Chaos hits Mtwara after gas project confirmation

Empty streets in Mtwara before riots
Violent demonstrations erupted in Mtwara yesterday after Prof Sospeter Muhongo, the minister for Energy and Minerals, announced in Parliament that construction of the Mtwara-Dar es Salaam gas pipeline would continue according to plan.

Mtwara town had all the appearances of a ghost town earlier, with empty streets and businesses shut from dawn, but chaos erupted soon after Prof Muhongo’s speech mid-morning. Gangs of youths hurled stones and burnt down and vandalised houses belonging to Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) and its leaders. A TV journalist was also attacked.

Other reports said four Tanzania People’s Defence Forces soldiers died and 20 were seriously injured in a car accident as they were rushing from Nachingwea in Lindi region to Mtwara to help suppress the riots.

Witnesses said 31 soldiers were in the convoy when the accident happened at Kilimanihewa. The driver of the truck that was ferrying the solders lost control. Mr Kapambara Mgawe, the TPDF spokesperson, confirmed the death of the soldiers. 

The accident happened after the driver of the truck lost control while taking a sharp corner. Some of the injured were taken to Ndanda mission hospital. Prof Muhongo’s detailed account of how the government would ensure that Mtwara residents benefit from the gas rang hollow in the ears of the rioters.

In the current budget, Sh63 billion has been allocated to gas processing in Lindi and Mtwara. A US-based firm has been given the go-ahead to build the processing factory. According to Prof Muhongo, the factory will not only create jobs for the people of Mtwara but also boost the power supply to the grid--and this would ensure industrial investment in southern region.

Already, Dangote Industries is setting up an integrated cement plant in Mtwara, the minister said. “With good limestone and gypsum deposits,” he added, “Tanzania attracts sound investment opportunities in the sector and also offers an ideal opportunity for Dangote Cement to consolidate its operations in Eastern Africa,”

Site work has reportedly started on the Green Field Cement plant.

According to the minister, about 0.3 per cent of charges from sale of natural gas will remain in Mtwara and Lindi. 

Residents also stand to benefit from more social services and amenities like schools, dispensaries, water and electricity that will likely follow the arrival of investors. And youth in Mtwara and Lindi will receive training in gas and oil-related disciplines at Vocational Education Training Authority centres.

According to Prof Muhongo, the American firm Schlumberger has built a large workshop in Mtwara that is designed to repair equipment used in mining, exploration and development of oil and gas.

His promises notwithstanding, riot police had to use tear gas and live bullets to disperse rioters yesterday. There were unconfirmed reports of death and severe injuries in the confrontation between demonstrators and the police.

Journalists based in Mtwara sought cover in offices and homes after protesters turned on them, accusing them of failing to properly report their grievances. “It is dangerous for journalists to roam about in the streets as we have received threats from the rioters,” Modestus Mwambe, the ITV/Radio One Mtwara correspondent, said in a breaking news broadcast yesterday.

A radio reporter, whose name we could not establish immediately, narrowly escaped a beating after being cornered by protesters.  

TBC correspondent Kassim Mikongolo’s house was burnt down as the enraged mob accused the state-owned television station of sabotaging the interests of Mtwara residents. 

TBC transmissions on analogue terrestrial transmitters had been cut off in Mtwara since Tuesday evening and only returned after Prof Muhongo’s budget speech. But our reporter saw Mtwara residents following the TBC broadcast during the budget speech through the few digital Pay-TV receivers available in town.

TBC Director Clement Mshana told The Citizen that the problem was caused by technical hitches in the transmission equipment. Similar problems also appeared in Mara region at the same time but both were repaired.

At least one person was reported to have died of gunshot wounds and more than 10 were admitted to hospital. There were unconfirmed reports that some police officers had been killed. 

Other buildings that were reported to have been torched or attacked include the office of Mtwara Urban MP, the house of the chairman of CCM in Mtwara-Mikindani municipality and the CCM office in the municipality.
Source: The Citizen, reported from Dodoma and Mtwara
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