Africa and the Middle East

International legal life in lockdown: Evelyn Chijarira

We explore the effects of the coronavirus on Tanzania, both economic and sociological, through the personal experiences of a legal professional based in the country.

Evelyn Chijarira

“I miss my friends and going to the café after work but actually I’ve quite enjoyed working from home”, says Evelyn Chijarira, Programme Manager (African International Law) and Human Rights Lawyer at the Pan-African Lawyers Union (PALU), based in Arusha, Tanzania.

For Evelyn though, the approach by the government has been, at best, inadequate especially in terms of transparency: “There has been no official lockdown in Tanzania for economic reasons, which I can understand but then at the same time the government’s practical response has been totally underwhelming. There has been no official update since April on deaths and infection rates. It’s the uncertainty of the situation which is the most worrying aspect.”

The responsibility to curb infection rates has largely rested instead on individual businesses that have taken the initiative to ask their employees to work from home, PALU being one of them. “The CEO of PALU has been very supportive and as from 16th March made available the option to work from home, Evelyn has taken advantage of this option and has been working from home ever since. It is surprising as many people don’t seem to be that concerned about the virus in Tanzania many organisations have not made available the option to work from home for those who wish to.”

“For me, work has continued but in a more constrained way. Meetings are obviously a lot easier to attend because you are already ‘there’ but at the same time a lot of the work I do with PALU involves representing people who are imprisoned and at one stage the government banned people from visiting those in prison. The clients we commonly represent have no access to computers or phones and have no money to send post so this severely restricted our ability to help them.”

“As an organisation, we litigate before regional and continental Courts, mainly the African Court and East African Court of Justice (EACJ) with both courts having virtual court proceeding. However, the EACJ has continued to require physical filing of documents despite effectively operating remotely, giving a mixed message.

But for Evelyn working from home has presented opportunities as well as challenges. “I’ve liked being home with my family, although I have to say routines are impossible with a two and a half year old! We’ve exercised a lot as a family, especially since I bought a Zumba CD which we all do together. I’ve also found it really important for my own wellbeing to focus on exercise so I’ve taken up running in my back yard.”

Evelyn has found one piece of advice particularly helpful in her situation: “Relax. It’s important to take the time to yourself because this can be a very dangerous and scary situation for some and we have to remember to take care of ourselves.”

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