Drop some pop western culture into a poorly developed area of Africa, add a pinch of a dictatorial politic, and you get a horribly tragic ritual slaughter of three agricultural workers in rural Tanzania.
When the three field scientists from the urban center of Arusha traveled yesterday to a very rural part of central Tanzania, villagers accused them of being vampires and hacked them to death.
The three were from the SARI office in Arusha. The “Selian Arusha Research Institute” is a government parastatal funded by the African Development Bank to assist agricultural development in northern Tanzania. They traveled almost out of their jurisdiction, probably because more and more attention is being placed on that rural part of Tanzania.
Years ago the main city of this inland, rural area, Dodoma, was declared Tanzania’s capital. The first president did so right around the time that Brazil designated the inland city of Brasilia as its new capital and for the same old, historic reason that capitals were built in “the middle” of their sovereign areas.
But Dodoma languished virtually unused as the giant coastal metropolis of Dar-es-Salaam boomed. It was very hard to get to Dodoma, there were limited services, and most of all, communication with the rest of the country was difficult.
So recently the current president declared that the capital will move again, right now, to Dodoma.
There was a slight delay as 500 houses were hastily built for government employees and legislators.
Today it’s very hard to get to Dodoma, it has limited services, and most striking of all, the cell and phone service with the rest of the country is intermittent. I and many others believe that the current benevolent dictator, John Magufuli, just wanted to get those corrupt, petulant legislators out of his hair.
Not quite Napoleon exiled to St. Helens, but close.
So this is where those poor agricultural researchers headed for yesterday. More exactly, a good number of kilometers north, which most Tanzanians think of as wasteland. We environmentalists call it the Maasai Steppe because it’s so gnarly and bushy but dry. For sure if any place needed some help with agriculture, this is it.
The people who live here are certainly among the least educated in Tanzania. Maize is grown along with some beans and other small crops, but often erratically with irregular rains. There is still an element of survival sustenance to many villages.
I could be terribly ungenerous in suggesting that the poor reputation of SARI wasn’t poor enough that a Tanzanian legislator wouldn’t accept one of its surveys of where some better till might be. In any case, whatever these folks were during here, they were neither prepared or well received.
Reports exclaim the fact that they were carrying letters of introduction from the government. Right.
Several eye witnesses to the hacking said that the initial alarm sounded in the village was that vampires had arrived.
There aren’t vampires in Tanzanian mythology. There are very important satanic creatures like vampires, blood-sucking vermin but they are diurnal as well as nocturnal and they are conjured up by witchcraft to form then dissipate like clouds. The English translation or transliteration isn’t close to vampire and other than the blood-sucking, there’s no other similarity.
So I find it interesting that the historically sudden placement of a major African capital onto the wilderness, accompanied by smart phones and researchers with a questionable portfolio, generates vampires.
Whether metaphorical or representational the government responded with dozens of federal police and rounded up nearly 50 suspects. Social media went ballistic in two directions: one, that the guilty should be shackled for life; and two, that it’s a bloody disgrace that such people still live in Tanzania.
Or that vampires do.