Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Open letter to President Kikwete on his tepid response to striking doctors

President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete of the United Republic of Tanzania.

Mr. President,

The failure of your government to resolve the current doctors’ strike in the country is an absolute affront to the dignity of all Tanzanians at home and abroad, sick and health, rich and poor; educated, uneducated and ill-educated! This strike was unnecessary and indeed unwarranted. It came as a sign of the failure of the people entrusted to lead the health sector in the country. It could have been prevented only if the leadership at the ministry and your government had taken seriously the concerns and demands of our health professionals which are well known to your government.

Mr. President,
While our people are dying and our healthy system shaken and the dignity of our people abused you haven’t said a word. You haven’t given any direction to the country. You left the country to go abroad – to a meeting that could have been attended by the VP au Prime Minister- and you wouldn’t come home to give the country your leadership at this time of national crisis. It is as if you do not care what is happening here. I refuse to accept that, I want to believe whatever you were doing abroad was somewhat very important compared to you coming home to help resolve this issue.

I will not be surprised however, that when you finally come home you deliver another “mbayuwayu” speech against the doctors and those who support them.  Like the attempt by the Prime Minister the other day you might even give us more statistics of illusion to make us believe that the doctors in Tanzania fair way better compared to any doctor in the Southern Hemisphere, the just don’t know it yet!

Mr. President, threats and the use of force against the doctors will not change the nature of their demands nor will change the nature of the outcome of this strike. Only wisdom and negotiations can bring this strike to a halt, negotiations that are based on mutual respect, candor and truth.  But this can only be done by a leadership that understand and appreciate the years that our doctors have tried to work through the system. The strike did not happen out of thin air; there are has been attempts over the years by the doctors to have their grievances heard and addressed but over and over the standard response has been given; “we are poor so we can’t”, “we will work hard to improve the welfare of the health workers”. Years come, years go the only real improvement occur in the welfare of our corrupt political elite!

Mr. President, you cannot wish the doctors’ demands to disappear like a Houdini act! The doctors and the demands will not go away just at the snap of your fingers! The problems will not disappear simply because your government doesn’t like them (the demands). It doesn’t matter if Dr. Ulimbuko is arrested or neutralized; the legitimacy of the doctors’ demands still remains. Your government needs to address them promptly, patiently and precisely.

Mr. President, in one of the worst miscalculations of your administration the people are not turning against the doctors! The Wananchi are getting angrier with the government not with the doctors. I’ll tell you why. 

First, they don’t believe that the government doesn’t have money to improve doctors pay especially in the light of allowance increase by the MPs. Your government cannot make a rational argument that it doesn’t have money to improve doctors’ welfare (financial or otherwise). Wherever your government found the money to increase MPs allowances the same place it can find the money to improve the doctor’s allowances. As long as the MPs allowances -which were defended by your Prime Minister – still stand unchanged, the doctors’ demands will also be supported! 

Secondly, this strike was one of the stupidest strikes ever, it was not necessary and indeed it could have been avoided before it started only if the people the Ministry had the moral courage to lead!

Unfortunately, in the cacophony of the trappings of power the Minister, Chief Secretary and the Chief Medical Officer ignored all the signs of trouble. Abusing their powers they trio dismissed the demands by the striking doctors and harshly fired the interns. They proved that the trio is not capable of leading such a sensitive ministry. They have to resign or be fired and as long as they remain in office our people will continue to support the doctors against such a mediocre and incompetent bunch.

Mr. President, the choice is ultimately yours. You can force the doctors to go back to work by using security apparatus of the state; you can jail some of them and indeed you can even import substitute doctors from wherever you find them. The facts on the ground will remain the same – our healthcare system is broken, unsustainable and need extensive reform.

Yes, you can ignore the problem, you can belittle the doctors and indeed you can even dismiss all doctors. Indeed, you can force them to come back to work and they might come back to work but the damage to the reputation of your leadership has been done (some might say once again). I beseech you to consider taking a prompt intervention by talking with the doctors – not talking to the doctors! Only negotiations as I said should bring to a halt this strike. Without negotiations which end with a comprehensive deal our nation should prepare itself for a longer strike or another strike in the near future.

Mr. President, once again your nation is waiting to see your leadership.


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