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COVID-19 | The voices of children and youth in Tanzania’s COVID-19 response

Rapid research into the effects of COVID-19 on young people in Tanzania reveals high levels of anxiety about the virus as it relates to relationships, economic livelihoods and the community. The research, led by Dr Elizabeth Ngutuku, draws further attention to the need for governments to consider the disease’s wider social and psychological impacts.

Source: Wikimedia Commons under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en. Image contrast altered.

Soon after the first COVID-19 case was reported in Tanzania on 16 March 2020, a series of closures were announced to schools and some businesses to avert the spread of the disease. However, the government changed tack in June, announcing the country had the disease under control. Life seemed to have gone back to the normal with schools re-opening and people returning to work.

In July and August 2020, as part of our advocacy using the findings from our research, ‘Adolescent’s Perceptions of Healthy Relationships in Mwanza and Dar es Salaam’, we carried out rapid research with children and youth aged 10-18 years through essay writing. The resulting 309 essays explored young people’s perspectives on the effects of COVID-19 on their relationships with others at home, their school, the community, technology and with the environment. Their narratives reveal that behind the sense of assumed normality, and assurance that the virus does not pose a threat to the general population, the youth position themselves ambivalently. While their voice on effects of the disease speaks to day-to-day immediate issues of survival, it also jumps scales to touch on relationships between nation states, relations with the government and a relationship with the country’s past.

The disease is ‘everywhere’

Young people noted that the disease permeated all areas of their relationships and equated this to being ‘everywhere and in everything’. Arguing that space itself was ‘sick’, this understanding can be read literally from President Magufuli’s declaration that the disease inhabits inanimate objects, like papaya and even animals such as goats. These voices reveal deeper perspectives when read alongside young people’s relationship with the environment, especially play spaces, trees, rocks and beaches, as shown to be important to youth in our earlier work in Mwanza and Dar es Salaam. Through art-based research and interviews, some of the young respondents explained that when relationships with their parents and siblings soured, they would go out to relax in these spaces or talk to animals.

Such a souring of family relationships was common during the period of school closures. While some acquired new skills like cooking, and bonded with their parents at home, others reported being overworked and the pressure causing constant collisions. Some young people noted that during such periods school normally provided solace through interactions with peers and teachers. Some girls were also looking forward to schools’ re-opening to avoid domestic sexual violence, as reported elsewhere to be on the rise in Tanzania during the epidemic, but other girls explained that staying at home had freed them from being approached for sexual favours by their peers and teachers.

Many young respondents voiced a perceived weakening of social ties, beyond immediate practices such as an inability to hug or greet each other, and playing or receiving visitors. They drew attention to the effects on a core social fabric and collective support. These young respondents remembered a collective past (perhaps drawing on the imaginaries of Ujamaa philosophy), with its emphasis on the care and welfare for others, in contrast to, for example, people during the epidemic who stopped carrying each other’s burdens, or what they called kubebeana mzigo. Drawing on a collective we, many respondents also noted that society’s collective dreams or aspirations (ndoto zetu) had been put on hold, which while going unspecified allude to school closures and an ability to continue their activities in the community.

Economics and politics matters to youth

The youth respondents emphasised the epidemic’s large and small economic effects. While they discussed their parents having lost jobs and livelihoods, and the inability to afford health care, they raised anxieties over there being ‘no longer milk for the small baby [sibling]’ and not being able to ‘ask for a second helping of food’, as they did before onset of the disease.

Moreover, the youth positioned themselves as actors in political relationships. For example, when referencing the diplomatic spat between Kenya and Tanzania over flights and truck drivers, they stated the disease had created enmity between countries, interpreting the closure of the shared border as an attempt by Kenya, which they called a good neighbour, to close itself off from Tanzania. Some noted that their relatives, and especially their breadwinner fathers who rely on cross-border trade, were afraid they would be quarantined in Kenya at their own expense, leaving them behind as carers for the family. This requirement was only reviewed in mid-September 2020.

Despite the atmosphere of the gloom, many young people also celebrated the President like a prophet who supported them with ‘kind words’, assuring them that ‘God could not allow them to die of Corona’. These youth represented themselves as political and cultural nationalists, who unquestioningly obeyed the President’s traditional steam therapy for the virus, as well as his call for the country’s return to faith, health, community and nation through prayer. For others, an obedience to Magufuli’s orders was more guarded, with some youth revealing how their parents forbade them to go to church, despite the leadership urging their attendance.

