The road to Bagamoyo from Dar Es Salam is a well laid highway running through several towns and communities with such delectable names as Kawe, Mizimuni, White Sands, Kunduchi, SalaSala, and Bunju among others.
The evidence of a developing landscape was all around with new buildings, towns and access roads sprouting like newly planted corns on a farm. In the far distance, a hovering mist above the early morning sun gave a magical appearance to a handsome but winningly humble country. To protect the small towns from reckless drivers, the speed limit in the towns was 50km/hour.
In addition to the speed limits were warning signs in Ki-Swahili, the official language of Tanzania: as ‘Nenda Pole Pole’ (Go slowly). To effect the traffic regulations were the ubiquitous ‘Askaris’ (policemen) in their immaculate white uniforms at every strategic spot on the way.
As the SUV that conveyed me from Dar (the nickname for Dar Es Salaam) glided through the early morning traffic, the vegetation soon changed from the leafy foliage of the south to swampy fields and sparse vegetation of the north. Soon, the tightly packed buildings of the city centre gave way to suburban scattered buildings.
Before long, we were in Bagamoyo where I savoured encounters with the salty and warm Indian Ocean whose rhythmic and booming waves lulled me to sleep every night as well as delicious freshly caught Tilapia grilled over outdoor charcoal fire.
Actually, my most memorable stay in Tanzania was at the coastal town of Bagamoyo, a distance of about 65 kilometres north of Dar Es Salaam. A town of wonderful beaches, palms and ancient history, Bagamoyo is said to mean ‘’Here I lay down my heart’’ an expression about the despair of slaves brought from the hinterland as they reached the town and for the first time, saw the sea, which must have symbolised the end of all their hopes.
It is easy to fall in love with Bagamoyo with her famous ruins and white lovely beaches that ran along the wide blue waters of the wave tossed Indian ocean. At night, in the distant glow of the moon, I saw fishing boats scattered on the sea like black butterflies on an apple yard as fishermen went for their nightly duties. Once in a while the echoes of their voices and nocturnal activities came to me in my hotel room, not far from the beach.
Sometimes I stayed up far into the night just to watch the boats as they roamed about the fathomless sea without a care for the giant waves, heavy rains and occasional storms that were usually their lot. To see the fishing boats out in the sea with their sails bellowed by the wind under the full glow of the midnight moon, with the voices of the fishermen floating in the midsummer’s night was one of the most magical moments of my travelling experience.
Every morning in the light of day break, I would be at the beach to welcome the heavily laden boats. Their catch was always awesome; sardines, lobsters, kingfish, rock cod, red and blue snapper as well as prawns and squids. I soon made friends with the fishermen who allowed me to pose for photographs with their lovely looking fishes and sold me fresh Tilapia at give- away prices.
I had come to Tanzania, the Swahili land on the invitation of the organisers of the annual ‘Mwalimu Nyerere Intellectual Festival’ to deliver a paper on the conference theme; ‘’The Politician in the rise and fall of Africa’’. The three- day dialogue was expected to explore the quality and nature of politicians in Africa as well as the challenges this category of leaders are facing in the execution of their duties among other issues. The discourse was also expected to determine how the politician in Africa had contributed to the development or underdevelopment of African countries.
And so for three good days the conference was awash with erudite presentations from a diverse array of speakers made up of political scientists, human rights activists, gender experts, as well as former and serving Members of Parliaments.
Speaker after speaker paid glowing tributes to the first Tanzanian President and the father of the Tanzanian nation, Julius Nyerere to whom the conference was dedicated. Expectedly, the politician was at the receiving end most of the time with many paper presenters inundating the audience with gory and unsavoury political scenarios allegedly perpetuated by African politicians as if the people themselves are innocent bystanders.
It was indeed a difficult time to be referred to as a politician and one of my Tanzanian friends jokingly advised me not to introduce myself as a politician but as a writer and physician! Luckily, the audience seemed to agree with the focus of my presentation which was that politics is too important to be left alone in the hands of politicians, as such, the people have to be more responsive and responsible to politics and politicians.
