Protests over gas pipeline in Mtwara turn violent, military deployed

By Deodatus Balile in Dar es Salaam

May 23, 2013

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The Tanzanian government is deploying the People's Defence Force to Mtwara after mass protests staged by residents opposed to the construction of a gas pipeline from Mtwara to Dar es Salaam turned violent.

  • Police are dispatched to patrol the streets of Dar es Salaam on Thursday (May 23rd) after violence erupted in Mtwara over the construction of a gas pipeline. [Deodatus Balile/Sabahi]

    Police are dispatched to patrol the streets of Dar es Salaam on Thursday (May 23rd) after violence erupted in Mtwara over the construction of a gas pipeline. [Deodatus Balile/Sabahi]

Minister of Home Affairs Emmanuel Nchimbi announced the decision to parliament on Thursday (May 23rd). He said the government decided to maintain "law and order" in Mtwara, and should not be blamed for steps taken against aggressors.

Some people in Mtwara were spreading brochures calling on residents to protest with violence against the Ministry of Energy and Minerals budget, which was tabled in parliament Wednesday, if the minister responsible did not promise to stop the gas pipe construction, which has been some residents' long standing demand, Nchimbi told lawmakers.

To the contrary, Minister of Energy and Minerals Sospeter Muhongo announced in a televised speech that the construction of the gas pipeline would continue as planned, sparking the violence in the region.

Mtwara residents demolished the Mikindani Bridge that connects Mtwara with Lindi region, torched about ten houses including one that belongs to journalist Kassim Mikongolo of Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation, and burnt several government and ruling party offices, Nchimbi said.

The home affairs minister confirmed to parliament that riot police used teargas to disperse protestors.

"When it reached this stage, the Mtwara Regional Commissioner asked the higher authority to authorise the use of the army, and this was the only option," Nchimbi said.

As troops deployed on Wednesday, however, one of the vehicles transporting them to Mtwara got in an accident and four soldiers died.

"I want to assure Tanzanians that the blood of our four committed soldiers who got in the accident yesterday and died while on their way to Mtwara is not lost," Nchimbi told parliament. "We will crack down on every perpetrator of the violence and bring them to justice."

Gas pipeline construction to continue: Kikwete

In an unusual move, President Jakaya Kikwete issued a strong statement at 10 pm Wednesday, saying the call to stop construction of the gas pipeline was unacceptable. He pledged that the government would crack down on whoever is propagating the aggression in Mtwara.

"I believe it is something unacceptable that national resources can be restricted only to the place where they are found," Kikwete said. "It has never happened in any country of this world, there is no such policy anywhere, and it cannot start from Mtwara."

Kikwete instructed security forces to search everyone involved in the violence and bring them to justice.

Suspending construction of the gas pipeline is not going to happen under his government, Kikwete said. The government has promised to build 57 factories in Mtwara and the work has started, he said, therefore whoever is instigating residents on the grounds that Mtwara residents would be left with nothing once the gas is taken to Dar es Salaam has a personal agenda.

Speaker of the National Assembly Anne Makinda suspended parliament's business Wednesday evening to give the government time to restore peace in Mtwara.

"Yesterday I suspended the parliament business … But based on the situation on the ground in Mtwara, I am now once again adjourning the parliament business until [Friday]," Makinda told parliamentarians in Dodoma. "The reason behind [this decision] is to give ourselves time to help our brothers and sisters in Mtwara to calm down."

Mtwara residents tense, businesses closed

Hassan Chikongowe, a 46-year-old resident of Mtwara told Sabahi over the phone how the violence started on Wednesday.

"All people were asked to get prepared for this," he said. "We were closely watching the minister tabling the budget. Our interests were to hear him say the plan to construct the pipe is put off, but to our shock, he said the plan is going on as planned. That is when people took to the streets."

Chikongowe said the situation is tense in Mtwara as police are searching for people house-to-house and all businesses in the town have been closed.

Neville Meena, secretary general of the Tanzania Editors Forum, said journalists in Mtwara have been forced to hide because protesters launched a campaign to kill them.

"Out of desperation, [the protesters] think journalists are not reporting enough of what they want, and now they think the solution is to kill them," Meena told Sabahi. "They have burnt Mikongolo's house and they are hunting for others. We have contacted police to rescue them and efforts are going on."

Residents have been misled, government says

Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Energy and Minerals Joachim Maswi told Sabahi that Mtwara residents have been misled and it is in their interest to construct the gas pipe that will help grow the national economy and benefit all Tanzanians.

He said the gas will not be taken to Dar es Salaam only to generate electricity for the commercial capital as purported, but rather it has multiple uses including industrial and home uses.

This was not the first time violent riots erupted in Mtwara. In January, protests over the gas pipeline left four dead and 12 injured, and caused about 1.5 billion shillings ($922,000) in damages.

