Author ORCID Identifier

Year of Publication


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Document Type

Master's Thesis


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Betsy Beymer-Farris


The COVID-19 pandemic brought forth unprecedented and ever-changing crisis and disruption to societies and economies around the globe.[1] As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to interrupt travel worldwide, the tourism industry, and the countries who rely on it as a major source of income, are in crisis. These processes have reconfigured economic capital flows and foreign investment in the global south. This is particularly the case in Tanzania, as tourism was Tanzania’s highest foreign exchange earner and accounted for 17% of Tanzania’s gross domestic product in 2019.[2] This project draws upon a political ecology framework to examine the Tanzanian state response for tourism during the COVID-19 pandemic from February 2020-July 2021. I employ semi-structured interviews, discourse analysis and archival research of Tanzanian state economic and tourism policy documents, economic reports, views and decisions of hotel owners and operators, flows of tourists to and from Tanzania, and news media coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic from February 2020 to July 2021. I reveal how historical and contemporary power relations impact and influence Tanzanian state policy responses for tourism as well as the social and economic outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic policies on tourism on Mafia Island, Tanzania. Mafia Island is an important tourist destination with Africa’s largest marine park swimming with high biodiversity including whale sharks. My research reveals how the Tanzanian state responded to the pandemic in a variety of ways. This included initially closing borders, to denying the existence of COVID-19 and reopening borders without restrictions for tourists. I show how the Tanzanian state centralized power and justified opening the country to tourism by creating narratives of fear, the divine, and misinformation about COVID-19. In addition, neo-colonial legacies and logic, economic dependence on foreign capital, and state structuring were found to be important factors in shaping how the tourist sector in Tanzania was affected by state responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than an opportunity for transformation as some pandemic scholars have argued, I find a reinstallation of unevenness producing further entrenchment in economic dependency on international financial institutions and colonial relations within the tourist industry.[3]

[1] Al-Ali, Nadje. “Covid-19 and Feminism in the Global South: Challenges, Initiatives and Dilemmas.” European Journal of Women’s Studies 27, no. 4 (November 1, 2020): 333–47.; Fernando, Jude L. “The Virocene Epoch: the vulnerability nexus of viruses, capitalism and racism.” Journal of Political Ecology 27, no. 1 (January 21, 2020).; Eaves, LaToya, and Karen Falconer Al-Hindi. “Intersectional Geographies and COVID-19.” Dialogues in Human Geography 10, no. 2 (July 1, 2020): 132–36.;

[2] Masare, Alawi. “Why Credit to Private Sector Growth Slowed to 3-Year Low.” The Citizen. April 22, 2021, sec. Magazine.; Kombe, Charles. “Tanzania Opening Up Tourism Despite Pandemic.” Voice of America. June 25, 2020, sec. COVID-19 Pandemic.

[3]Leach, Melissa, Hayley MacGregor, Ian Scoones, and Annie Wilkinson. “Post-Pandemic Transformations: How and Why COVID-19 Requires Us to Rethink Development.” World Development 138 (2021): 1-11.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

Barnhart-Withington Block Funding - 2020