Tanzania: First Graduation Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

As the novel Coronavirus made headlines in the early months of this year, university finalists across the country feared they would not be able to celebrate their success as is tradition.

Their worries turned into reality when on March 16, health minister, Ummy Mwalimu announced the country's first Covid-19 case.

This was followed by closure of schools and later, higher learning institutions to curb the spread of the disease. In this regard, students who had already finished their University Exams and were expecting to graduate in May, were left in the dark, not sure they would graduate according to plan.

The ceremony, which had been scheduled for May, was put on hold as the country battled the pandemic.

The finalists were relieved when President John Magufuli announced the reopening of higher learning institutions on June 1, citing the fall in Covid-19 cases. Days later, the Head of State gave the directive for economic activities and ceremonies to resume.

This made it possible for University of Dar es Salaam's leadership to organise its historic Golden Jubilee (50th ) graduation ceremony (Cluster 1) on August 4. The ceremony saw postgraduate students who had successfully completed their studies awarded Postgraduate Diplomas, Master's and PhD degrees.

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The oldest university in the country became the first in the continent to hold the crucial event amid Covid-19 pandemic. Elsewhere, similar festivals have been either suspended or conducted virtually.

The long wait

The night before August 4 seemed to be long for some graduates. Fingers crossed, they waited anxiously, praying the ceremony would not be postponed again. They were supposed to graduate five days earlier were it not for the passing of third term president, Benjamin Mkapa. He died the night before graduation day.

Thank God everything went as planned and the entire cohort was ready for the celebrations that carried the institution's historical trajectory since its first graduation ceremony in 1970.

Full of joy and smiles written on their faces, the graduates who looked attractive in their graduation gowns, enjoyed each other's company especially after their dreams of celebrating together escaped the interruption posed by Covid-19.

As the clock ticked towards 12:30pm, the time set for the ceremony to begin, relatives and friends were seen taking pictures with the graduates outside the Nkrumah hall. Photographers and flower sellers embraced the occasion as for them, it was a good business opportunity.

Bearing in mind the pandemic risk, the protective mechanisms against Covid-19 were not completely forgotten.

Outside Nkrumah hall, guards were seen carrying hand sanitisers and temperature guns. Everyone entering the hall was reminded to sanitise and had their temperature measured. The only thing that seemed impractical was physical distancing. The importance of the day for the graduates and their guests seemed to overwhelm the set precautionary measures against Covid-19.

People hugged and shook hands regardless of the Covid-19 risk. During the procession to the graduation hall, I spotted only a few people who were wearing face masks.

At about 2.30pm, led by the brass band, the procession of academics entered the hall with shouts and songs. Behind them was the institution's Chancellor, retired president Jakaya Kikwete, ready to issue certificates to 581 graduands.

Glad the day finally came

The certification process took about three hours before the historic graduation ended, allowing the graduates to begin their celebrations with their loved ones.

"To be honest, my hope was hijacked in the final crucial months by Covid-19 and the social distancing measures put in place to contain the pandemic made it even worse," explains Dr Leonia Raphael, who was awarded a PhD in climate change and sustainable development degree.

"I was happy when the government announced resumption of learning activities," Dr Leonia adds, thanking God for being faithful to the country. "He's the one who has made this day and we should truly thank him."

Dr Leonia tells Success it took her six years instead of four to finish her doctorate studies and then suddenly there came a disease (Covid-19) that threatened to shatter her PhD dream.

"Given the challenges I went through as a woman from a patriarchal pastoral family in pursuit of education, Covid-19 was a blow to my life. I always believed in God knowing that one day I would receive a certificate of my dream (PhD) and the day itself has arrived. I am very happy," she narrates.

Stephen Manyangu, a Master of Science in Construction Management graduate says the graduation was the last chance to take pictures with friends and celebrate together before they got off to serve their nation. He too had regarded Covid-19 as a threat to his expectations.

"I was very scared when all learning institutions were closed. I feared we would never be able to graduate the usual way," he explains.

"So today when you see us hugging and happily celebrating each other, know that it is not only because we have overcome the academic challenges but also our country's win over Covid-19."

Stephen believes that the knowledge he and his colleagues have gained would contribute to the country's recovery from Covid-19 effects.

"Many people have lost their jobs due to Covid-19. Also the country's economy has stagnated. So it is our responsibility to go and try to be creative to help our country get back on track," says Stephen.

Joshua Ndalusanye, a master of science in Physics, was happy he had finally graduated. "We were informed that if the situation remained the same by July, we would conduct a virtual graduation. This would not have been possible for most of us." He is thankful to President Magufuli's stand that helped eradicate fear in people.

In his speech, university of Dar es Salaam Vice Chancellor, Prof William Anangisye challenged graduates to be quick to look for where their skills can be applied, even if it means volunteering instead of waiting for government employment.

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