opinionBy Marc Nkwame
Arusha — FOR business people and petty traders operating in Arusha, the presence of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal in the city has been a nearly two-decade long windfall.
The UN-ICTR opened chambers here some 17 years ago in the aftermath of the genocide, which took place in Rwanda in 1994 when nearly one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were butchered in cold blood. Tanzania was chosen by the United Nations to host the resulting trials.
Established in Arusha back in 1995, the court employed people from all over the world and these made the world-go-round here with fat salaries and larger-than-life remunerations that they spent generously in the town.
With the 'UN' employees having plenty of money to throw into the local circulation, traders were amply catered for, customer-wise and even more cherished with the 'Keep the change,' tag at the end of each of their transactions.
However, after dillydallying with the concept, now the UN-ICTR is seriously in the process of winding up its activities here and before knowing it, local traders who were used with 'Keep-thechange,' are realizing that it is high time they 'braced for changes!
"Business is slumping nowadays and this is because most of our customers used to be employees of the United Nations' International Criminal Tribunal and many of them have started to leave town ... "
... Arusha has always basked in the UN-ICTR glory, especially the money that the court used to pump into the town's circulation but at the moment, markets, hotels and shops have started to feel the pinch of the Tribunal's exit," says Ms Pamela James, who works for Manda Supermarket.
Ms Gladys Mosses, who works for the Via- Via (The Meeting Place), located just next to the AICC, where the Tribunal is based, said most of the joint's customers especially during lunch hours, have been the court's staff. However, of late the patrons have been disappearing because the UN-ICTR is reportedly winding up.
"Arusha is likely to suffer the court's absence in a bad way, employment vacancies will disappear, money will melt into thin air and a number of local joints in town are likely to fold up in the process," she stated. Mr Obeid Mollel, who works at the New Safari Hotel was of the view that Arusha's economy shot up when the UN-ICTR moved here in 1995.
From that time, even the town face started to change, more buildings came up, the number of financial institutions also increased along with modern hotels and other high class business outlets.
"Even the airport became busy but now the court is closing shop, many shops will also close, money circulation will drop and many houses that were previously rented as premium properties will remain empty and vacant," he pointed out.
But it is the vegetable sellers, who are likely to feel the pinch of UN-ICTR's vacuum. "If there are people, who will be affected by the ICTR exit then it is us the traders operating from the main Central Market in town," said Mr Augustino Vavai, a grocer at the Central Market.
"The tribunal people used to flock here to buy vegetables, fruits and other foodstuff at whatever prices displayed without bargaining but always leaving large tips as well as telling us to 'keep the change!'" he added. But then, almost everybody here in Arusha will eventually suffer once the last person closes the court's door and switches off its lights.
After 'keeping change,' during transaction it is time to 'brace for change,' in the transition. The fact that the African Court on People and Human Rights, the East African Community and the mushrooming institutes of higher learning are taking roots here is still no consolation to the good old 'keep the change,' tribunal days.