A major highlight of the conference was Prof Patrick Lumumba’s highly entertaining and provocative paper; ‘’’A call for Hygiene in African Politics’’ The presentation by the well- known human rights Lawyer with its eloquence, drama and masterly erudition delivered to a packed audience consisting mostly of students almost brought down the roof.
Prof Lumumba who heaped praises on the current Tanzanian President John Magufuli whom he referred to as a ‘breath of fresh air’ for his anticorruption stand, predicted that Tanzania would in a few years’ time become one of the biggest economies in Africa if Magufuli was able to maintain his wonderful governance tempo. Lumumba like several speakers before him also reiterated the urgent need for Africans to de-ethnicise politics. As he put it ; ’the God I worship is a God of diversity’ .
Dar es Salaam with a population of 4.36 million is the commercial capital and largest city in Tanzania. It is situated in the east coast of the Indian Ocean.
The original name of the city, I was told was Mzizima (tremble due to cold) but the city was renamed by its early Arab settlers as Dar es Salaam, ‘The City of Peace’. Although with about the same land size with Nigeria (Population; 201 million) Tanzania with just a population of about 56.9 million people is considered to be a generally laid back country with friendly people and well organised transport, health and educational systems,
Tanzania also has a relatively new capital city, the central city of Dodoma, to which remaining parts of the government are expected to relocate by the year 2017.
Many Tanzanians were eagerly looking forward to the move to the new capital if anything else to reduce the very high rent in Dar es Salaam. ‘’ Dar is very expensive for ordinary Tanzanians due to a high presence of diplomats and expatriates who have driven up house rent to as much as $3,000 per flat in some sections of the city’’ one Tanzanian writer observed.
With an exchange rate of about 2,200 Tanzanian shillings to a dollar, the cost of house rent in local currency can best be imagined. However, other daily needs such as food and transport are not that exorbitant. For a 30- minute ride in the ‘Bajaj’ the Tanzanian tricycle, I paid about 500 shillings while a ride for the same period of time in a commercial bus ‘Dala Dala’ was considerably less.
The Tanzanian President, at the time of my visit; John Magufuli ‘The Bulldozer’ was known to be an anti- corruption czar.
On my second day in Tanzania, screaming newspaper headlines announced the results of some of his many anti- corruption interventions. Commenting on the suspension of the CEO of EWURA, the country’s power generating firm, the Dar Es Salaam based ‘The Citizen’ reported the suspension as a ‘Midnight Drama’.
In its own report of the massive plundering of the country’s mineral wealth as revealed by a Presidential investigating committee, The Tanzanian Guardian observed thus; ‘’Even The Devil Must Be Mocking Us’’.
As The Guardian put it; ‘’ The second presidential probe committee has revealed industrial-scale plunder of mineral wealth from Tanzania to the tune of over 100trn shillings in unpaid tax revenue over 20 years’’.
Coming after several cost savings measures including the May 2017 sacking of the country’s Minister for Mines, Sospeter Muhongo over allegations of improper declaration of mining exports, it was obvious that Magufuli meant business.
Expectedly, it was not all Tanzanians that were happy with the President’s style of government accusing Magufuli of human rights violations.
I later went on a tour of Dar Es Salaam, beginning with the National museum which was established in 1940. At the entrance to the museum was a cubicle containing an array of twisted and burnt steel material.
Above the cubicle was an inscription; IN MEMORY OF THOSE WHO DIED ON THE 7TH AUGUST 1998 BOMBING INCIDENT AT THE US EMBASSY IN DAR ES SALAAM.
My guide informed me that the twelve people who died during the bombing incident were all Tanzanians who were visiting the Embassy at the time. Other artefacts and historical pictures in the museum included evidence of the Majimaji war of 1905-1907, beds and gates from Kilwafrom 1760 as well as the photograph of Dr Richard Hiddorf who established Sisal cultivation in East Africa.
Also included was a very massive bed that was said to have belonged to a former Sheikh of Dar Es Salaam. The bed was so big that the Sheikh was said to have who needed the support of a slave to climb it.
There were also photographs depicting the killing of many Zimbabweans through hanging as the evidence to the resistance to the German rule of the 1700s , the war against Uganda between 1977 to 1979 as well as those about the country’s struggle for Independence in 1961/62. Also in the museum was the stuffed version of the lion that was presented to former President Julius Nyerere on his retirement from office in 1985.
