Dar airspace to be closed ahead of Obama arrival

Air travellers should be prepared to reschedule their flights as the airspace is set to be closed ahead of US President Barack Obama’s arrival next Monday to allow maximum security.

Reliable sources told The Citizen that Dar es Salaam will be a no-fly zone some hours ahead of President Obama’s arrival and all flights in or out of the country will either be diverted or rescheduled.

Air Force One, carrying Mr Obama, his family and entourage, is expected to land at 2:40pm local time from Cape Town in South Africa. 

In addition to closing the airspace, fighter jets will fly in shifts, giving 24-hour coverage over the airspace, so they can intervene quickly if an errant plane gets too close, according to reports by some US media outlets.

Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority Director General Fadhili Manongi said the airspace would be closed for flights operating at Julius Nyerere International Airport (JNIA). He declined to give details, though, only saying this was “part of normal procedures” for the visiting president.

“There is nothing extraordinary about this,” he added. “We have closed the airspace for other heads of state too.”

All domestic and international airlines operating from JNIA have been notified of plans to close the airspace. Terminal One has been taken over by the US secret service and security is tight, with local police officers on patrol round the clock.

Workers at the terminal told The Citizen that the US security detail has been present for about a week. American officers were seen yesterday installing security equipment at Terminal One, which is used to receive heads of state and government as well as charter and non-commercial flights.

The parking lot at the terminal, mostly used by charter planes and non-commercial aircrafts, has been closed and the aircraft relocated. The neighbouring Precision Air hangar has also been closed. 

But operations continue at the terminal, with passengers on charter and non-commercial flights still flowing in and out. Sources at the airport spoke of a rise in flights from the US.

US military cargo planes are expected to deliver logistical supplies for Mr Obama’s visit. This includes support vehicles,limousines and trucks loaded with sheets of bullet­proof glass to cover the windows of the hotel where the first family will stay.

JNIA Operations Manager Paul Lwegasha declined to comment, referring the press to the ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation. Numerous traffic police in motorcycles were seen patrolling Nyerere Road, which connects the airport with the city centre, where the Obamas and most of the entourage will spend the night.

The high level trip is not good news for everyone: Beggars and street children have been cleared from the city centre and the main trading centres of Kariakoo and Mnazi-Mmoja. The Ilala Municipal Auxiliary Police Operations commander, Mr WJ Gama, said the operation is a strategic effort to clear the city of beggars. “That is not for President Obama’s visit,” he said. “It was planned long before with the aim of putting the city in order.”

Hamis Abdallah, a 27-year-old Buguruni resident, said the campaign to get rid of the beggars was meant to conceal the reality of life in the city from the US President, whose father came from Kenya. “The government is trying to hide the poverty of its people to avoid shame,” Mr Abdallah added.

The Hyatt Regency Kilimanjaro Hotel, where the Obamas will spend a night, has been yet another hive of activity. There are remarkable changes in the lobby, now adorned with new furniture. All 180 rooms have been fully booked until July 5, a hotel manager told The Citizen.

Mr Obama’s relationship with Africa is something of a paradox. He has roots on the continent, yet he has given Africa only passing glance as US president while rivals like China train their eyes on the prize.

President Obama’s election in 2008 sparked great expectations in Africa and elsewhere. But as he journeys through Senegal, South Africa and Tanzania from today--touting trade, investment and the developmental benefits of democracy--he must fix the perception that he has given the region short shrift.

“Africans were very excited when President Obama was elected,” said Mwangi Kimenyi, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.“They expected deeper engagement than in the past, both in regard to policy and also in terms of actual visits to the continent, given the president’s African heritage.”

President Obama did not dampen expectations, at least initially, declaring on a quick stop in Ghana in 2009: “I have the blood of Africa within me, and my family’s own story encompasses both the tragedies and triumphs of the larger African story.” 

Given a choice, this son of a Kenyan economist would have devoted more time to sub-Saharan Africa. But presidencies have only so much bandwidth.

His Africa policy has languished, with the president battling economic tumult, rebalancing US attention to a rising Asia, being outpaced by revolution in the Middle East and consumed by his legacy project of ending US wars abroad.

Still, White House aides feel a nagging call to Africa and Mr Obama will soon be here--though it is unclear if anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela’s fragile condition could scramble his schedule.
Source: The Citizen, reported by Elisha Magolanga in Dar es Salaam

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