SPECULATION ERUPTS AS ARUSHA’S CURIO MARKET BURNED DOWN LAST NIGHT
(Posted 18th November 2014)
There was much speculation last evening when Arusha’s Maasai Curio Market caught fire and burned down to mere ashes, following reports earlier yesterday that the Tanzanian government had given up to 40.000 Maasai people in the Loliondo area a quit notice for the end of the year.
Several sources were swift to offer their comments and their interpretation of what the causes of the fire were, all agreeing though on one issue, that it very likely was an act of arson, before several ‘reasons’ were advanced and argued over with this correspondent.
The two main lines of thought were that this could indeed be linked to the eviction plans of the government to clear the land for a hunting concession for the Dubai royals, who will no doubt be less than happy to see their name dragged further into the mud in connection with the suggested backlash that this fire was set in retaliation.
Others though attributed the fire to the start of the election campaign and the recently completed new draft constitution which emerged very controversial with significant sections of civil society and opposition parties. If correct, and considering that Arusha during the year was the scene of several grenade attacks, none fully resolved at this point in time, it would suggest a sharp departure from Tanzania’s past election campaigns which were by and large peaceful, though occasionally marred on a constituency level by at times targeted violence from both sides of the political spectrum. ‘I sure hope those who think that is the start of a very negative and violent election campaign are wrong because if anything, it would have a very bad consequence for our tourism sector. Arusha is the gateway to the Northern safari parks and for many reasons called East Africa’s safari capital. Any level of negative campaigning will have an impact and we cannot permit this to happen. Kikwete cannot stand for another term so I personally hope that the police and security forces are a bit more unbiased than otherwise the case because, if they are seen to enforce the ruling party’s candidates it could be leading to yet more problems’ suggested one source while another, of a different school of thought, added his view: ‘This was not an ordinary fire. But whatever they find as a source, the one thing our officials will deny is that there is any link to the eviction of so many people in Loliondo. But that is a very likely scenario of course. There is a lot of bad blood already now between the Maasai and the government of this issue, also over their rights to settle in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. There have been murmurs that the pastoralists are again targeted by anti-poaching operations, all potential reasons for negative reactions of course. I agree with you that speculation on the cause or the perpetrators may be premature but to put it in simple terms, all of Arusha is awash in rumours now and it is only this and politics which dominate the discussion’.
Not quite so however as a third, albeit hardly supported line of thought emerged that the market itself was the target by alleged landgrabbers, which knowing the present climate the outgoing administration has created in its wake, can of course not be completely ruled out.
One thing everyone agreed on was the sadness that the owners of the stalls lost multi-million Tanzania Shilling amounts in stock and property as few if any had insurance policies in place and the added fact that tourists who usually thronged the market, now have to look for alternative places where to shop for their crafts and curios.
Certainly a place to be watched with keen eyes in coming weeks and months, and all with hopes that the all-important tourism industry does not take too big a knock, already depressed by unjustified Ebola fears a global media frenzy had whipped up over the past weeks.