Mtwara chaos: Govt missed the signs

one of the riot's victim
The disruption of peace in Mtwara and the chaos that ensued following the tabling of the Energy and Minerals ministry budget was the direct result of a government that ignores the importance of listening to wananchi and engaging the electorate in negotiations, dialogue and public awareness, stakeholders have said.

And it calls to question the extent of government respect for the electorate and shows where its interests lie in democratic Tanzania.

Mtwara politicians, who formed an alliance to coordinate the demonstrations against the State’s plan to build a natural gas pipeline, accuse the government of political blindness and failing to read warning signs that show there is a wind of change blowing as far as people’s civic awareness is concerned.

Mr Selemani Litope is the secretary general of an alliance of eight political parties that organised the demonstration in Mtwara in December last year. These parties included NCCR Mageuzi, TLP, UDP, ADC, DP, APPT Maendeleo, SAU and Chama cha Ukombozi wa Umma (Chauma).

According to Mr Litope, allegations that opposition against the gas pipeline originated from political parties that formed the alliance were wrong.

“This is a very funny line of argument...which has been used by the regional government as an excuse, both for failing to engage the people and secondly for wanton crackdown and witch-hunting,” Mr Litope told The Citizen.

The fact of the matter is that the alliance seized on the people’s sentiments. Mtwara residents, individually or collectively, had misgivings about the whole issue of transporting natural gas to Dar es Salaam.

These sentiments were aggravated by a historical perspective that southern regions are forgotten by the government when it comes to sharing the national cake. 

According to Mr Litope, the region’s infrastructure is dilapidated and social services are almost non-existent.

Mr Litope explains that what the alliance of eight political parties did was to coordinate the protests to bring sanity.

In fact, Mr Litope says, everything started in earnest in November last year during meetings conducted by the ministry of Energy and Minerals to collect people’s views on the draft Natural Gas Policy.

People studied the draft policy and found that there was nothing in it for them. They questioned it publicly and when they failed to get satisfying answers they boycotted the meetings. In some instances they tore down the documents and left meetings prematurely.

Government’s first mistake
The government ignored people’s dissatisfaction with the draft natural gas policy and went ahead with plans to adopt it. This was a big mistake according to Mr Litope. People felt the government did not care about their sentiments.

Tension started to build up and since then there was talk of finding ways to make the government hear Mtwara residents’ voices loud and clear.

“We feared the worst could happen and we wanted the protests to be conducted in a civilized manner,” he noted. “And the public rallies that we conducted on December 27, last year, were well organised and peaceful.

The demonstrations that day saw a massive turnout and went according to plans.

Processions started some few kilometres outside the town on the road that leads to Msimbati, a village that hosts natural gas wells.

The protesters were scheduled to pass through the regional commissioner’s office where demonstrators would hand the RC petitions that expounded on why they opposed the construction of the natural gas pipeline from Mtwara to Dar es Salaam.

Government’s second mistake

The regional commissioner, Mr Joseph Simbakalia, refused to receive protesters and allegedly insulted them, calling them “nonsense.” People did not take Mr Simbakalia’s attitude kindly.

And the region has been degenerating into chaos since December, last year, which have so far left three people dead (according to police sources), many injured and hundreds of millions of shillings of property destroyed.

The December 27 public rally ended peacefully.

“Mr Simbakalia didn’t know what he was doing at the time because his statement ellicited more anger from wananchi who turned out at the demonstrations which was followed by a meeting held at Mashujaa grounds,” said Mr Litope.

Violent protests erupted in the next month, in January this year, in Masasi District and ended with scores of people injured and several houses and offices belonging to CCM leaders and the police burnt down.
Source: The Citizen, reported by Elias Msuya from Mtwara
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