Rwanda outsmarts neighbours to enjoy IMF debt service relief on Coronavirus. Tanzania redrafts application

THE International Monetary Fund (IMF) has given 25 countries a bit of relief with regard to their debt service, as a way of supporting their struggle against the Coronavirus pandemic, but only one country made it in the whole of East Africa.

The East African regional block comprises Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan. They are all seriously hit by the pandemic. But only Rwanda was approved by the IMF Executive Board of directors. Four more unnamed countries are expected to apply for the debt service relief in the coming weeks, according to IMF. 

SAUTI KUBWA has no details as to the criteria used by the IMF against other countries, but Tanzanian sources have it that the country’s application was rejected on the grounds that it was poorly drafted. Sources from the finance ministry said the country is preparing a fresh application for reconsideration in the next round.

Like many African countries, Tanzania has been experiencing a steady rise in the number of Coronavirus infections. During the early days of the pandemic outbreak in the country, President John Magufuli attempted to downplay it, seeking to take a religious fundamentalist approach.

On several occasions, he told the congregations attending church services that the Coronavirus was “a very small thing” that would not threaten the people of God. He said it would not be allowed to ravage his country’s economy.  He asked his citizens to seek divine intervention and to keep on working. 

He vowed to never close the borders – because his country depends so much on tourism – saying it would not afford to lose revenue for fear of the virus. He also said that all landlocked countries surrounding Tanzania highly depended on its borders for cargo transport – although, in fact, the same countries had already declared a total lockdown.  

Luck was not on Magufuli’s side. Firstly, he went into self-quarantine in his home village Chato, from where he has been silently operating for the past three weeks. Secondly, the number of confirmed cases has been rising, threatening the lives of his people.

In the second week of April, Tanzania eventually closed its borders – of course, too late, because (in the case of airports) all international flights had ceased flying in. A week later, some bishops issued pastoral epistles advising the faithful on the temporary suspension of church services.

By 20th April 2020, Tanzania had 254 confirmed cases, a sharp rise from 20 cases reported on 1st April. This is the Coronavirus timeline in the first three weeks of April: 1st April (20), 6th April (24), 10th April (32), 14th April (53), 15th April (83), 16th April (94), 17th April (147), 19th April (170), 20th April (254).

Government sources say the number of infected people is higher than the confirmed cases, and that some of them have been dying unnoticed and untested in many parts of the country. Already, 17 out of Tanzania’s 30 regions have been affected. 

Health and gender minister Ummy Mwalimu confirmed to the media recently that the government’s capacity to handle the pandemic was very limited. 

Even from the previous financial year’s budgetary allocation of Tsh 959 billion for the ministry, only 24.9% of the same was disbursed from the Treasury. A similar scenario is expected in the coming financial year.

The parliament has also been affected. Official reports as of 20th April 2020 said there was one member of parliament who had tested positive, but unconfirmed reports cited six cases. The sudden death of a female member of parliament also doubling as bishop and founder of a local Pentecostal church, Dr Getrude Rwakatare, on 20th April 2020, was also linked to the Coronavirus. 

By all standards, despite the president’s naivety and stubbornness, Tanzania needs tremendous support to contain the situation and avert further damage.  

This link shows a global trend of Coronavirus infections updated automatically as data change every day.


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