Doctors’ strike: What is the wider picture?

Doctors’ strike: What is the wider picture?


“We see some honourable MPs sitting in Parliament for a whole month contributing nothing but at the end of the day, they are paid hefty sums of money… So please pay the doctors their money!” Remarks by a ten-year old heart patient interviewed at Muhimbili Hospital.

WE have just emerged from a devastating spell of a countrywide strike by doctors manning public hospitals in this country.  Certainly, this was a strike unprecedented in the post-independence history of this country. Now that the worst appears to be over, what wider picture does one make in the context of the social-economic setting of this country? For another factor, what conclusion does one make in terms of values of this country, if any?

Looking back at the road map of this country in recent times, what prospects does this strike imply in terms of sustainable peace and stability? On the latter question, memories are still fresh, aren’t they, on the clashes that occurred in the wake of a by-election at Igunga, Tabora region in the west of this country?

What does that violence that occurred at Igunga translate in the current transition to another national vote due in three years?   Coupled to that question, sometimes in the middle of last year two major towns went ablaze – that was Mbeya and Mwanza in the wake of an intermittent battle between the police and street hawkers known as the “machinga”.

Has any reflection by policy and decision makers been taken to evaluate the root-cause of those skirmishes in the wider picture of the economy and sustainable national stability? This perspective will not attempt to address all these questions as poised above. But these questions are certainly adequate food for thought by all of us, nationals of this country, especially the leaders.

Those who were around in this country in the first two decades of this country after independence may coincide that this country had a set of national values as specified in the then national ideology of Socialism and Self-reliance.  It was then hammered repeatedly that humanity (utu) was the basis of national character and that money was the outcome of hard work and not a catalyst or driving force for anything either for individual or national development. It was further repeatedly hammered out that UBEPARI NI UNYAMA ‘‘Capitalism is inhuman’’. 

Most importantly, there was a conscious effort by the state then to ensure that incomes of people, especially those on public wages did not differ substantially. That was as good and as long as it lasted. Needless to say, this level of a national culture, and more appropriately national ideology did significantly mould two important national virtues: national cohesion and stability. 

There was a conscious effort to ensure that the gap between the haves and have-nots did not escalate to dangerous levels as to bring about resentment, hence an explosion. Secondly, a sense of caring for each other, that is fraternity was deepened. It was not possible those days to even imagine a doctor going on strike, leaving patients unattended or dying in hospital!  So what has been our experience in the last three decades of our flirting with capitalism or “market force” economy?

Because the country is moving anyhow without any ideology or national ethos, money has gone on the ascendancy. Although nobody would admit it in public, it is common knowledge that for one to make a councillor or an MP or even higher up above, one needs money to achieve his/her end! To have money to achieve political office is now qualification number one, when it was in the past a disqualification!

In a broader picture and wider sense therefore, it is not farfetched to conclude that an ideological vacuum and the ascendancy of money as everything, and even at the cost of professional oath, has contributed significantly to what hit us of recently. But the picture is even wider. The questions are: Did we as a nation, or our respective leaders in the last three decades of our embrace of neo-liberalism, make any serious thinking on what programmes would evolve to fend off the critical areas of public health and education which are considered as the prerogative of any state anywhere?

Did we pose the questions: Why are public schools in Britain, for instance, competitive and actually most preferred by the public there than private education? How’s the funding in these schools affected, come a Labour or Conservative government?  In the case of our country, why is the rush for private schools rather than public schools? Who goes to private schools? Is it not the few  ‘moneyed’ ones in the segment of our society? The same question can be addressed on the private hospitals.

With such a divide and big margin in wages by professionals manning these sectors, is it too alarmist to foresee that we are actually sitting on a time bomb, a portion of which has exploded with the doctors’ strike? In the first two decades after our independence, this country had been described as a cashew-nut/sisal economy. But in the intervening period, we have all forgotten about this phrase – we pride ourselves as a mineral rich country.  Even uranium is here! But are we this rich really?

If we are, what is the evidence of the evolution of our lot? I am sure, as a reader of these lines; your lips must be parting with a bitter grin! But grin and bear it! The situation is not rosy at all! I urge, through these lines, that our policy and decision makers should embark on fundamental policy reversals of our current laughable state of affairs and chart out policies, which guarantee national peace and stability.

What we have just experienced and skirmishes we have seen last year will just end up as a tempest in a teacup when the real explosion occurs not far away from now. My often repeated quote by Mwalimu at the launch of this perspective and the quote by that child which left my mouth agape for a long time as I watched him on television the other day is instructive in the quality of the generation we have in place today. Let’s wake up! 

E-mail: makwaia@makwaia.com

Author: Makwaia Wa Kuhenga

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