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When Dar was clouded by panic, worse traffic jams

15th April 2012
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The blocked storm water chamber in front of the Millennium Tower building at Makumbusho, coupled with a tsunami alert from the Tanzania Meteorological Agency (TMA) on Wednesday, turned New Bagamoyo Road into a traffic nightmare.

All motorists from the city centre heading to Mwenge or further up to Ubungo or Tegeta were forced to take the same time that a Dubai-bound Emirates airliner takes to fly from Dar es Salaam - five and a half hours - to cover less than ten kilometres.

But as the hours wore on towards the night, coupled with a ceaseless drizzle, some motorists took the same time that a Dar-Iringa passenger bus takes to cover the 500-plus kilometre distance, namely between six and seven hours, to cover the same less than ten-kilometre stretch.

That is the level of infrastructural ‘development’that the country’s commercial city of Dar es Salaam has reached after half a century of its political independence on December 9, 1961.

Because the blocked Millennium Tower storm water chamber had turned the surrounding area into a massive lake which, in some places, the water depth was knee-deep, vehicles from the city centre were literally brought to a halt for over four hours!

Those who increased speed ended up putting their plugs at peril, with the exception of diesel-fired engines. And when water at the mini lake finally receded vehicles had to move at a snail’s pace.

It was thus not surprising that motorists driving from the city centre took between three and four hours to cover a distance similar to one between the city centre and either the Red Cross or Palm Beach Hotel at Upanga. By the time they reached either Morocco bus stand or Mwenge, the motorists had covered a stretch that is less than ten kilometres in the same time that it takes to fly from Dar es Salaam to Dubai or a bus takes to travel from Dar es Salaam to Iringa - which is between five and half and seven hours.

It is important to note that both the troublesome section and the road in general is under the watch of the Tanzania Roads Agency (Tanroads), which falls directly under the armpit of the Ministry of Works under the tutelage of the fire-breathing minister, John Pombe Magufuli.

One might rightly ask what Tanroads and, by extension, the Ministry of Works, has got to do with Wednesday’s traffic nightmare. Well, the ministry has a lot to do with it through a combination of inaction, coupled with a lack of seriousness in handling roads under its watch through Tanroads.

For the Millennium Tower mini lake did not spring to public notice just on that Wednesday. Far from it. The problem has been slowly, but steadily, growing with each passing rainy season. But the powers that be have been ignoring it until Wednesday when the mini lake decided to display what it was capable of.

And TMA’s tsunami scare had its fare share in the problem. Motorists remained put, fearing to venture out. But when they finally did, it was catastrophic - hence the problem.

Meanwhile, in Dar’s city centre, the area was turned into patches of lakes as usual when it rains, with some areas close to the Air Tanzania Corporation building having knee-deep water level.

Again, another ministry responsible for keeping watch over Dar city’s infrastructural development, the Ministry of Lands, has, just like the Ministry of Works, concerned itself with other nondescript issues. That has left city developers locked in a maddening race to put up skyscrapers, completely ignoring sewerage and other refuse disposal systems.

And the end result of the two ministries’ combined obnoxious acts has been the creation of the dirtiest city in sub-Saharan Africa. For the doubting Thomases over the foregoing verdict, they simply need to fly over the city during the rainy season or on any day at night.

During the rainy season the city is dotted with pools of water, which gives one an impression of a leaderless city with roads that look more like cattle paths than modern infrastructure they are supposed to be. And at night the city’s roads are poorly lit, hence giving the impression of a large African village that displays lights here and there.

It is an indisputable fact that Dar es Salaam has lately succeeded in transforming itself from a haven of peace to a haven of stench. And perhaps what is more unfortunate about it all is that the city stinks, especially in the centre, of human faeces, with the city fathers showing no care in the world!

Come to think of it, why should they care when they were elected or appointed to their salivating posts in order to enrich themselves rather than take care of the city, and what with the appointing authorities also complaining instead of taking action against the wayward leaders.

As for the electorate, having elected wrong leaders during the last general election in 2010, their hands are presently tied until the next general election in 2015. And that is how democracy is; for it affords people the opportunity to elect useless or useful leaders.

The other side of Dar Wednesday’s tragedy raises the following question: if a day-long ceaseless drizzle, coupled with a TMA tsunami alert, can cause such a nightmare, is Dar es Salaam capable of dealing with an actual tsunami hit - or any massive disaster for that matter?

If fire broke out, say at Kurasini or Ubungo fuel depots or at the gas-fired power plants at Ubungo, does the city have the requisite facilities to deal with such a catastrophe? How prepared is the general public, presently renowned for rushing to where the danger is, as was exemplified by the Ubungo fire incident a few years ago.

During disasters, a nation’s ability to deal with them is judged by the alacrity with which the nation sets in motion its rescue operations in terms of manpower and equipment. The same thing can be said about the modernity of an army. It is judged by its ability to move troops and equipment in the shortest time to an area under attack.

When Ugandan dictator General Idi Amin invaded the Kagera salient in October 1978, it took Tanzania 45 days to mobilize troops and materiel and another 45 days to dislodge the enemy from its occupied territory.

However, it is important to note that had the Ugandan army been is its former state before General Amin came to power, Tanzania would probably not have managed to win the Kagera war as Uganda then had one of the best trained armies in Africa.

Therefore, the pertinent question is how prepared is Tanzania today in case a fire erupts next time? For, as the saying goes, if you want peace then prepare for war. It is very unfortunate that past problems in this country show that Tanzanians and their leaders only engage in endless debates whenever a problem crops up.

However, once another problem crops up they move on to the new problem, shelving the former away or sweeping it under the carpet. The point is, as soon as the rainy season is over, both Tanroads and the city fathers are likely to shelve the Millennium Tower building storm water chamber problem until the next season!

As for TMA’s tsunami alert, it is very unlikely the government will come up with any preparatory plan to take care of any future tsunamis. This is because, with the exception of the first phase government, it has not been the tradition of successive CCM governments to plan for anything, hence the present problems.

The only thing that successive Tanzanian governments have been good at is make pronouncements about good, future plans, but not implementing them. For instance, the first time they spoke about their commitment to solving traffic congestion in Dar es Salaam through the establishment of what has come to be known as DART (Dar es Salaam rapid transport) was over seven years ago!

But part of that programme will now not be ready until 2014, and that is not all. Over five years ago the government spoke about its commitment to build flyovers. Neighbouring Kenya, which had not even hinted about anything that grand, has now established flyovers which have been made possible through Chinese assistance.

Three years ago, the same government spoke about its plan to upgrade Dar es Salaam city’s feeder roads. Unfortunately, it has yet to embark on the project. Had it done so as late as last year, the Millennium Tower building storm water chamber problem could have easily been avoided as traffic could have been diverted to other feeder roads close to the Dar-Mwenge road.

In conclusion, instead of spending a lot of precious time issuing threats to the public about the Ministry of Works’ commitment to destroy structures built on the road reserve, it is important for the ministry to concentrate on solving problems such as the Millennium Tower building storm water chamber and others.

And if structures built on the road reserve are to be pulled down, it will also make sense for the ministry to start sacking officials who looked the other way as the structures were being constructed.

Otherwise such threats will remain what they are - an illustration of the nature of incompetent leadership that this nation has for a very long time been saddled with.

SOURCE: GUARDIAN ON SUNDAY
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