Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

14 January 2013

Tanzania: L. Kumba and How Its Shores Went Into Flames

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THERE are many lakes in Tanzania, some more important to their surrounding communities than words could ever describe, though these water bodies never make headlines; unless if they happen to have 'Tanganyika' or 'Nyasa,' monikers.

The remote Lake Kumba in Korogwe District has never made any headlines in the past and even when it mysteriously went up in flames recently few people outside the vicinity noticed. Notwithstanding that it is not normal for water, especially many litres of it, to simply start burning in raging fire and deep in the cold night.

The saga of the Lake which mysteriously erupted in flames at night will probably not be solved in a hurry, because typically of any rural settlement, local people are also smelling 'magic,' and other 'dark forces,' lurking behind the scene. Located in the Kwatonge Village, in Mashewa Ward of Korogwe District in Tanga region, Lake Kumba is among the relatively unknown but still most important water bodies that have been playing the role of 'lifeline' to local communities in rural parts of Tanzania.

Lake Kumba provide fish for the residents of ten villages located around its shores while its 'not-fit-for-drinking' water has been giving life to hundreds of acres of irrigation farms during dry seasons. But even important, since its shores touch many residential clusters, the lake has also been a vital means of transport connecting various sections of the said villages whose residents use it to sail on canoes and dhows.

Yet despite such importance, some unknown people simply woke up one night and worked overtime to ensure that all the shores of the lake, especially the sections used as boat landings or fishing areas, were set ablaze. Throughout human history, water was used to put out fire, but the case of Lake Kumba it seems like 'water itself was catching fire!'

Maybe it is just as well, because the local fire brigades, that have always failed to put out flames in cases of fire incidences occurring in Tanzania's urban areas, will now have good reason to explain their consistent failures. "I mean if a lake consisting of million litres of water can catch fire, what chance do the little water contained in our fire engines stand against raging flames?" they may argue.

And maybe that is why also some residents of Kwatonge village were compelled into suspecting 'acts of magic!' surrounding the Lake fire, though of course there are others like Mr Said Rajab who logically suspected arson. "Last year, the Uhuru Torch in its Korogwe round, set an overnight camp in our village," stated Mr Rajab, explaining that, the reason why they got such ' honour,' was because local residents proved to be good environmentalists through planting many trees around the lake shores.

But with the recent fire incident, many of the newly planted trees were reduced to smouldering ambers, therefore if the residents want to attract the torch in future they better go back to treenursery starting level. More than ten villages in Mashewa Ward, have been (and still are) relying on Lake Kumba for irrigation, fishing and local transport; apparently, many of the settlements can directly be reached by travelling using boats, otherwise the roads and paths have to meander through thick bushes and forests infested by large pythons.

When the lake, or at least its shores, went up in flames recently, people were forced to abandon their dug-out canoes, many of which got burnt anyway, and took to trek on land in order to reach other villages. Fishing activities also stopped and nearby settlements had to suffer invasion of wild creatures such as snakes, rodents and other lake shore animals that had to flee from the burning flames, seeking for alternative safe shelters.

But who is the person who just decided to wake up in the deep of the night simply to set ablaze the Lake? Obviously it was no bushfire incident and these certainly never occur during the night. "It was a clear case of sabotage on the environment though it is hard to tell why," said Mr Michael Lukindo, a resident of Kwatonga Village.

He said there were lots of village politics and it was possible that somebody somewhere was grieved and decided to revenge by burning the lake. "Causing people to stop fishing or farming for the whole day as they work to put out the flames can be quite an achievement to anybody who wants to see people suffering," stated Mr Abdi Athuman who was also of view that, grounding boats that people depend on for transport, was also the bitter icing on the already sour cake.

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