Need to nip Mtwara crisis in the bud

Gas and oil are inevitably valuable natural resources that are a blessing to countries that are lucky to posses them, in abundance, as they tend to turn the fortunes of those nations.

But, if not carefully managed, the same commodities can turn into a curse, where peace is lost, while fighting becomes part of their everyday life. So many oil and gas rich countries in the world have lived to regret the day these resources were discovered as conflicts are now part and parcel of their lives.

The Niger Delta in Nigeria is one such example where oil has brought misery on local people, as despite wallowing in poverty, they have to brace with political instability and terrorist acts. The problems of the area can be traced as far back as 1968, when oil exploration became the major production activity.

It is unfortunate that both the Nigerian government and the oil companies are alleged to have been dodging their responsibility of developing the region. The impacts of the oil industry have led to the Niger Delta becoming the most underdeveloped region in Nigeria.

The Nigerian state and the oil companies such as Shell, ExxonMobil and Chevron continuously use diplomatic overtures to evade taking responsibility for this state of disrepair. On the one hand, the Nigerian government has been consistent in making diplomatic calls and appeals to the oil companies to develop the region and ensure good relations with the people.

On the other hand, the companies welcome the calls but argue that since they pay huge grants to the federal government, the onus lies on government to take responsibility for the upkeep and development of the Niger Delta Region.

It is against this background of internal colonialism that current resource control and minority agitations in the Delta have become increasingly virulent and violent, with repeatedly bloody repercussions. The current wave of kidnappings and instability in the Delta puts security in the region on a par with Chechnya and Colombia.

Tanzania should, therefore, safeguard its resources and make sure that it does not turn into a curse. Cracks of instability are widening following the discovery of gas reserves in Mtwara and Lindi regions. 

And the mere confirmation of the implementation of the construction of the Mtwara-Dar es Salaam pipeline by Prof Sospeter Muhongo, the Minister of Energy and Minerals, in Parliament last week, was enough to plunge Mtwara into chaos.

What boggles one’s mind is that people in the area seemed to have been ready for battle well before the minister had announced his stance as reports from the area reveal that most of the shops had not opened on the fateful day with areas such as the main bus terminal remaining a white elephant.

The drama that occurred in Mtwara clearly shows that there are people with hidden agendas, who prior to the presentation by the minister had already prepared the people to oppose government stance.

Though the people of Mtwara are right to demand that they benefit from the gas projects, their action was uncalled for as they went on a rampage, destroying property and infrastructure that they will need in future. Two people were reported to have died and a lot of property and infrastructure were destroyed during the mayhem.

The rioters, mostly youths are said to have torched several houses, shops and offices in different parts of the municipality. They also used dynamites to damage bridges and other infrastructures before torching an ambulance.

It is unfortunate that these people decided to use unconventional means to send their message through forgetting the importance of the infrastructure they were destroying. 

They will definitely need the bridges to smoothly travel from one place to another, needless to say that the country is facing a serious shortage of ambulances in many parts, especially in rural areas.

And torching one will have adverse effect in health delivery in the country. The President, Jakaya Kikwete, reminded the people while launching the construction of the Dodoma-Iringa highway on the same day that all natural resources found in any part of the country belong to – and will benefit—all Tanzanians.

The people of Mtwara should know that gas is useless to them as long as it remains untapped. It is pointless to counter development at the instigation of selfish politicians who want to push their ill agendas and enrich themselves.

They should also know that there is always a better way of saying everything, this means that they should find better ways of sending their messages rather than resorting to take laws into their own hands and winding back the clock of development. 

Just like the president said last week, that natural resources in this country belong to Tanzanians, whether they stay in the areas of origin or not.

Trying to bar gas from being transported to Dar es Salaam for further developmental projects is not only counterproductive but, is also tantamount to shooting ourselves on the foot. 

It is against this background that the voice of reason and awareness be given to those people who are opposed to such developments as they will tend to benefit them and their children.

Though the government went on to condemn the acts describing the perpetrators as saboteurs and enemies of the nation, more still needs to be done to nip this crisis in the bud. The government, especially law enforcement agencies should leave no stone unturned and bring perpetrators of such despondency to book.

On the other hand, there is need to educate the people of Mtwara so that they know that any natural resource found in their region should benefit every Tanzanian in the same manner they benefit from resources from other parts of the country.

Development plans should also not only be put in place but also be communicated to the people of Mtwara so that they become aware of how best they will benefit from gas and other resources from their area. 

The peace and tranquility this country has enjoyed for so long should be preserved while at the same time, natural resources benefit everyone.

It is high time all stakeholders play their part to make sure that it is achieved. A permanent solution, therefore, is needed before the situation gets out of hand.
Source:The Daily News, reported by Simbarashe Msasanuri in Dar es Salaam 
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