SOME Members of Parliament love to play with fire by testing the patience of the government and other law reinforcing state organs, but the Mafia MP Abdulkarim Shah, would rather play with water.
Aged 51, the CCM legislator from Coast Region arrived in Arusha last week as the Vice Chairman of the delegation of MPs forming the Land, Natural Resources and Environment committee which was visiting, among other conserved areas, the Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater and other Northern Circuit attractions.
Mr Shah, however, also happens to be the Vice Chairman of the Tanzania Tourist Board and his colleagues would often ask him why he chose to play second fiddle by being "Vice" chairman to many things.
But there is one area in which MP Shah takes the wheel and that is when it comes to water; "I am a fisherman, sailor and rescuer," he says. That shouldn't come in as surprise because his constituency of Mafia is an Island in the Indian Ocean. But when the National Assembly went down the Ngorongoro Crater, there wasn't enough water to impress Shah despite the fact that the caldera has its own a hippo-filled lake.
Moving on to Serengeti National Park there was even less water. The best that this Tanzania's second largest park could offer was the crocodile infested Grumeti River, Wildebeest surrounded Mara River and a couple of hippo pools. Under the guidance of the Tanzania National Parks (TANAPA) the team eventually entered the Lake Zone and this is where Mr Shah's skills came to the surface as he raced a speed boat with an outboard engine from Mwanza port to Saa-Nane Island, which has just been made a National Park.
He seemed happy to ferry visitors to and from the tiny, rocky island without demanding payment. "I feel at home when surrounded by water," he announced. "When MV Spice Islander, which was on its way to Pemba from Zanzibar sank on September 10, 2011, I was among the team of rescuers," said Mr Shah, adding that he also helped save lives when the other vessel MV Skagit which was sailing from Dar-es- Salaam to Zanzibar sank last July.
"It was also my idea to take a boat from Dar-es-Salaam harbour and use it to rescue people during the disastrous floods that affected the Jangwani section of the City in December last year," said MP Shah. The National Assembly's Natural Resources and Environment Committee later flew from Mwanza to Kigoma where it sailed on Lake Tanganyika on the way to Gombe National Park famous for its chimpanzees and other wild primates.
Two boats were used to ferry the delegation to the island, one of which was piloted by Mr Shah himself who took great pleasure in outracing the other vessel being driven by its usual captain. One of the passengers on Mr Shah's boat was the Member of Parliament for Kahama, Mr James Lembeli, who is the chairman of the Land, Natural Resources and Environment committee and who throughout the journey happened to be below the dock.
As the boat cruised to the berth point, Mr Lembeli ascended to the dock and was clearly surprised, if not shaken to learn that throughout the 40 minutes boat journey on the world's second deepest lake, he was at the mercy of his own vice chairman. "You mean it is you who was 'driving?'" he queried, upon which Shah laughed; "Boats have been my toys and water my playground since childhood," he said.
On the way back to Kigoma MP Shah landed his boat at Kazinga a fishing hamlet in Mtanga area where he managed to impress the residents after identifying himself with their fishing occupation and displaying remarkable boating skills, including diving under water to disentangle a rope caught in the engines. Before sailing from the village, Shah donated 300,000/- to the residents to help them construct a fish drying structures, Mr Lembeli added another 200,000/- to complete the required 500,000/- sum for the project.
The evening, however, ended with a sad note when after receiving a phone call from Mafia, the MP announced that his grandfather, who was sick had just passed away and being far, he therefore wouldn't be able to make it to the burial, which was set to take place the following day.