomba-watanzania-kufunga-na-kuomba/av-53161183. See also “Virusi Vya Corona: Watanzania Waanza Maombi ya siku 3 Kumshukuru Mungu kwa Kuwaepusha na janga,” May 22, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/swahili/habari-52770638. Different verses are recited from the Bible and the Quran to justify the view that prayers can prevent infection, protect, or heal worshippers from Covid-19. Generally, religious leaders and the public at large have responded positively to the government’s strategies of combating the Covid-19 pandemic, stating that such measures still allow them to proceed with their daily activities. Religious worship is a form of psychological healing that also helps in reducing panic and stress. The measures taken by Tanzania, such as allowing congregational worship in churches and mosques and not imposing a lockdown on the country, are unique when compared to other sub-Saharan African countries. While some are concerned about Tanzania’s approach toward overcoming the Covid-19 pandemic, the World Bank Group has applauded Tanzania as one of the best examples of a response that is based on local circumstances, simultaneously criticizing African countries that have merely duplicated Western approaches.5World Bank Applauds Tanzania on Anti Corona Policy Response, Warns African Countries Copying Western  Anti-COVID 19 Policies in Report,” Red Pepper, April 13, 2020, https://redpepper.co.ug/2020/04/world-bank-applauds-tanzania-on-anti-corona-policy-response/. The lesson here is that every country has to design and implement homegrown measures and strategies for combating Covid-19 that draw on its historical, economic, social, and political context.

As a way of supporting the government in its fight against Covid-19, leaders of Chadema, one of the strongest opposition political parties in Tanzania, postponed nationwide political rallies which were scheduled to start on April 4, 2020.6“Mbowe: Tumefuta Mikutano ya CHADEMA Kuepuka Maambukizi ya Corona,” Mwananchi, March 26, 2020, https://mobile.tanzaniaweb.com/TanzaniaHomePage/NewsArchive/Mbowe-Tumefuta-mikutano-ya-Chadema-kuepuka-maambukizi-ya-corona-VIDEO-499027. Chadema leaders had initially scheduled political rallies after its seven top leaders had been convicted and jailed, but later granted bail, almost one week before the first Covid-19 case was reported in Tanzania. Chadema’s rallies were shelved to avoid any possible political unrest and insecurity amid concerns that its party leaders could capitalize on the way they were convicted to canvass for mass support in the forthcoming general elections scheduled for October 2020.

Moreover, the political rallies were postponed on the grounds that national unity and solidarity are required to fight a common enemy—Covid-19. Several civic associations, prominent individuals, and nongovernmental organizations have come together to provide financial and material support to the Tanzanian government in the fight against Covid-19. By April 9, 2020 a total of 6 billion Tanzanian shillings were donated by such groups and handed over to the Tanzanian prime minister.7The Guardian, Thursday 9 April, 2020, P.1; Tanzania Perspective, Thursday  9 April, 2020, P. 1;  The Citizen, Thursday 9 April, 2020, p. 1.

Former presidents of Tanzania Benjamin William Mkapa and Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete are among a group of ninety-two global leaders urging global powers, multilateral institutions, and private organizations to forget their differences and mobilize funds to combat Covid-19. The group has also requested developed countries to waive debts owed by developing countries to facilitate their efforts to fight Covid-19.8The Citizen, Thursday 9 April, 2020, p. 6.

The Tanzanian strategy of calling for national unity, solidarity, and peace in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic coheres with the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres’s call in an address on March 23, 2020, for a global ceasefire. He urged warring parties across the world to lay down their weapons in support of the “shared battle” against Covid-19, the common enemy threatening the world.9Daniel Dickinson, “COVID-19: UN Chief Calls for Global Ceasefire to Focus on ‘the True Fight of Our Lives,’” UN News, March 23, 2020, https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1059972. Ten days after his appeal, more than seventy nations, nonstate actors, civil society networks, and organizations all over the world endorsed the call. Those who supported the Secretary-General’s call include conflicting parties in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Colombia, Libya, Myanmar, the Philippines, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen.10“Secretary-General’s Press Briefing to Update on His Appeal for a Global Ceasefire following the Outbreak of Coronavirus (COVID-19),” United Nations Secretary-General, April 3, 2020, https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/press-encounter/2020-04-03/secretary-generals-press-briefing-update-his-appeal-for-global-ceasefire-following-the-outbreak-of-coronavirus-%28covid-19%29. Unity, solidarity, tolerance, peace, and the spirit of a shared humanity are important values in mobilizing support for the fight against the pandemic.

Tanzania’s approach to stopping the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic cannot be fully grasped outside of the country’s historical experience and its principles of national self-sufficiency and development.11TANU National Executive Committee, The Arusha Declaration: Socialism and Self-Reliance (Dar es Salaam: TANU –NEC, 1967). This also partly explains why the response has been partly inward looking and dependent on national values of solidarity, national unity, self-reliance, and peace. Although available sources show that diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Ebola, Malaria, and yellow fever were first associated with Africans and are said to have originated in Africa,12Sheldon Watts, Epidemics and History: Disease, Power and Imperialism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997), 1, 213–14; John Iliffe, The African AIDS Epidemic: A History (Suffolk, UK: James Currey, 2006), 3–8, 10; Jacques Pepin, The Origins of AIDS (Cambridge, UK:  Cambridge University Press, 2011), 6. Tanzania has drawn on similar internal ideas and resources to respond to the current pandemic from outside its borders. While some have adopted a religious approach asking for people to pray for healing, others subscribe to conspiracy theories that perceive Covid-19 as a biological weapon produced from outside Africa and aimed at Africans.13The view that Covid-19 is a biological weapon designed in laboratories is based on personal conversation with colleagues in various areas of Dar es Salaam city in Tanzania. However, there is a lot of online information on the same views. See, for example, “Trump Claims Coronavirus Came from Wuhan Lab,” Al Jazeera, May 4, 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/newsfeed/2020/05/trump-claims-coronavirus-wuhan-lab-200504121203518.html & Trushar R. Patel and Michael Hilary D’Souza, “Coronavirus Is Not a Bioweapon—But Bioterrorism Is a Real Future Threat,” The Conversation, May 18, 2020, https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-is-not-a-bioweapon-but-bioterrorism-is-a-real-future-threat-135984. Believers in such conspiracy theories are quick to advocate for an African cure to the new coronavirus.

So far, the conspiracy theories have remained unproven, as Covid-19 has not spared any continent in its spread across the world. However, there is a lot that needs to be understood about Covid-19 and the efficacy of the various responses to the pandemic. It is important to note that, while the challenges countries face differ from one case to the other, the uncertainties associated with the pandemic teach us that solutions can only come about by a collective and holistic effort by humankind.

There are also other questions related to the effectiveness and impact of responses to Covid-19. These relate to the ways the virus and the responses to it affect different regions and groups across diverse countries and their socioeconomic, demographic, political, and security implications. This calls for more interdisciplinary research, information sharing, progressive public health, and socioeconomic policies. In Tanzania, and Africa more broadly, there is a need for historians, researchers, and scientists to come together to define a research agenda capable of contributing to a united fight against Covid-19.

Although the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic has adversely affected countries across a globally connected world, partly as a result of negligence and a lack of preparedness, there is a need to learn from the world’s response so far. Most countries, including Tanzania, have combined a mix of international and internal principles in shaping their responses. Solidarity is required from all nations, civil society, and nongovernmental organizations in mitigating the spread of, and finding a cure for, Covid-19.

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