Joy, disbelief as kidnapped drivers return home

22Sep 2016
Henry Mwangonde
The Guardian
Joy, disbelief as kidnapped drivers return home

THERE was a surreal mix of joy and disbelief at the VIP lounge of the Julius Nyerere International Airport (JNIA) when ten Tanzanian drivers who were kidnapped by Mai Mai rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) returned home yesterday.

Tanzanian truck drivers recently rescued from members of Democratic Republic of Congo’s Mai Mai militia in a group photo with relatives at Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam yesterday shortly after flying back home.

Relatives of the drivers who flocked the airport from around 1pm, failed to withstand their emotions after setting eyes on their loved ones who spent two days in the hands of their captors in thick forests of Namonyo in the southern Kivu province.

The VIP lounge which is at the best of times quiet yesterday turned noisy when both the drivers and their relatives were overwhelmed by emotions and wept uncontrollably.

“I thank God I have seen my husband again, I was worried and confused when I heard the news of their capture,” said Regina Kanunga, wife to one of the drivers, Issa Iddi.

The drivers, who were received by the Deputy Minister for Foreign, East Africa, Regional Affairs and International Cooperation, Suzan Kolimba, and the Congolese ambassador to Tanzania, Jean Pierre Mutamba, narrated to journalists the ordeal they went through while in the hands of the rebels.

Kumbuka Selemani, one of the drivers who managed to escape from the rebels, said he took the chance to run because he was the first to be stopped by the rebels as his vehicle was in front.

“I decided to run but I left everything in the hands of God because I entered into the bush without knowing where I was going or what may happen to me until later when I heard people speaking I decided to come out of the road to surrender and thank God they were DRC soldiers,” he said.

Another driver, Athuman Waziri, said the rebels gave them food but could not eat because they were tired and frustrated from the long distance that they walked with the rebels in the bush.

Congolese soldiers came to their rescue from the rebels who he said were demanding a ransom of US$4000 per driver.

The deputy minister said the incident is unfortunate and that the government is committed towards ensuring that every Tanzanian is safe anywhere they are.

The Congolese ambassador said it is time now that a special system is established so that the embassy is informed of every driver travelling to and from DRC.

Director of Simba Logistics where the drivers are employed said the company has incurred losses of up to 600m/- from the burnt trucks, adding that it was fortunate that the trucks were not carrying any cargo.

In August last year, eight Muslim clerics from Zanzibar were kidnapped by rebels in DRC, two of whom were later released on humanitarian grounds due to old age and failing health.

The eight clerics were said to have made their religious mission in the war-ravaged country without informing responsible state agencies.

Efforts taken by the two governments helped secure the release of the clerics and return home safely.