Dar es Salaam — For the third time this year, residents of Tanzania's Mtwara region held a public rally to protest government plans to install a pipeline to transport gas from Mtwara to Dar es Salaam power plants.
In the latest demonstration on January 19th, residents say jobs related to recently found gas deposits should stay in Mtwara and not be transferred to the capital.
Salum Namkulala, a 62-year-old Mtwara native now working in Dar es Salaam, said the government has consistently neglected regions in southern Tanzania, leaving them in abject poverty.
"Mtwara and Lindi are the least-developed regions in the country," Namkulala told Sabahi. "Since [Tanzania's] independence, we have had no roads, schools, hospitals or access to water, and employment is nightmare. Mtwara is a symbol of poverty in our country."
"Last year, God decided to bless our neglected region by giving us gas," he said. "Ironically, the government comes to befriend us, but maintains the poverty line by transporting our gas to Dar es Salaam. In capital letters we say 'no' to this."
In order to generate employment and distribute the national wealth equitably, the government should build infrastructure to convert the gas into electricity in Mtwara and then transport it to other parts of the country, Namkulala said.
Mtwara resident Eligius Nakapanya, 48, said the discovery of natural gas in the region is an opportunity for local development rather than the consolidation of resources and opportunities in the congested capital.
Developing sectors and creating jobs in Mtwara and other regions would ease the pressure of migrants who head to Dar es Salaam in search of jobs, he told Sabahi.
Parliamentarian Nimrod Mkono told Sabahi he fully supports Mtwara residents' position because Tanzania's economic policies have failed to protect local interests. Since the government opened its economy in 1987 to attract investors, it has focused on developing laws to protect investors, he said.
"Investors have more rights than citizens," he told Sabahi. "Our policies must be wrong somewhere, somehow. Mtwara [residents] have learned from what happened in the Buhemba Gold Mine in the Mara region and they do not want to fall into the same trap."
In his example, a private company extracted gold from Mara between 1994 and 2004, but years later the region continues to be among the least developed in the country with few schools, no tarmacked roads and no hospitals.
Mtwara Mjini constituency parliamentarian Hasnain Mohamed Murji said he also supports residents' push to distribute opportunities equally.
"Our leaders are saying our resources are for the entire nation and no one disputes that, but what we are saying is that the nation is not only Dar es Salaam," he told Sabahi. "Our young boys are [hawkers] in Dar es Salaam. We want them to come back to Mtwara and become factory managers."
Government defends its position
President Jakaya Kikwete said the entire country has benefitted from resources found in Tanzania's regions.
"Mwanza and Shinganya have been producing gold, but they have never claimed to enjoy alone all benefits from gold," he said last week at an event to kick off upgrades at the Tabora Airport. "The income from gold is distributed to all regions through the national budget."
Minister of Energy and Minerals Sospeter Muhongo said the gas issue is being politicised and Tanzanians should avoid injecting politics into serious matters of national interest because they risk sending the country into chaos.
"When the government successfully solicited a $1 billion loan from Exim Bank last year to build the pipeline, no one voiced objections," he told Sabahi. "How come when we reach the implementation stage, they start this fracas? I can smell politics, and this cannot be healthy for the nation."
Muhongo said moving the gas to Dar es Salaam makes sense because the city is already equipped with the infrastructure needed to convert the gas into electricity and upload it to the national power grid. Allowing those power plants to work at capacity will help bring down the cost of electricity for the entire country, he said.
Since most of the nation's factories are in Dar es Salaam, he said, transporting raw gas directly into the capital would further reduce costs for plants that also use gas for other purposes.
The minister dismissed criticism that the government is only focusing on projects that benefit the capital and not addressing unemployment in other regions.
The government plans to complete the implementation of its natural resources development strategy within ten years, he said. This involves building industrial parks in Mtwara and Lindi regions where the gas has been discovered. Plans also include building a port in Mtwara, creating export processing zones, and building factories for storing liquefied natural gas and petrochemicals.
"Common sense tells me that if they are pressing for jobs, the plans I have mentioned -- which they are aware of -- will generate more jobs than they need," Muhongo told Sabahi. "My worry is we are playing dangerous politics."