Some 25 years ago, when Benjamin Mkapa had just taken over as Tanzania’s president, Dar es Salaam was gripped by a bad shortage of water that had not been experienced in years, and everyone seemed to be in a funk.
The then prime minister, Fred Sumaye, put together a task force comprising a few nationals and some representatives of ‘development partners', as they are called these days.
I served on the committee alongside Iddi Simba and Reginald Mengi, among others. Among the expats I remember the poignant and forceful contributions of Alan Montgomery, the UK ambassador who had a direct, frank, almost non diplomatic way of putting his views forward.
We worked for a month, our work comprising, among other things, directing the sinking of wells all over Dar es salaam and its environs and advising on ways to ensure such problems did not recur. We all realised that water distress had seriously affected the rhythm of life in Dar and that there was a real anger among the population, and Mkapa and his crew, perhaps because they were still new in government, showed they cared.
Stream of information
We were fed with a steady stream of information on which we put our heads together and advised the government accordingly. In short order, Mkapa was seen cross-crossing the capital, commissioning water wells and cleaning up old ones that needed rehabilitation
But then, out of the blue, the rains came in the first week of April and brought sweet water to all the areas of Dar that had been stressed. Amidst the relief and joy, somebody in the task force was heard saying, “this is the end of our committee’s work. We will not be needed from now going forward.”
Because he was a foreigner, I thought he was condescending and displaying the usual haughtiness associated with these people. But it did not take me long to discover that indeed the government was no longer interested in working out any long-term programme to deal with Dar water. It was clear that our committee had been disbanded without even a farewell party. The problem had been solved, and we were no longer of any use for the rulers.
Now, Dar es Salaam is experiencing exactly the same issue we had quarter a century ago, and we are just as clueless as we were back then, it seems to me that there is a dearth of information linking our current rulers with those who ruled over us 25 years ago.
It seems every now and then we must go back to the same situation without having learnt anything about how to solve our problems.
This time round it would seem that our immediate problem has been occasioned by the failing rain patterns in the coast area of Tanzania, and elsewhere. The long rains failed last year and the short rains did not behave any better. The current short rains are supposed to be upon us even as I write, but all signs point to no rains.
We need not be in this situation perennially, even for a community that does not favour learning from experience. Even so, it is annoying to hear official after clueless official telling us that our current water issues are caused by the drying up of Lower Ruvu, as if that is the Alpha and Omega in things hydraulic.
The mid-term and long-term thinking will want our unthinking officials to wake up and realise that it verges on the criminal to watch as streams of water numbering in zillions of tonnes cross the country from all the four corners to pour their life-giving cargo into the salty waters of the Indian Ocean when damming could have retained a good percentage of the water.
Hydraulic studies that have been shared even among laymen like myself have suggested that not far from where I’m writing this sits an underground body of water with reserves outstripping what obtains in Lake Victoria. What are our officials doing about that?
The people in charge of this country, like so many other post-colonial rulers, have failed to think simply because they receive their fat salaries and hefty allowances and are pampered with privileges without having to do an honest day’s job. Their emoluments are not tied to any performance related assessment. They are there as of right, perhaps?
It would appear that is so. Otherwise how does any of these parasitic official dare say that Dar es Salaam people are given to complaining over “small matters such as water.” The sage never learned that water is at the base of government, and that it is the imperative of regulating water resources that government was originally set up.
How could such a person ever understand that when water riots erupt in a city, there is no military force able to quell it? The cluelessness is all permeating. Another sage was saying recently that the only thing we could do to help matters was “praying to God” and ask Him to intervene.
For once I listened to this stupidity with interest yes, I ask God to intervene and remove such people from amongst us.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]