By Elias Mhegera – FEBRUARY 16, 2011 will remain a remarkable day for residents of Gongo la Mboto in the outskirt of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, about 16 kilometers from the city centre.
You could combine everything that we regularly use to see in the bombarded areas, anguish, horror, condemnations etc, as Gongo la mboto residents were trying to reconcile themselves in their environment after the bomb blasts at the 511 KJ, a Tanzania People’s Defence Force (TPDF) camp.
The whole saga started at about 8:20pm on that Wednesday evening, although the real blasts which sent tremors that were heard by many a few minutes later, according to eye witnesses. What followed later is almost history to many readers and followers in the media.
But at 9.00pm onward the whole of Karakata and Kipawa areas that are a distance from the scene of the event were full of family groups carrying the little that they could. Walking long distances to as far as the Uhuru Stadium, more than 10 kilometers, while those who could not make it ended up taking their shelter at the Tanzania Zambia Railway Authority (TAZARA) headquarters in Buguruni area.
Classes manifested themselves as the well to do were rushing with their cars, some up to three cars for a single family, they did not even mind to help the poor women who were marching, dead or tired with their children on their backs, food and water in the buckets, and a few belongings.
But while this was going on, residents of Karakata where this reporter resides were still arguing as to whether they could as well be affected, a good number of them said that the area is safe due to the long distance from the centre of explosions.
Meanwhile the debate was stopped immediately when one missile was heard looming towards that direction, it landed at the nearby Majani ya Chai Secondary School, frightened every one went amok searching for rescue somewhere else.
While some had to spend a sleepless night, others started a journey back home during the same night on the pretext of preparing themselves for usual tasks the following day, but also to protect their residences from theft, a good number of the night returnees were men.
In the morning the usual traffic jam characteristic of the Nyerere Road which heads to the fateful area was the other way round. While it is always full of cars and people waiting for transportation towards the city centre, this time around the traffic jam was for those moving towards Gongo la Mboto.
But even interesting was the fact that while the waiting mobs particularly women are always smart in good wears and expensive perfumes, this time they were just in simple slippers well known in Kiswahili as kandambili while some were barefooted!. No perfume, no make ups, no lipstick no hair style and no the usual smile, in the well known kanga, you could understand that there is mourning in that side of the road.
Although the road was almost empty as we were driving towards the city centre without a single stoppage on the way, but inside the cars the talk was on the injured and dead, the British Broadcasting Corporation through its Dar es Salaam reporter Josephat Mwanzi had put the death toll to atleast 10 in the morning bulletin.
So the whole day was a mourning day not to Dar es Salaam residents only, but to the whole country, and to the people’s representatives, the MPs who had to adjourn their daily session in Dodoma.
I had to dispatch myself to the fateful area of an incident and to the Uhuru Stadium itself a temporary camp for that day. Up to the time of reporting this to Shout Africa the death toll is standing at 26 with many injured still in hospitals and others burying their beloved ones. The Tanzanian Governemnt will foot all the expenses for the dead.
The commotion could be noticed almost in the whole city, but most at the scenario of the blasts, at the Uhuru Stadium, Gongo la Mboto and its surrounding areas like Pugu Secondary School, and the Mwalimu Nyerere International Trade Fair grounds in Sabasaba, also in Dar es Salaam.
Up to Thursday afternoon some families had not managed to rejoin and normalize their family life. Some had lost their loved ones, while others had lost their domestic utensils which were burnt and yet others were looking for their children, but not forgetting the psychological trauma.
Geoffrey Mayaya a resident of Mbagala was looking for his young sister Linata Mayaya (10) who was staying with their mother in Machimbo Buza, one of the affected areas with the blasts. He was called by his mother who was in severe panic after missing her daughter. They had seen every responsible person like the civic leader and ward council, but until when the camp at the Uhuru Stadium was disbanded at 17 PM Linata was no where to be seen.
It was on Sunday noon that Linata was at last found in Chamazi area almost 8 kilometers away looking for her way back home after having been in different hands from her home to the temporary destination in that end of the city.
The whole of Saturday was spent for attending to the victims, and identifying children who had lost their parents. But it was also the day where big companies were thronging at the Uhuru Stadium to offer whatever they could, from water, food, mattresses, toothpastes etc. It was a day of both humanitarianism and public relations activities.
The acting Dar es Salaam regional commissioner Saidi Meck Sadiki, Ms Chiku Galawa, Temeke’s district commissioner, and other district functionaries, politicians both from the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), and the opposition were busy consoling the victims, and receiving the items from good Samaritans.
On Friday morning, the second day since when the blasts occurred, I revisited Gongo lo Mboto, the situation was somehow calm but for the affected were not yet in their normal psychological trend. Some shops and residential houses had been destroyed, while the bomb shells were still lying in their residents.
At 9.30 Alphonce Mlawa 55, was nervous and restless as he had no office where he could conduct his usual business. His house at Gongo la Mboto-Mwisho wa Lami was completely emaciated. A house that used to habour many businesses was in total shambles.
