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Friday, January 7, 2011

I Thought the Election Was Over?

Chadema, the main opposition political party, held another rally in downtown Arusha on January 5. The first one back in early November, which I stupidly drove through, was rowdy, but peaceful. The police were out in numbers, but did not engage the demonstrators. (You can read about my brush with the demonstrators here.)

This time it was different. My description of events is limited and comes mostly from "The Citizen," a Tanzanian newspaper printed in both Swahili and English. That's because this time, I was smart enough to stay safely inside my house on the quiet outskirts of town, behind two sets of locked gates.  Here's "The Citizen's" January 6 article about the event.

K2 was traveling home from Mt. Kilimanjaro in late afternoon on the bus. People started getting phone calls and text messages from friends in Arusha, warning that there was unrest in the town center. They turned on radios and listened to the news. Traffic bogged down into a massive traffic jam snaking all the way back to Tengeru, about 20 miles outside of Arusha. It turns out that's because Chadema was marching in Arusha on that highway.

K2  and I exchanged calls and texts, too. Since I was already home before the demonstration started, my first news of it came in a text from K2. I called Anna, who was at work at school, where they hear news about goings-on in town from their crew of bus drivers. The drivers were reporting a big crowd and police using tear gas.

 Only a couple of hours earlier, I'd been downtown, while it was still quiet. A young European woman with white-blonde hair in a big swoopy spike had showed me her city map and asked me to point her in the direction of a hostel marked on the map. She was carrying a backpack and walking alone and seemed a little tired. I gave her directions to the hostel, and as she walked away, I briefly thought I should have given her a ride. But I didn't. She crossed my mind because her hostel was in the midst of the trouble. I hope she was locked up inside and stayed safe.

I suggested to K2 that he stay overnight with his friend Jonathan who lives near Tengeru. But K2 was intent on getting home. I suspect that was because he was thinking about how freaked out I was after driving through the first rally back in November. As soon as he hung up, I started worrying about him.  So when he called again to say he wasn't sure he could get home through the traffic jam, I ran through a list of reasons why I would be safe right where I was, and he shouldn't worry about me. He spent the night at Jonathan's. The next morning, Arusha was quiet again and he made it to his office and home in the evening without a problem.

Chadema had scheduled a demonstration march with a speech by their recently failed presidential candidate, Wilbrod Slaa, because of dissatisfaction with the mayoral election that just happened in Arusha. After we got past the national election at the end of October peacefully, I stopped worrying about politics. I didn't even know Arusha had held a mayoral election. The demonstration march happened on one edge of town. The speech was planned for a different location across town. The police arrested Slaa, and two Chadema parliament representatives. A crowd assembled at the jail in protest, and the situation turned violent. Two people were killed, according to the paper. Three, according to rumor. This information is from "The Citizen" and I'll leave it to you to read the article   if you want to know more. I'd rather not paraphrase or summarize. Arusha is quiet again now, with the only sign of the trouble being extra police on foot around the town center.


  1. These things are scary for foreigners, well for the local people as well. On my various sojourns in foreign countries I try hard to be aware of my surroundings and seeing any kind of gathering or group event in the street to walk away from it.

    And when I know demonstrations will occurr, to stay home or far away from them.

    Hope things stay quiet in Arusha!

  2. Jeeze, Barbara, I'm really glad you are okay. Things can turn ugly in a second, but frankly, we both know that can happen anywhere. Still, I am really glad you were smart enough to stay home! I live on an island right next to Oakland, California. Oakland has had its share of unrest and I worked there for years dodging bullets. (Not really, but almost the same!)

  3. @Footloose: my Tanzanian boyfriend gave the exact same advice the day after when I wanted to go into town to recharge my wireless modem: avoid any groups gathering. Come to think of it, my mom used to say pretty much the same thing when we were little: if anybody starts a fight, run away fast.
    @Linda: you're right. This happened only two days before the shooting in Tucson.