Challenges faced by youth in Tanzania due to COVID-19

By Winnifrida Nicholaus Msekeni

For a developing country such as Tanzania, we are not in a position to treat the COVID-19 pandemic as only a health crisis — it has meant dealing with several other challenges and a multitude of crises all at the same time. The pandemic, accompanied by a lockdown, has also worsened the already increasing proportion of people living in extreme poverty.

In a country of nearly 60 million people, only 500 cases have been reported. For most people the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the virus can cause more severe illness and may lead to death.

It’s hard to measure the magnitude of the pandemic. The President declared the country to be free of COVID-19 on 8 June, although the reporting of cases had already stopped as of on 14 May 2020. This declaration has been attributed to the prayers offered up by Tanzanian citizens during when the three days of national prayer led by the President. A miracle indeed.

In Tanzania, enterprises were allowed to operate throughout the lockdown and citizens were able to attend religious gatherings, although schools and universities were on lockdown from 18 March until 1 June 2020.

The COVID-19 pandemic has carried with it both negative and positive effects for the general population and the youth. On the negative side, some youth have experienced harassment and exploitation both sexual and non-sexual. Some girls were subjected to early marriages, their parents using the fact that they were no longer in school as an excuse for this. Others experienced early pregnancies during the lockdown because they no longer had school as a refuge and shield to protect them. In Tanzania, statistics show that 60% of sexual harassment and the exploitation of boys and girls is at the domestic level.

A number of youth saw opportunities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, inventions such as steam machines came about after the public declaration by the President that steaming may have health benefits and help reduce the effects of COVID-19. Some engaged themselves in trading ingredients that were used during the steaming process while others came up with COVIDOL. The disappointing part is that these initiatives were short-lived, as the state has now declared COVID-19 free. Almost every street is still flooded with young men and women selling masks and hand sanitizers. Even though the business became slow after the President’s declaration, these youth still have hope that they can make a living out of it. One of the qualities of many Tanzanians — especially the youth — is optimism, for hope is all they have to keep them going.

When it came to the formal sectors, a large number of youth were affected, especially those who were employed in enterprises and sectors dependent on social interaction. Due to the closure and lockdown, many became unemployed. Sectors such as tourism were negatively affected due to the closure of tourist attractions and hotels. Travel restrictions and a ban were the ‘cherry on top’, which caused a number of youth to lose their jobs, hence creating job insecurity and increasing the number of unemployed youth in the country. However, the travel restrictions and ban have since been lifted, so the situation should hopefully change soon

Lockdown and social distancing for those youth used to engaging through different social activities is a malady on its own. Uncertainty, misconceptions and misinformation ruled minds, and going outside and seeing the empty streets felt like the end of the world had arrived. Many youth experienced anxiety attacks; being afraid to touch one’s own face or any surfaces, or thinking that someone may have contracted the virus, has had a very damaging impact on some people’s mental health.

On the other hand, there are some people who seem to have forgotten that the pandemic even exists. Some people are no longer taking any measures to protect themselves. I guess we are COVID-19 free indeed.

 

Winnifrida is a member of Chile Helpline International’s #Youth advisory council.