Arusha under siege as tourists are kept safe in their hotels


(Posted 19th June 2013)

East Africa’s safari capital, aka the city of Arusha, found itself under siege yesterday, as police battled with protestors, saturating the streets with teargas. Tourists were kept in their hotels by concerned staff and managers, who were worried that should the wagenis venture out, as they normally do, they might be caught up in the sporadic violence or have to shed involuntary tears, should some of the gas come their way.

Shops remained closed as business ground to a halt, following the previous day’s grenade attack on an election rally by the main opposition party. Some have said this amounts to an outrageous but not unusual response by the Tanzanian police, clearly doing the bidding of their political masters in power but it left the tourism sector exasperated for the lack of common sense used by security organs. Additionally were rumours flying high and low, especially on the social media time lines, of who was most likely the mastermind behind the attack, which claimed several lives and injured many more.

This being the second such incident within a month and a half, a previous incident happened at the official opening of a church where the Vatican envoy to Tanzania was present, has deeply dented the reputation of Arusha as a generally laid back and peaceful city, which serves as a gateway to climbs on Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt. Meru and to reach the game parks of the northern circuit, Arusha NP, Tarangire, Manyara, Ngorongoro and the Serengeti.

These events unfold just days now before the planned visit by President Obama to Tanzania. Obama’s handlers already cancelled a visit to one of the country’s national parks, ostensibly over the cost involved for the security operation, but with these latest developments there may have been more to it than meets the eye, suggesting that the Americans may wish to keep the visit as short and snappy as possible before moving on again. While there is no indication at present, that the Arusha incidents may lead to a last minute cancellation of the Obama visit, it is equally clear that the US administration will be eyeing these developments with growing concern. ‘They have no choice but to come, because the Chinese president was here and this is a countermeasure they must employ. Even if these blasts had happened in Dar, Obama would still have to come to show flag and try contain the growing Chinese influence in East Africa’ commented a regular political analyst from Tanzania before adding: ‘Whatever the government now plans about a crackdown will maybe wait till Obama is gone again for fear that this might pop up on the agenda, because Kikwete [Tanzania’s president] wants to smile and not cry after meeting Obama’.

Tourism sources are at present more concerned over the short and medium term impact on tourist arrivals of such incidents getting global media coverage, especially in the run up to the Obama visit. On such occasions the entire country comes under scrutiny over their human right records, their treatment of the media, maritime disasters and plans for, among others, to build a highway across the Serengeti’s migration routes. Add to that the plan to build a port inside the Coelacanth marine national park near Tanga, plans for Uranium mining in the Selous – and the irony of it by Russian companies no less – plus plans to put a hydro electric power plant into Stiegler’s Gorge, also in the Selous it could make for some rather negative press for Tanzania. Poaching and illegal logging too have come under the spotlight again in recent weeks, as the global media digs up whatever there is out in the public domain, to write up their stories about the country Obama is visiting, while giving his late father’s homeland Kenya, right next door, a wide berth. Time will tell who the culprits behind this cowardly attack were, linked to the opposition as the government already suggested or linked to a government under increasing pressure ahead of the next general election, a the opposition suggested. Watch this space to find out about all those twists in the tail of this emerging story.