This week Gerald Kitabu talked to Menga Daudi, a canoe owner plying in Lake Tanganyika, on problems of transport in the world’s deepest water land mass. Excerpts:
QUESTION: What are the problems of transport in the lake?
ANSWER: Canoe is the main transport system for all people and students living in or along Lake Tanganyika. People from Kirando, Kipili, Korongwe and Kabwe wards all depend on this type of transport.
This transport has been there since independence in 1961.
So, residents have been used to it despite all the problems associated with it. As it is to any other type of transport, sometimes when the canoe capsizes, it claims passengers’ lives. Another problem is that many canoes are made up of wood which allows water to penetrate easily and cause problems.
Some canoes are dilapidated, they have engines but if heavily loaded with goods they may sink or loose direction. In very rare cases, fierce aquatic animals such as snakes, crocodiles and hippopotamus are also threats to passengers.
As for children and school pupils, water transport is a very big problem due to lack of boats to ferry them to school. For example, from Mvuna to Mandakerenge where there is a school, it takes 30 minutes by canoe to reach the school while the fare to and fro is 1,000/-, which many parents are unable to pay.
The pupils find it difficult to catch up with classes because the canoe leaves Mvuna at 9.30am and arrives at Mandakerenge at 10.00am, which is break time.”
Some parents, who tried to rent houses for accommodating their children while at school, usually face another challenge: to hire people from Mandakerenge island to look after their children which many parents fail.
If you hire a person to look after your child, you will need to pay for a house rent, pay him or her monthly salary, give him breakfast and two meals which are very expensive.
Generally, students living in the lake’s islands have very poor performance in class and others are discouraged by the poor system of transport. However, few years ago, the government banned drug-nets which were used by ordinary people to fish and earn regular income. So, after banning the use of drug-nets by the government, many parents have remained poor because they don’t have alternative source of income and their children have dropped out of school due to lack of school fees.
So, we would like to ask the government to improve transport system in Lake Tanganyika.
Q: Have you ever experienced any disaster?
A: As I said earlier, sometimes disasters occur although in rare cases. For example, in 2010 a canoe capsized, five people were killed and several others injured. The most serious disaster happened on December 4, 2009 when a powerful wind moving at a high speed on the lake for more than three hours destroyed more than 25 canoes and several houses. What’s bad, the disaster happened at night when everybody was asleep.
Q: What attracted you to work as a canoe conductor given all these risks?
A: Many youth are involved in such risky works not because they like but because of lack of employment. Rukwa region is very fertile.
It is one of the big four but it lacks good roads. So, even if one cultivates crops, the profit is very little because of transport costs and lack of farm inputs.
That’s why some youth find it easier to be conductors rather than engage in farming. So, I ventured in this job because I had no any other alternative source of income.
Q: For how long have you been a canoe conductor?
A: I have an experience of more than five years now. I thank God that through out my service as a canoe conductor, I had never faced any big problem.
Q: So, what is your advice?
A: Government should help to solve transport problems in Lake Tanganyika. If you look at the problems faced by school pupils and other passengers, one cannot believe.
The nature of these Islands forces the residents to depend on water transport system, because there are no roads. Using canoe for transport is risky.
So, the government should look at this part of the country and help these residents by purchasing modern boats which are safer and secure for students and other passengers.