By Oscar Boije
My “old normal” before the outbreak of the global COVID-19 virus was not very normal, for most people’s standards. I am namely based in Somalia since about half a year, where I work for UNICEF. Together with my colleagues, we support the various federal and state governments of Somalia to increase opportunities for children and adolescents to access quality education. We have a long way to go: Less than a quarter of children were attending primary school even before COVID-19 closed all the schools in the country.
While I am most of the time based in Hargeisa (the capital of Somaliland), at the time the pandemic reached Somalia I was on mission in Mogadishu. Considering the capacity (or lack thereof) that Somalia has to battle a pandemic, myself and most of my colleagues were given the option and decided to relocate and continue working remotely from other destinations until circumstances allow us to return. This is why I find myself in Tanzania since almost three months now, supporting the Somali education system from distance.
But, enough about me. The real question is what will the new normal look like for people in Somalia and in Tanzania, post COVID-19? To even take a guess on the question, one would need to first understand what the old normal looked like in these countries, as well as what do we actually mean with new normal in the currently ongoing global (read: Western) discussion on the topic.
In most of the articles I’ve read online, authors have speculated COVID-19 to result in more expensive flight tickets and other challenges for future tourists. Many also argue the new normal finally introduced remote working to the masses, and that a large proportion of the workforce will from now on continue working from home – maybe even from the countryside. Others fear COVID passports will be introduced (either physical or digital ones), and that forced vaccinations will become a must. In addition, buying shares in a company that produces face masks and plastic gloves might be a good investment, as some predict we might need to continue using these protective gears in public places for a long time to come.
While some or all of these scenarios might become reality somewhere, in practice it will most probably only be the case in certain societies and more specifically for certain groups within those societies. I do not believe any of the above will apply for the absolute majority of Somalis or Tanzanians: Weekend city trips abroad were not taking place before COVID-19, nor will they do so after the worst has been overcome. Remote working and access to technology and internet is still a privilege not even enjoyed by everyone in some of the most developed societies, even less so in Sub-Saharan Africa. Forced vaccinations, COVID passports and protective gear might on the other hand sound like feasible (though not necessarily good) solutions in societies that can afford and enforce such policies. In Somalia and Tanzania such efforts would at best though be half-hearted attempts, considering how even more important initiatives have been unsuccessful in the past.
Over here, the new reality will most probably instead mean regression related to the positive developments that had been achieved over the last few years and decades. Poverty and extreme poverty will increase, and with it also the challenges faced by the most vulnerable people to access basic health care services, food security, clean water, sanitation, education, etc. The already ongoing financial crisis could last for years, and beyond creating new obstacles for the local populations and the economy, it might also limit the funds put aside by developed countries to support developing ones, which further aggravates the situation. Old, new or whatever normal you want to call it, the prospective is far from what “normal” should be like anymore at this time and age.
In Zanzibar, a tourism destination usually packed with visitors from all over the world, the number of tourists can at the moment almost be counted on the fingers of one’s hand. With tourism accounting for a significant part of the economy, the locals are understandably eagerly waiting for tourists to start arriving. I do not dare to say it out loud, but I do have a feeling it will still be quite a while before that happens. In the meantime, we continue patiently to wait for international flights to start operating again at some point – so that they can go back to earning some kind of a living, and I can continue my work in Somalia with some of the world’s most vulnerable and exposed children. ∎
Note: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the article belong solely to the author, and dot necessarily reflect those of UNICEF or the United Nations.
Oscar Boije is from Finland and Bolivia, and currently lives in Hargeisa (though he’s temporarily stuck in Zanzibar). He’s passionate about education and creating opportunities for children and youth to thrive in life.