The youth indeed represented collective prayer in Kiswahili as praying bega kwa bega (shoulder to shoulder) against the disease, for which prevention is alternatively encouraged by the World Health Organization through maintaining social distance. The respondents further represented the perceived elimination of COVID-19 as a sign of good leadership by the government, because cases in Tanzania (which stopped publishing statistics in May 2020) were few compared to the high COVID-19 statistics in Kenya by June.

Listening to youth voices differently through essay writing reveals that behind the façade of a fearless nation fear remains prevalent. Our respondents reported that important political leaders in the community had died of the disease, and their essays revealed a veritable daily fear of their parents’ death. Some reported that they would observe their parents for signs of infection after they returned from work, and one youth in Dar es Salaam noted that he would each day observe his friends throwing a bottle of hand sanitiser to their mother on arrival.

Yet many children nevertheless celebrated their president, the sentiment ‘our president cannot lie to us, we cannot die of Corona’ expressed by many respondents, which can be read as cautiously confident despite their anxiety. It is at the interstices of this apparent guarded optimism that an imperative emerges for the government of Tanzania: they must listen to the wishes and voices of young people and protect them not only from the disease but its multitude of effects.

This post was first published by the LSE’s Firoz Lalji Centre for Africa and first appeared here

About the author:

Elizabeth Ngutuku has a PhD in Development Studies from the International Institute of Social Studies of Erasmus University Rotterdam. Her work investigates young people’s experience of poverty, vulnerability, citizenship claims and sexual and reproductive health. Dr. Ngutuku coordinated the rapid research on behalf of Nascent/ISS as part of the APHR project funded by Oak Foundation

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Covid-19 | Worsening inequality in the developing world: why we should say no to a ‘new normal’

As the Covid-19 pandemic drags on, many of us living in wealthy countries are still struggling to get used to the ‘new normal’ of frequent regulatory changes that affect our freedom of movement and well-being. In developing countries, the negative effects of the pandemic move beyond the curtailing of movement to include increasing hunger, unemployment, and inequality. We can now witness some of these seemingly permanent changes that may take years or even decades to reverse, and we should not accept this as a ‘new normal’, write Shradha Parashari and Lize Swartz.

hunger food insecurity covid corona

Introduction

Over the past months, the world has come to experience the unthinkable as the Covid-19 pandemic has swept across the globe (Mahapatra, 2020). The overall outlook for world economy is bleak. According to Economist Intelligence Unit, as from March 17, global economic growth has slowed to just one percent—the lowest level of growth since the global financial crisis of 2008 (Economist Intelligence Unit, 2020). The pandemic has affected both the developing and developed world. However, instances of hunger, unemployment and poor access to virus testing and treatment facilities are more prevalent in developing countries (World Food Programme Report, 2020).

Developed countries are taking important measures to protect their people from the Covid-19 virus and consequent slowdown of the economy and life in general by providing unemployment benefits, measures for food security, and privileges such as facilities enabling employees and entrepreneurs to work from home or at a safe distance from one another (Mahapatra, 2020). This is a rare case in the developing world, where governments face challenges in ensuring that tens of millions of people already on verge of starvation do not succumb to virus and its adverse economic consequences, which includes hunger (Dongyu, 2020).

Thus, the pandemic, popularly referred to as the ‘pandemic of inequality’ (Mahaptara, 2020), has exposed existing inequalities and has given rise to new inequalities. According to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres,

COVID-19 has highlighted growing inequalities. It has exposed the myth that everyone is in same boat, when the truth is, we all are floating in same sea; some are in superyachts, while others are clinging to drifting debris.

It is becoming clear that the pandemic is affecting the poor in both the developed and developing world more than wealthier groups, but it is especially the long-term effects of the pandemic in developing countries that remain a cause for concern. The pandemic has created a disruptive ‘new normal’ for everyone through government orders on social distancing and Covid-19 protection measures. Below are just some of the negative effects of this ‘new normal’ that support our argument that it should not be accepted as such.

First, for billions of poor persons, these guidelines are burdensome and impossible to comply with (Du et al., 2020). Poor informal workers in Asia, Africa and Latin America live in densely populated neighbourhoods with unreliable and shared access to water and sanitation facilities, making home quarantine or social distancing almost impossible. These workers lack access to bank accounts, insurance and secure employment that forces them to work on daily basis, defying lockdowns and creating an increased risk of Covid-19 transmission (Du et al., 2020). For them, a ‘new normal’ means not being able to work and meet basic needs.

Second, the hunger crisis is most evident in the central and western parts of Africa, where there has been a massive spike in the number of people facing food insecurity. Up to 90% of people living in Southern Africa are estimated to have become food insecure (World Food Programme Report, 2020). The closure of schools has further aggravated the hunger crisis in the developing world where children are highly dependent on meal programs at schools. For example, in Latin American countries and the Caribbean, the closure of schools during the pandemic has deprived around 85 million children of what is often the only (hot) meal they get daily (Dongyu Qu, 2020). This has led to surging hunger-related poverty during the pandemic. However, this is not the case in Global North, where school closures are simply an inconvenience for most parents.