After a series of protests earlier this year, Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda said the government failed to educate residents about how the pipeline would be managed.

In February, Mtwara Regional Commissioner Colonel Joseph Simbakalia announced plans to improve communication between Mtwara residents and the Tanzanian government regarding the area's gas resources.

At that time, Kikwete said 16% of the gas extracted in Mtwara would go to Dar es Salaam, with the remainder to stay in Mtwara for various uses, including for export by sea.

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Reader's Comments

  • mick
    December 15, 2014 @ 01:42:19PM

    We understand that gas belongs to Tanzanians, but we must have good plans for our natural resources. I praise Mtwara residents for what they did. It's their right and duty. The government must be wise on deciding this issue, otherwise there is a possibility to meet South and North Sudans' fate, as people are now very knowledgeable.

  • yhm
    June 30, 2013 @ 03:20:04AM

    Let's be patient. Gas belongs to the Tanzanians.

  • johnson Nducha
    May 25, 2013 @ 02:47:14PM

    We must be very careful in decisions. I think we should look at what happens to investors and other sources. Are the local people benefiting? For example, the nation greed power from KIDATU, how is the local people's situation? A customer? And other areas? It might be that, these Mtwara residents try to avoid what has happened to their colleagues of seeing electrical cables going to Dar es Salaam and at their place, LIGHT is a forgotten story!! That is one. But, two, diplomatic ways must be used because we all brothers. Why should we reach to the point of killing each other? As a matter of fact, the issue of energy and minerals has been problematic. Foreigners must be KIND and stop their ARROGANCE! Our government loves its citizens, so they should not mislead us with their black magic contracts! God bless TANZANIA and bestow wisdom and power to our President so that he finalizes this matter peacefully.

    May 25, 2013 @ 05:41:46AM

    Our Mtwara brothers, never allow gas to be shifted without the environment being prepared. I am called

  • joe chimazi
    May 25, 2013 @ 04:55:47AM

    The president has issued a strong statement. It is not possible for people who are driven by their own interests to spread rumours to spoil peace by using narrow knowledge of Mtwara people. Everywhere in the world, gas is transported from where it is produced to other places.

  • Jitinya mayunga
    May 25, 2013 @ 04:04:08AM

    The government was supposed to be wise, educating Mtwara residents because minister's statement is contrary to talks between prime minister and Mtwara residents after first the violence this year as the prime minister has assured them a GAS plant would be built in MTWARA. Secondly, I am so saddened that the government incurs great losses for failing to educate Mtwara citizens until we have reached the point of losing our four soldiers due to our government's laziness. This personally touched me.

  • saleh hussein chanzi
    May 25, 2013 @ 02:16:30AM

    I am of the opinion that the government has to give sufficient education to citizens and not use force.

  • Misana
    May 24, 2013 @ 06:11:47PM

    Killing each other for any reasons won't make us get far. For our country's welfare, wisdom is required to solve our problems. Emotions, anger and force to achieve objectives do not go with our tradition. O, Mtwara people and you who are in power, know that Tanzania is one and we all have equal rights.

    May 24, 2013 @ 02:46:19PM

    our publication of information as far us the massmedia cocern ou should put verification data through picture form of responded area, and not otherwise like the one ou incerted on the top. Provided with that the readers will be much interested with your stories. thanks

  • omary
    May 24, 2013 @ 04:20:12AM

    On one side, I congratulate the people of Mtwara for defending the national resource. I know that many might not understand me, but I mean the energy and mineral resources that are available in Tanzania, this country shouldn't be so poor but Tanzanians have been marred in the wave of poverty until now, and this is very dangerous. The government shouldn't think that this will end and remain in Mtwara alone, it might spread to the entire Tanzania. Also, the government should not think that the use of force will be the solution, nor should it think that by listening to few people is the opinion of the whole community. The community of the place concerned should be listened to first, then the government should explain to them their objectives and plans. I wonder why the government which has a good network of knowing what the citizens say through local government, counties, villages, ten-cell leaders, to know what do the people talk about and what they want, and not to ignore them but doing what is possible to be done, and to talk openly and calmly if something is not possible. Another great mistake that the government would repent for one day, is this one they have started recently of the overuse of the military forces. The government should understand that by pouring the military into the streets, they expose them to things they had never seen or heard of. They see and hear a lot from the locals and government shouldn't be taken by surprise if one day those military refuse to return to their bases, instead, they seize the resourceful areas. Removing them from those areas would cost a lot. May be I'm just saying nonsense, and it is not Tanzanians will not expect to happen what happened in Mtwara and why it happened.

  • Dr Frederick Sagamiko
    May 24, 2013 @ 01:31:47AM

    The Government should contain criminals in order to sustain national unity. It should not allow that division.

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