Mixed fortunes after G’Mboto and Mbagala bomb blasts

MNAKU
MBANI : In
previous years – before 2009, when people heard a blast or a crash, whether it
was a gunshot, car crash or tyre bursts, they would run towards the area of the
incident, to see what was happening.

They
would rush to the incident, as they believed it was not deadly, keeping in the
mind that the country had not experienced civil unrest or warfare, beside the
Uganda war in 1978-1979 and – back in memory – the Maji Maji uprising of
1905-1907.

But,
since the blast of military bombs in Mbagala army base two years ago and that
of Gongo la Mboto arms depot in February, which altogether killed more than 50
people and left thousands displaced, things have changed.

Even
if a car tyre burst blast today, its sound will be a shock to people; some will
panic and could start rushing, seeking a place to shelter or protect themselves
even before knowing what had happened.

For
thieves and muggers, any blast or uncertainty or panic seems to be good news.
When people are rushing outside their homes, leaving the doors ajar, it will
then be a golden chance for them.

And
if people hear the blast today, they will start running because of the trauma
which they experienced in past incidents. Psychologists affirm that there is
need for enhanced psychological assistance or counselling, especially for
residents of affected areas.

The
Mbagala and Gongo la Mboto incidents remain vivid in people’s memories as they
happened like a drama. People were not
believing it until they were touched by the sound of bombs or witnessed
people rushing from affected areas or at times saw dead bodies.

After
each of the two extensive blasts, people called for the resignation of the
minister for defense and the army chief. Thousands of houses were completely
destroyed, forcing people to a new life.

However,
the minister and the army chief refused to resign immediately after the second
incident, on grounds that there was nothing inviting taking responsibility, for
an accident like any other uncertainty.

The
reason behind the blasts was that the army was continuing to keep dangerous
ammunitions in city based army camps. At times munitions stay in army depots
for many years before being used or destroyed in case their life span expires.

However,
the military authorities criticised the suggestion by people who want arms
depots relocated far from civilian areas, saying that it would threaten the
country’s security, keeping in mind that all state organs are based in the city
of Dar es Salaam.

Recently,
an army statement announced that army experts and US advisers would work
together to destroy remaining bombs at Gongo la Mboto. It made the people psychologically
at ease.

However,
experience shows that when the incidents broke out, top public officials
visited those areas on a daily basis, but now you may not find anyone visiting
victims of the bomb blasts.

Disaster
preparedness and response has remained a major challenge to Tanzania as the two
incidents have demonstrated the weaknesses of government systems to respond to
uncertainties.

The
bomb blasts are still knocking in people’s heads because there are scores of
military camps in the city, with some located close to civilian areas. This has
alerted people over the danger of other blasts in future.

The
incidents will be remembered not only for ruining people’s economies and lives,
but also bringing glory to many affected residents and traders who supply goods
and services in those areas.

Amina
Suleiman (43), a mother of two and a victim of the Mbagala blasts, says during
the incident her two bedroom house was totally destroyed but the compensation
given has helped to bring life to normal. Her house standard has improved in
comparison with the destroyed one.

“My
destroyed house was constructed ten years ago and it was not in good shape.
When I got my Tsh5 million compensation I constructed the new one which is more
modern,” she said.

The
compensation she got has also helped to construct a modern toilet, which she
did not have in the destroyed house. She has also used new roofing materials.

“My
life has improved since the bomb blast because I have got a new house which has
assured me a comfortable shelter,” she said in an interview at her new house in
Mbagala Kuu area.

Haroun
Mustapha, a neighbour to Amina, said that since the bomb blasts his life has
been affected so much – and instead of being improved, he feels his life is
getting worse.

“I
almost remained naked. I had a big house which was partly destroyed by the bomb
blasts but I have failed to reconstruct due to low compensation,” he said.

“Look
here my brother. This is a place where my house was destroyed by the bombs but
the money I was paid was too little to construct even a foundation.”

Haroun
believes the compensation process was distorted and some who were supposed to
be compensated were sidelined or lowly evaluated while the ‘clever boys’ got
more than what they were supposed to get.

For
example, he said, a person whose house was not destroyed and had a crack was
paid Tsh5 million while the one whose house was totally destroyed found himself
being paid as low as one million shillings.

Chacha
Daniel (28), a resident of Mbagala, says that since the blast two years ago his
life has bring brought down to a pit as he lost everything.

“I
have no house but I use to rent a house which was totally destroyed by the
missiles. I am not entitled to compensation because I was not the house owner,”
he told this paper while seating outside his tent room.

He
said he is supposed to start a new life again and it will take years to get
back on track.

Bahati
Alloyce (13), a standard seven pupil at Gongo la Mboto Primary School, said
that since the incident, life in his family and school has changed, with improved
delivery of services in the area, in health and education.

“We
are experiencing everyday people making donations to our school. There has been
a major improvement on facilities nowadays when compared the time before the
blasts,” he said.

He
said, apart from having school equipment, the donations made by various
well-wishers have enabled him to have a new mattress, bed sheets, blanket and
other basic needs.

“I
had no idea that one day I will sleep in a new mattress but the bomb incident
has fulfilled my dreams,” said Bahati. “I was previously sleeping on an old
mattress which was not comfortable.”

The
two incidents evoke sharp memories among residents whose relatives or
themselves were severely injured, lost beloved ones while others remember it as
a turn of fortune.

Jacob
Massawe, a resident of Mbagala Kichemchem and a construction materials trader,
testifies how the Mbagala blasts brought about a fortune to his business due to
increased demand for building materials.

“Since
the government compensated the victims of the blast, beneficiaries were
flocking into my shop to buy goods, mainly construction materials such as
cement and roofing material. This is a major uplift to my business,” he said.

He
said that two years ago he had a small shop with capital amounting to Tsh 7
million and it has now grown by almost three times.

Since
the incident, Nestory Chacha’s life has never been the same again. He lost two
people in his family, her daughter and his wife who were hit by the missiles.

“I
remained so lonely after the death of members of my family. I am just alone as
you can see,” he said.

However,
the main challenge to the government is how it can avoid unnecessary incidents
that may occur in existing arms stores. They include Lugalo, Gongo la Mboto,
Mbagala and Kibaha.

*
Panos Eastern Africa supported the writer to do a research in Gongo La Mboto
and Mbagala for preparing this feature.

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