Moreover, the lockdowns have left millions of workers jobless, especially the informal workforce in the developed and developing world (Daniyal et al., 2020). Workers in developed countries are still better off than those in the developing world as governments in US and Europe have pledged to pump trillions of dollars to support the unemployed workforce (TRT World, 2020). In contrast, the situation is grim in developing countries as informal workers are not covered by any social protection measures or proper employment contracts (TRT World, 2020). Millions of workers in Pakistan, Cambodia, Vietnam, and India have faced unemployment as the market remains shut due to the pandemic.

Why we should resist a ‘new normal’

As the pandemic drags on, many people in wealthier countries or those in developing countries with secure jobs or livelihoods, especially those whose lives are disrupted but not severely negatively affected, especially in economic terms, are getting used to the ‘new normal’. For many people, a ‘new normal’ means working from home, not visiting restaurants, not going on holidays outside of our countries, and having to wear a face mask. For millions people who are less fortunate, a ‘new normal’ means a loss of jobs and the inability to secure new employment, going to bed hungry, and working illegally with an exposed risk to the virus.

We have to reject this ‘new normal’ characterized by worsening living conditions and increasing economic inequality before it becomes seen as accepted and a permanent feature of life among poor people in developing and developed countries alike. The search for a vaccine and its global roll-out may take many months still. We have to start think beyond the end of the pandemic to ensure that its negative effects, particularly for people in developing countries, are urgently addressed. If we don’t, the consequences can be far-reaching.

References:

Dongyu Qu, “Coronavirus could worsen hunger in developing world”, World Economic Forum, accessed September 15, 2020. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/04/coronavirus-worsen-hunger-developing-world/

Economist Intelligence Unit, “Coronavirus what we expect for global growth”, accessed September 16, 2020. http://country.eiu.com/article.aspx?articleid=1849161968&Country=United%20States&topic=Economy&subtopic=Recent+developments

Jillian Du, Robin King and Radha Chanchani, “Tackling Inequality in cities is Essential for Fighting COVID-19”, accessed September 15, 2020. https://www.wri.org/blog/2020/04/coronavirus-inequality-cities

Richard Mahapatra, “COVID-19: The Pandemic of Inequality”, accessed September 15, 2020. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/blog/economy/covid-19-the-pandemic-of-inequality-72442

Oxfam, “Half a billion people could be pushed into poverty by coronavirus, warns Oxfam”, accessed September 14, 2020. https://www.oxfam.org/en/press-releases/half-billion-people-could-be-pushed-poverty-coronavirus-warns-oxfam

Sara Christensen, “Hunger in Developing Countries: Five Facts You Need to Know”, accessed September 16, 2020. https://borgenproject.org/hunger-in-developing-countries-five-facts/

Shoaib Daniyal et al., “As Covid-19 pandemic hits India’s daily-wage earners hard, some leave city for their home towns”, accessed September 16, 2020. https://scroll.in/article/956779/starvation-will-kill-us-before-corona-the-covid-19-pandemic-has-hit-indias-working-class-hard

TRT World. “Coronavirus hits jobs, Millions face unemployment and poverty”, accessed September 15, 2020. Retrieved from TRT World: https://www.trtworld.com/magazine/coronavirus-hits-jobs-millions-face-unemployment-and poverty-35294

Tasfia Jahangir, “The Moral Dilemma of Slum Tourism”, accessed September 15, 2020. https://fundforeducationabroad.org/journals/moral-dilemma-slum-tourism/ 

World Food Programme, “COVID-19: Potential Impact on World’s Poorest People”, accessed September 15, 2020. https://docs.wfp.org/api/documents/WFP-0000114205/download/?_ga=2.261738637.121369336.1599543905-1508832003.1599543905

About the authors:

Shradha Parashari is an ISS of Erasmus University Rotterdam alumna of the 2017-2018 batch. She is currently working as a Research and Operation Associate at PAD India.

Lize Swartz

 

Lize Swartz is a PhD researcher at the ISS focusing on water user interactions with sustainability-climate crises in the water sector, in particular the role of water scarcity politics on crisis responses and adaptation processes. She is also the editor of the ISS Blog Bliss.

Are you looking for more content about Global Development and Social Justice? Subscribe to Bliss, the official blog of the International Institute of Social Studies, and stay updated about interesting topics our researchers are working on.