Seminar with Ruth Carlitz (Tulane University)
Title of the presentation "The Politics of COVID-19 Containment: The Curious Case of Tanzania"
The COVID-19 pandemic has been unprecedented in its global reach, but its consequences are far from uniform, arguably reflecting differences in how governments have responded. To date, scholars have focused on the responses of different countries’ executives, highlighting the importance of regime type, federalism, electoral institutions, interpersonal and institutional trust, and bureaucratic corruption, among other factors, to explain variation in government responses. However, a focus on national-level responses may limit our understanding of policy implementation, which is often conducted by local officials. Studying local responses is especially important in low-income settings, which are frequently characterized by considerable distance between the policies made in capital cities and actual implementation on the ground. My research therefore examines the experiences of local officials in Tanzania working to contain the spread of COVID-19.
My talk will present highlights from two studies. The first, based on fieldwork conducted in July 2020, looked primarily at how local officials coped in the face of high-level denialism. Other scholars have highlighted the potential dangers of street-level discretion if local officials “make policy” in ways that contradict their agencies’ stated goals. In contrast, this study suggests benefits of autonomy at the street level—particularly in contexts where the central state was relatively weak and/or acting against the public interest. I will then discuss work in progress, based on interviews conducted in September 2021, which focuses on how local officials are responding to COVID-19 following an executive leadership transition. (Tanzania’s COVID-denying President died in March 2021, allegedly of complications due to the disease.) Emerging findings point to the legitimacy challenges facing successors to a charismatic authority.
To receive the Zoom link, please contact Marina Povitkina