A quick look at the inside indicated that the fire that accompanied the bomb blasts reduced to ashes almost everything that was inside that once beautiful building. From several paint cans, refrigerators, bicycles, a standby generator, cashbooks, etc were completely useless.
“This my office and I have to rebuild the whole house from the scratches, as you can see I was running a restaurant here, selling paints, running a pharmacy, I am a transporter a tendered supplier and I usually sell water, but all these businesses have gone off because of the blasts,” lamented Mlawa.
He is just one of those who could come with similar stories of shock, grief and hopelessness. He says that when he shifted to the area in 1988, he had never anticipated of anything like this, but in 2005 there were blasts which were contained immediately so he was comfortable all along since then.
He however started to smell danger in 2009 after blasts in Mbagala which claimed at least 30 lives including soldiers from the TPDF itself. He had always sensed that he was not very much secured by working closer to the military camps.
At the Pugu Makanga nearby the historical Pugu Secondary School, and where the Tanzania’s founding father, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere had once taught, there were residents who were scared at the presence of the bombshells. At 11.45 A.M there was smoke from one of these bombs which made the matter even worse.
After a thorough search of all the surroundings it was time to go back at the Uhuru Stadium to see what was happening. The whole scene was as usual; all the remaining children were at the Sabasaba (Mwalimu Nyerere) International Trade Fair grounds.
As it was expected there were few children waiting to be collected by their parents and guardians. Of course assistance from various circles was still pouring in, while the mattresses, breads and cartons of water had almost filled the store. It was ordered that breads be supplied to whoever was around in order to avoid an impending loss.
As it was anticipated Brigadier General Paul Meela of the TPDF, met editors on Friday noon, he said that the media had exaggerated negative reportage of the matter to the extent of belittling what the TPDF has done to their country.
“We have done a lot including construction of bridges, major repairs of the central railway and many other social activities, it is not proper for the media to speculate and go for witch-hunting at this stage let the experts do their investigative job,” said Meela who was accompanied by other senior officials from the military.
The military boss was starting to raise the reputation early after so many voices from the public and various circles that the minister responsible for defense Dr Hussein Mwinyi and the Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) Davis Mwamunyange should resign as a symbol of accepting responsibility for the mishap.
Alphonce Mlawa who lost his office at Gongo la Mboto-Mwisho wa Lami says there are indications that enough was not done to avoid such occurrences since the blasts in 2005, 2009 would have been taken seriously in order to avoid occurrences of this nature.
Makongoro Chiando a worker in a clearing and forwarding company Global Fluid International says life at Pugu Makanya will never be the same as long as the camp will remain at its current location. He says the city master plan would have been maintained to avoid such mishaps.
He regrets that he does not have financial means to shift from the area. He however admits that the camp was allocated there when no one had expected the population to grow at such a fast speed to the extent of building near the military camps.
The opposition party the National Convention for Construction and Reforms (NCCR), through its secretary general Sam Ruhuza says the Mbagala blasts in 2009 should have set a permanent lesson to the military and the Government in general.
The party had counseled the Minister for Defence and the Government in general to take precautions by conducting inspections thoroughly after every six months, or any other length of time that the experts would suggest.
“The armory should be taken care of just like patients are taken care of in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), the report of the investigations should be examined in order to give indications as to whether the ammunitions should undergo the same treatments like destruction in order to avoid dangers of explosions,” read part of the statement.
Thus the party suggests that safety measures be taken well in advance to avoid explosions in the Biharamulo and Iringa camps. He refers to the authorities to revisit recommendations that his party made in the wake of the Mbagala blasts as they are still valid up to date.
Ruhuza says that he knows that military information is sensitive but this does not deny civilians to comment as long as the effects of the mishaps in the barracks are now causing embarrassment to all Tanzanians at large, including investors.
“Who can keep on investing in country full of bomb blasts, power rationing, strikes, etc? he asked in astonishment.
The human rights activist, lawyer and researcher from the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHCR) Onesmo Olengurumwa say it is high time that victims of bomb blasts were compensated according to international standards as stipulated in the Vienna Conventions.
He asserts that the Governemnt and the military commanders are aware of their obligations under the conventions and protocols. They are also supposed to encourage the civilian population to study them.
He elaborates that the protocol obligates the availability of legal advisers to the military commanders, who will be instructed by them as on the texts and materials of the International Humanitarian Law and who will in turn instruct their subordinates in the armed forces.
“At this juncture the state should ensure that, as they disseminate this information, they do it in such a manner that will enable the civilians to understand. They should mind the language barrier and thus employ translation where needed,” says the lawyer.
Olengurumwa says military and security information should be provided in order to avoid occurrences like this but without compromising national security. He warns that dissemination of such information should not discriminate people along classes. “They should not rely on the literate few, as some cannot read, thus need of oral informative techniques,” he concluded.