Tanga is probably the only city in the country, which, if you leave it for a decade, you will come back to find nothing new, apart from more crumbling, leaving desolate sights. Sometimes I am tempted to think that if the trend continues, we shall need archaeologists to remind us of the city’s glory of the 1960s to early 1980s. That, unfortunately, is the sad truth.
And yet, all told, Tanga used to be the only municipality in the country for many years, while Dar es Salaam was the only city. The present blossoming cities like Arusha, Mwanza and Mbeya could only qualify to be towns.
The list of its admirable attributes is almost endless. It used to have one of the best football teams on the mainland - clobbering every other rival team that stood in its way during the then famous annual regional championships.
People who are now in their 70s won’t have forgotten Tanga soccer legends of the day, among them Zimbwe and Luo, with a deep sense nostalgia.
It is in Tanga that the Kiswahili Shakespeare, Shaaban bin Robert, was born and raised. The books he wrote in the 1950s remain a living testimony of a man who had a rare gift in literature.
When I was researching this article, I tried to find out where his house used to be. No one could show me. What is even worse, you can hardly find a street in Tanga named after him.
To forget such a Kiswahili literary giant is an incorrigible disservice to a language, which has made us so proud as a nation, all over the world.
And what about the economy: Tanga had a booming sisal industry – which was chief economic driver; and the biggest single employer; with a 500-cow dairy farm to boot.
Not any more. The plantation in which sisal used to be grown are now dotted with beautiful tropical shrubs, growing on their own without any need of ploughing tractors or fertiliser.
It is a pity that there is no market for it, otherwise we could be earning a lot of money without spending a single cent for their upkeep.
Apart from a thriving harbour, which now stands literary empty most of the time, waiting for a few ships (to bring in or ship out what?) a week, Tanga used to have several robust factories.
The Tanzania fertiliser company (now an oil depot) used to be the only plant producing the much needed fertizilier for most of the country’s peasants.
Steel Rolling Mills (now almost a scrap yard of a factory) was probably one of the few country’s source of construction reinforcement bars.
Then there was Sikh Saw Mills (where my dad used to work before he was unceremoniously fired for gross incompetence), which was the only source of plywood building material in the country.
Sadly, for years since privatisation, it has been abandoned; and only Heaven knows whatever is left in what looks like a dilapidated empty shell.
Tanga had one of the best government owned schools in the country. Tanga Secondary School, Karimjee (then Usagara) and Gallanos. Quite a few of our retired leaders, including immediate past President Jakaya Kikwete, are alumni of Tanga-based schools.
Those who still like Zilipendwa” songs (popular oldies), some of which are still better than the present Bongo Flava, owe most of it to Tanga’s the two outstanding bands – Atomic and Jamhuri.
But today, even the halls in which they used to perform have never been painted ever since the bans folded up in the mid-1970s. Tanga had vibrant nightclubs that helped most of the young men and women to cool off themselves, after a hard day’s work. Not any longer.
So much for what used to make Tanga great. It is a history that is sad to tell, but in the same vein, interesting to hear. Try to imagine (if you can), that after all has been lost, the only serious factory left is Tanga Cement, which can only employ so many people.
I have never seen any job advertisement for the new Rhino Cement, which seems to be as big as Tanga Cement, and could help absorb some of the Tanga’s growing army of peripatetic youths.
So, will Tanga ever find its lost glory? Your guess could be as good as mine. Probably we need to remind JPM for the promises he made for Tanga, with a hash tag: “#WhatwillMagufuliDoforTanga.”
He is a resonant leader who has shown us that, what is possible should be done immediately, only the impossible should take a little longer.
Martha Majura is a freelance journalist and mass communication specialist. Contact: [email protected].