Forget the social media trolls often associated with the rivalry between Tanzania and Kenya. The news that Kenya plans to employ 500 doctors from Tanzania has reverberated across the two neighboring countries for close to a week now. Before looking at how the mainstream media reported the story of the Tanzanian doctors, it is important to just look at some of the online reactions from both Tanzania and Kenya. It was evident that Tanzanians were visibly excited about the prospects of Kenya hiring Tanzanian doctors. Based on the perceived love-hate relationship between the two, there was a feel-good factor among Tanzanians – who for long have borne the brunt of negative stereotyping from their Kenyan counterparts.

An example of a social media troll. This is however a god banter.

I recall one Twitter battle (tweef) between the two, hashtaged #SomeoneTellTanzania and #SomeoneTellKenya which involved insults and a barrage of vile responses. I recall summing up the tweef as one based on misinformation and blatant disregard on each others uniqueness. When Uganda chose Tanzania route for its oil pipeline from Hoima, at the expense of Kenya, the reaction was somehow similar. This historical rivalry between the two goes back to the first East African Cooperation. So when an agreement had been reached between the two governments to have 500 doctors from Tanzania sent to Kenya, it was a sweet revenge for Tanzania.

A reaction from one Tanzanian

Reading a number of online comments, it was evident that regardless of other underlying factors, Tanzanians were generally pleased to “export” their doctors to a “rival” – which meant that they could at least troll them for a while. As for the Kenyans, the help from Tanzania was not magnanimous especially now that the doctors came from Tanzania. Several Kenyan colleagues here in Nairobi pointed to me in rather audacious fashion that “I see you are now sending your doctors to Kenya!” I subtly respond telling them “You know you need those doctors!” Kenyans were angry at their government for not responding to the doctors strike that clocked 100 days. Even with the news that Health Cabinet Secretary Cleopa Mailu meeting with Tanzania’s president John Magufuli to discuss the need for more doctors, Kenyans were less that pleased to hear that it was Tanzania that was going to provide. I am sure if the doctors were sourced from Cuba, things would have been a bit different.

Kenyans have a vocal online presence and are known to be a force when it comes to addressing issues. Just recall the pressure they put on Koffi Olomide who was kicked out of the country after he alleged kicked one of his female dancers. The Government Spokesman Manoah Esipisu spoke on President Uhuru Kenyatta’s concern regarding the doctor: patient ratio which the government is determined to improve. But this to most Kenyans was not what they wanted to him. Mr. Esipisu further reiterated that contrary to the notion that Kenya has 1,400 doctors who don’t have jobs, there is actually no shortage of doctors. It was as a result of the government’s intended plans to improve the doctor: patient ratio that upon the request of President Kenyatta, his Tanzanian counterpart agreed to send 500 doctors. A press-release from State House-Tanzania also indicated the agreed plans between the two countries.

How Kenyan Media Reported the Story

News that Tanzania had agreed to send 500 doctors to Kenya was reported from midday Saturday 18, March 2017. This came three days after President Kenyatta’s State of the Nation Address where he warned against the burgeoning public wage bill – stating that as it stands the wage bill is 627 Billion shillings per year which amounts to 50% of the total revenue collections by the government. The Star, carried a vide- story Tanzania agrees to send 500 doctors to Kenya. The story highlighted the message from President Magufuli who was flanked by Kenya’s Health CS Cleopa Mailu and his Tanzanian counterpart Ummy Mwalimu. Standard Digital reported the story with a headline Kenya to employ 500 doctors from Tanzania. The story also carried quotes from the key players in the negotiations but went ahead and compared the doctor: patient ratio between the two countries. Referring to the World Health Organization (WHO), the ratio in Tanzania is 1: 20,000 while that of Kenya was 1: 16,000. Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) also carried the story with the heading Kenya to import 500 doctors from Tanzania – largely quoting the presser from Mr. Esipisu. The Daily Nation on its part reported Monday 20, March Tanzanian doctors to arrive in Kenya by April 2017 and later reported that Tanzanian medical body faults plan to send doctors to Kenya with a video story indicating that Tanzania was suffering a deficit of 2,430 doctors and the fact that Tanzania needs more doctors than Kenya. Interesting the Medical Association of Tanzania (MAT) faults the government’s plan of reaching an agreement without consulting them.  On Tuesday, 21 March 2017 Standard Digital had the story Tanzanian doctors expected to start work in Kenyan hospitals from April.  

How the Tanzanian Media Reported the Story

With most of its newspapers and news in Kiswahili, Tanzanian main news outlets reported the story a bit differently. Much of the focus of the stories from Tanzania was on the reaction from MAT who felt sidelined in much of the deliberations. The Citizen carried the story Mixed feelings in Kenya about Tanzania doctors entry while The Guardian (IPP Media) had the headline Government to send 500 doctors to Kenya despite local shortage. The Guardian story had particular good analysis with interview excerpts from MAT president who lamented the government’s decision without taking into consideration the shortage of doctors in many parts of the country – by giving statistics like 52 per cent of Tanzania’s medical centers facing shortage of doctors and up to 80 per cent in some regions. Mwananchi ran a story Tuesday March 21 Madaktari 159 tayari waomba kwenda Kenya – a report from the Health Minister Ummy Mwalimu despite the objections from MAT. Mwananchi also carried a story Madaktari wahofia Usalama wao Kenya – that Tanzania doctors are worried about their security while in Kenya.        

My Take

It is evident from the stories analyzed that there is general consensus that the move to send 500 doctors from Tanzania to Kenya doesn’t have full backing from both MAT and Kenya’s Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union (KMPDU) as well as some sections of medical stakeholders in both countries. There is a general feeling that the decision by Kenya to source foreign doctors was rushed and ill-timed. This is in spite of the Kenyan government position that there are no unemployed doctors. It is also evident that Tanzanian government, based on populist rhetoric rushed into accepting to send 500 doctors to Kenya without consulting the MAT – which is a key stakeholder for doctors in Tanzania.