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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Why man-triggered tragedies will continue to haunt us

18th September 2011

As the nation is still mourning hundreds of our compatriots who perished when a ferry trading under the name of MV Spice Islander sunk  off  Zanzibar Nungwi bay one week ago, it is befitting to join other Tanzanians in sending condolence messages to the families of the deceased as well as wish the injured a quick recovery. Those who played a role to save some lives at that critical hour also deserve a pat on the back.


Scribes, by the nature of their profession, are normally not contented with just mourning when tragedies of this magnitude occur in society. Indeed, most of them will also not simply entertain idealistic sentiments that such tragedies are necessarily a result of God’s will and the best option is to pray and beseech the Creator to save us from such happenings in future.


It is under these circumstances that yours sincerely is joining his professional colleagues and other society opinion leaders to reflect on the Zanzibar tragedy and others taking place daily, especially through road carnage.


My take on most of these tragedies, including the Spice Islander one, is that they are man-courted and will continue to haunt us, unless we realistically address their causes and do the necessary instead of banking on divine intervention. After all even genuine religious gurus will tell you that God helps those who are willing to help themselves. These words of wisdom are too important to be ignored.


There are issues on this latest tragic incident. In this short commentary, however, we can as well focus on three crucial ones. First, it is our collective willingness or unwillingness to learn from our past mistakes. Second, it is the role of corruption in man-triggered tragedies which cost us lives and limbs as well as destruction of property.  Lastly, it is the impact of lack of accountability culture in all this tragic mess. 


Failure to learn from past mistakes and experience has been clearly underscored by many commentators who have been tempted to make a comparison with the MV Bukoba incident that left the nation in a traumatic mood. 


It obviously seems there are served things in common in the tale of the two ill-fated sea vessels. The MV Bukoba tragedy was mainly attributed to overloading, among other factors, which had turned into routine then, tempting some cautious observers to warn that the modus operandi of the old and tired vessel was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. As we all know the prophesy of the latter was ignored and the rest is history.


In the case of the MV Spice Islander, we seem to encounter a similar story of overloading, as figures of the dead and the saved do not tally with those in the manifest - if preliminary findings are anything to go by.


As in the case of MV Bukoba, we are told life saving jackets were inadequate, and desperate potential drowners had to hold on all sorts of objects in search of survival. All these indicate that operations of MV Spice Islander, whose owner was said to be unknown during the first week of the accident (sic), were anything but professional.


Is it possible that the vessel sunk on the first day its crew and marine transport regulators opted to be negligent? No way. This brings us to the role of corruption  in this tragedy-cum-scandal. The link here need not be belaboured. Money has definitely been changing hands. You can take this statement to the Bank for the commentator is not a stranger in Jerusalem, or rather in Zanzibar.


Finally, we note that heads rarely roll as required when such incidents occur. Those at the top rarely resign as a sign of accountability for blunders committed by poorly supervised juniors. Probably the law is also lenient to those proved guilty of criminal negligence.

Unless we learn to be twice shy, once beaten, calamities of this nature will be with us for many years.

Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant [email protected]

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