Last weekend, Precision Air flight number PW494 from Dar es Salaam to Bukoba crashed into Lake Victoria about 100 metres off the shore of the lake. There were 39 passengers on board and four crew. Nineteen souls were lost in the crash, including the pilots.
Air transport disasters can be complicated. Out of respect for the departed and their families and general professionalism, I have confined myself to the Precision Air notices to the public and will hold off on any speculations as to the “why” of it until the results of a formal investigation by a credible agency has been carried out and released to the public. But we have been talking about the response to the disaster. Fishermen were the first responders and did their best to rescue passengers trapped in the aircraft which was not fully submerged.
It has been a week of waiting anxiously to find out from the wider network of my community if everyone was alright; if anyone had experienced loss. This is when the true size of the web of inter-connectedness that is the African way of community manifests itself. There have been condolences to be given to friends, to relatives and to acquaintances. As a nation, we have mourned together.
But the foremost emotion has been anger. Anger at the manner in which the government handled this crash. The young fisherman who emerged as the hero of the moment has been “gifted” with a job in the armed forces and a million shillings. We are happy for him, but we are still furious. I have been wondering: What did we expect this government to do? Hmm... let me tell you about this government. We have had tragedies these past few decades that cost many lives, including plane crashes and sinking of ferries.
In June this year there was a train derailment in Malolo, Tabora Region, where four people died. What heroic actions did the government take that come to mind? Expressions of sorrow sprinkled liberally as they drive around in fleets of shiny “vieitez”?
Let me tell you about this government: When Bukoba experienced an earthquake in 2017, thousands of buildings were damaged or destroyed and 19 lives were lost. In a show of Utu, Tanzania organised itself and raised money to aid Kagera residents in need. And the then-president took this money, told us it was the government’s money to use as it sees fit and that was that!
I have no doubt that a few public servants did the best they could under the circumstances. But Tanzania is not a systematic thinker and planner for progress when it comes to pragmatic matters. We the people are less inclined to excuse this glaring defect. To respond to the useless but interesting “counter” that always arises as a result of such critique: Would I have done better? Probably, because I am not strangled by the hierarchy and mouldy thinking of the public servant. From the luxury of my independence I would have asked Kenya and anyone else close and capable to send in help. I would have sought out lateral thinkers. Have a safe week.
Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report; [email protected]