It happened all too quickly. Tanzania’s second largest city erupted in violence Wednesday, three people killed and scores injured. The push for democracy and transparency in Tanzania has exploded faster than even I expected.
See my blog of only three days ago.
Right now Arusha is calm. EWT, in fact, had clients who were in the town today. But the situation remains tense, and the government of Tanzania is acting only in ways that will make it worse.
The Tanzanian government is trying to suppress all news about the affair. Click here for a manual link to YouTube about the demonstration. The reporter, who I can’t identify and doesn’t want to be identified, has requested that YouTube remove all embedding code that would allow it to be dispersed more easily through blogs like these.
The video captures much of the chaos over most of Wednesday afternoon. It has a clip of the fiance of defeated opposition presidential candidate Wilbrod Slaa, her face bloodied.
The violence began when federal police used tear gas on a rally called to criticize the current government.
The initial battle with tear gas occurred at a large open field where Chadema’s rally (the opposition party) was just starting.
A large anti-riot police vehicle equipped with its tear-gas throwers disturbed the crowd, who had assembled with a police permit. The police claimed the vehicle was there to prevent marchers who were arriving from the central city to join the rally, because while police had granted a permit for the rally, they had denied a permit for the march to the rally.
“Police keep away, this is an official meeting and we have permission to gather here,” shouted Wilbrod Slaa, the defeated Chadema candidate for president of Tanzania who was at the time addressing the rally.
As marchers appeared, the tear gas went off and chaos errupted. Police arrested a number of the leaders in the front of the march, including Godbless Lema, the wildly popular and newly elected MP from Arusha, and (opposition party) Chadema chairman Freeman Mbowe.
As the two high profile politicians were being driven away with 47 others arrested, the crowd exploded: scores of people raced towards the police vehicle throwing rocks. The police responded with more tear gas.
Crowds then formed throughout the city trying to converge on the police station, where it was presumed the leaders were being held. Police used live ammunition against the crowd, there, and the afternoon became one of continuous pitched battles throughout the city between police and demonstrators.
Police confirmed 2 dead and 9 injured but area hospitals suggested 3 dead and injured closer to 100.
Arusha opposition MP Lema is a rebel rouser, and this is not his first brush with the law. He has been in jail twice before during his campaign for Parliament, which he won in the national election the end of November.
The specific issue that ignited yesterday’s violence was a federal government move over the weekend that stacked the Arusha city council with government supporters allowed to vote for mayor, but who did not actually reside in the city.
The real city councilors had boycotted the meeting and claim, therefore, that there was not a quorum sufficient to elect a mayor. But the government ordered the election to continue, and the result is that at least officially, Arusha now has a mayor allied to the government ruling party, a mayor overlording a city that is hugely in the opposition’s camp.
This does not happy days make.
But there were other issues to be discussed at the rally which was never completed: that the presidential election last November was unfair, that the government is corrupt, and a host of lingering accusations that during the November national election campaign the government suppressed all opposition.
I’m not sure how far this is going to go. The opposition in Arusha is incredibly strong and has support from several other larger communities in northern Tanzania like Karatu. But other important areas in northern Tanzania like Moshi, Monduli and Mto-wa-Mbu are firmly on the government’s side.
The blogosphere is cautious, I fear worried that the government is looking over their shoulders. There are numerous references to what has happened in Arusha is like Tiananmen Square, protests in Berlin before the wall went down, and demonstrations in Kenya that led to more transparent government.
Without doubt the police acted wrongly. It remains to be seen if they acted on their own, or are following in lock-step the darkening oligarchy in Dar.