Tanzania prepares to reopen universities

Tanzania will reopen universities and other institutions of higher learning starting on 1 June, the clearest indication that the East African nation of about 60 million people is easing the country’s comparatively mild restrictions imposed to contain the widespread outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision, amid warnings from the World Health Organization and the international community, follows President John Magufuli’s recent declaration that there was a decline in COVID-19 cases in the country.

“With the fall in COVID-19 cases, we have decided that universities should reopen on June 1,” President Magufuli said on 21 May, according to The Citizen newspaper.

Officials said the reopening of primary and secondary schools would be delayed.

Meanwhile the country’s Higher Education Students’ Loans Board announced on 21 May it had disbursed loans to university students amounting to US$28 million to cater for students’ meals and accommodation for the third quarter of the remaining academic year.

“The education loans will be paid out to the beneficiaries in their respective universities by May 28,” the board said in a statement.

At least 132,119 students drawn from 70 higher education institutions will benefit from the loans scheme in the 2019-20 academic year, the statement said.

Tanzanian authorities ordered a nationwide shutdown of universities and colleges on 18 March as a government measure to contain the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

No lockdown in Tanzania

In recent weeks, Magufuli has rubbished lockdown measures being undertaken in several African nations to contain the deadly virus.

Unlike other East African countries, Tanzania did not impose a lockdown or night curfews to curb the virus. Instead, it urged its citizens to observe health guidelines and protocols – wearing masks, washing hands regularly and practising social distancing – as they went on with their normal lives.

But with the global COVID-19 pandemic wreaking havoc across nations around the world, the Tanzanian authorities have come under pressure from critics and the international community for the lukewarm response to the global pandemic, with the World Health Organization reported to have chided Tanzania for its ongoing lack of cooperation and transparency in the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The US Embassy in Dar es Salaam said it was concerned over unreported and exponential growth of COVID-19 cases in the country. Last week, the United Kingdom announced plans to use a special flight to evacuate its citizens stranded in the East African country and said it expected high demand for the seats.

In Tanzania, some 509 persons have officially been confirmed to have the virus, with 21 deaths.

Governments and health authorities around the world are racing against time to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Uganda and Kenya

In neighbouring Uganda and Kenya, governments are mulling over the reopening of schools and higher learning institutions. By 24 May, Kenya had recorded 1,192 cases of COVID-19, including 50 deaths, while Uganda had reported 294 cases.

The Monitor, Uganda’s leading newspaper, reported that the education ministry was following President Yoweri Museveni’s directive to reopen schools and colleges to candidates as the East African nation braces for a phased easing of the COVID-19 lockdown. In a televised address to the nation recently, Museveni ordered the ministry to come up with an action plan within two weeks to guide the reopening of institutions of learning to candidate classes only.

In Kenya, the education ministry has established a taskforce to come up with guidelines looking at various scenarios in order to develop a roadmap for resumption of learning in higher education institutions. However, a university workers’ union said before reopening higher learning institutions, advice from health authorities on the COVID-19 infection levels must be considered.

A senior official at the University of Nairobi told University World News they have already embarked on online learning and academic programmes.

“Our academic programmes are going on uninterruptedly and we have a virtual graduation scheduled for 25 September, where students will graduate,” said John Anthony Orindi, director of corporate affairs at the University of Nairobi.