From the museum, Idi, the Nigerian Embassy driver drove me to the very congested central part of Dar Es Salam via the city’s main artery, the shop lined Samora Avenue. All the shops were bursting with merchandise which varied from textile, shoes, bags and electronics.
Before long, we were in Kariakoo market with its heavy throng of shoppers preparing for the end of the Ramadan fasting.
The crowd was so thick that movement whether vehicular or human was almost impossible. And as Idi manoeuvred the big SUV through the crowd, he honked and swerved with the dexterity of a veteran driver that he is.
Once in a while, I had the sinking feeling that he was going to hit somebody but luckily, we completed our tour without any bad incident. Later in the evening, His Excellency Ambassador Salisu Umaru and his wonderful team from the Nigerian Embassy, hosted me to a dinner at a posh Chinese restaurant in the highbrow Oysterbay area of the city.
The following day I was at another dinner at the residence of the Vice Chancellor, University of Dar Es Salaam. As scholars, students, diplomats and other guests tucked into the barbecued chicken, potatoes, plantain and fish dinner amidst clinking of wine glasses, laughter, light hearted jokes and merriment rented the air to the background of melodious music under the June starry night.
As the DJ later changed the disc to a popular music by Nigeria’s iconic musician P Square, an electrifying mood suddenly enveloped the night as some of the students at the function immediately took to the dance floor.
Minutes later, lured by the insistence rumble of the percussions and sonorous voice, I soon found myself on the dance floor much to the students’ great delight.
Before long, music, arguably the highest form of art, broke all kinds of barriers as scholars and students, diplomats and politicians, youngsters and the elderly danced the night away. It was a befitting end to the three day ninth ‘Mwalimu Nyerere Intellectual Festival’ in the Tanzanian city of Dar es Salaam.
The following day, I was back in Bagamoyo for a quick tour of the town especially the old part with its narrow streets, hotels and guest houses. I also visited the ruins of the first stone building said to have been built by the first prominent Arab settler in Bagamoyo, Abdallah Selemani Marhabi.
The building which was originally designed as his personal residence had changed hands in the past two centuries from the Arab to the Germans, then to the British and now in the hands of the Tanzanian government. From a slave camp, the building has been used as a prison, government official residence and as a police Post. Sadly, on the day of my visit, it was in ruins.
Also visited were the Arab Tea House, the District Hospital, ruins of the German Customs House, the new church as well as the cenotaph to commemorate the landing of the first Christian missionary to East Africa.
On my way back to my hotel, I branched at the local market where I made some purchases of the local fabric, Kanga and some souvenirs. At the fish market despite my difficulty in understanding Ki -Swahili, I was still able to bargain for two tilapia fishes for 15,000 shillings.
On my last day in Tanzania, I made my way to the beach in Bagamoyo. The morning was warm and clear, the sky blue, so also was the ocean.
Even at that early hour, the beach was already active with joggers, swimmers, lovers and singers and fishermen and traders. Sitting round an abandoned old boat, some fishermen were resting while others were repairing their fishing nets in preparation for another nocturnal trip.
Next to the foamy waves at the shore, a large trawler from Zanzibar was discharging its cargo of gallons of ‘Oki’ vegetable oil. All around me, the seductive sounds of Ki-Swahili floated in the air as labourers waist deep in the shallow water shouted and swam as they herded hundreds of the floating gallons to the beach.
A young man approached me; he wanted me to buy some paintings. I politely declined. Another came, a photographer. I posed with the fishermen and the labourers, my feet in the warm, salty Indian ocean smiling faintly, knowing fully well that my time was up.
In a stretch of the long white sand, a group of boys were playing soccer. Their ball strayed to where I was sitting listening to the ocean. I picked it, tossed it up and kicked it back with an old instep I learnt several years ago. The ball flew into the air in the direction of the boys.
It seemed to have flown in the direction of Addis Ababa, my next destination.
Dr. Wale Okediran is an award-winning author, medical doctor and Secretary-General of the Pan African Writers Association (PAWA).