On Wednesday this week, doctors in public strike launched their second countrywide strike in as many weeks in response to the government’s refusal to sack the Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Dr Haji Mponda and his deputy, Ms Lucy Nkya.
The demand on the resignation or sacking of the two ministers was one of the conditions the doctors had demanded from the government before they agreed to end their first three-week strike and start negotiations with the government over their demands.
The other condition was the resignation or sacking of the ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Ms Blandina Nyoni and the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Deo Mtasiwa.
The two senior ministry officials were suspended by the government immediately it (the government) reached compromise with the doctors.
Before the start of their second strike on Wednesday, the doctors warned the government that their next countrywide strike would be historic in that it would be more devastating than ever.
In fact, the doctors did not need to say that because their first strike, the longest in the country’s history, was quite devastating with one daily newspaper putting the number of patients who died at the Muhimbili National Hospital at in the three weeks’ strike at 216.
But like in the first weeks of the doctors’ first strike, the government is defiant that the doctors have this time pressed the wrong button, insisting that it is not going to sack the two members of the cabinet.
Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda took more than 40 minutes of airtime on radio the other day to explain why the government was not going to sack the two ministers.
He called on the doctors to consider Tanzanians most of whom were very poor and heavily depended on public medical services, but the doctors have put their feet down.
“You are not striking against the government, but the people most of whom badly need your services,” said Pinda appealing to the doctors’ conscience.
Explaining to the public through the media why they did not want the two ministers, the President of the Medical Asssociation of Tanzania (MAT), Dr Namala Mkopi said they were not ready to sit down and negotiate with people who were part of their problems.
He said it was important for the government to realize that they wanted bigger changes in the ministry of health and social Welfare so that it can cater better for the people.
“We are the people who know to what extent we have, as doctors, failed to serve the people because the government- through the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare has, apart from failing to provide conducive working environment and emoluments for doctors, equally failed to provide equipment and medicine to Tanzanians,” he declared .
He concluded by saying that doctors were actually striking for the benefit of more Tanzanians who were being deprived of their rightful medical care.
Strikes and demonstrations have and continue to be used the world over by people from all walks of life and professions as a form of peaceful protest against governments, and Tanzania is not an exception.
Strikes and demonstrations can therefore once in a while be ignored.
However, it is always important for any serious government to take such forms of peaceful protest very seriously.
This is because strikes and demonstrations are known to have in the past led to untold consequences for governments that had elected to ignore them!
In Africa, it first started in 1974 in Ethiopia when the rock solid government of Emperor Haile Selassie was torn asunder by a series of demonstrations launched by university students before they were joined by other groups in the society.
Finally, the Ethiopian army set in led by General Andom before he was also later overthrown by General Teferi Benti. But barely a days after he had met the Father of the Nation, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere at the Addis Ababa International Airport, General Benti was overthrown by Lieutenant Colonel Haile Mariam who came up with a 60-man Military Commission called the Dergue.
But before the end of the year, the 60-man Dergue had been reduced to less than 12, and according to media sources then, through killings!
In fact, some the killing sprees are said to have been taking place in an underground air force base in Addis Ababa. Media reports have it that the chairman of the Ethiopian military council, Colonel Mengistu convened a meeting of the Dergue in the underground air base.
As usual during such meetings, members of the Dergue handed over their service handguns to bodyguards at the entrance and took their respective seats in the underground airbase conference room, one after another. When the meeting resumed, the chairman is alleged to have spoken about a conspiracy to stage another palace coup.
Later he stormed out of the meeting and that that was the last time other members of the Dergue who had attended that meeting were seen!
Little was then known that all Ethiopia’s coups triggered by demonstrations by university students, had actually been engineered by Col. Mengistu in the same way that Nigeria’s General Sani Abacha had done in master-minding coups in West Africa’s most populous nation state.
Thus after Ethiopia followed Madagascar, again spearheaded by demonstrations by university students!
And as usual, other groups in the society that included, of course, the lumpen proletariat set in.
However, since then, military coups have been forced out of fashion mainly through the international community’s resolve to fight against such undemocratic methods of changing legally and democratically elected governments.
However, that does not mean that governments, especially those in developing countries can continue to do what they want as far as the whole question of governance is concerned.
They cannot because lately, the people have taken over from men in uniform as best illustrated in the last few months by what has come to be known as the Arab Spring which started in Tunisia before moving on to Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria.
The point is, the Tanzania government ought to take the doctors’ strike very seriously before it gets out of hand!
It is important that it views these developments with wider lenses; it has to take a glance at the big picture.
This is important because this strike could end up drawing into the fray other equally disgruntled groups such as teachers who have for a long time had an axe to grind with the government.