Dodoma and Dar es Salaam — MTWARA Municipality was on Wednesday rocked by riots as police clashed with hundreds of demonstrators reportedly opposing the planned construction of a 532-km gas pipeline from the town to Dar es Salaam.
There are unconfirmed reports that at least one policeman has died and dozens of other people were injured in the clashes. However, Mtwara Regional Commissioner Joseph Simbakalia played down the reports, saying nobody has died and the situation was calm in the evening.
"It is true that there were attempts to stage a demonstration. But police moved in swiftly and dispersed all the troublemakers," he told one local radio station. Sources told the 'Daily News' that the rioters, mostly youths, have torched several houses, shops and offices in different parts of the municipality. Using dynamite, the rioters also damaged bridges and other structures during the mayhem.
The Minister for Energy and Minerals, Prof Sospeter Muhongo, had earlier moved his ministry's 2013/2014 budget proposals in the National Asembly in Dodoma yesterday. Prof Muhongo told the House that the government would go ahead with the 1,960bn/- project to produce about 400mw of electricity.
The country's cash-strapped power utility, TANESCO, hopes the 532 km pipeline being constructed with a $1.2 billion Chinese loan will boost generation of cheap electricity and fix the country's chronic energy shortages.
Following the riots, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Ms Anne Makinda, adjourned the evening session to allow the Parliamentary Steering Committee to meet and deliberate on the matter. She said the government should also come up with a statement on the matter this morning.
The Deputy Minister for Home Affairs, Mr Pereira Ame Silima, told the 'Daily News' that relevant government authorities were still collecting reports on the incident. Some schools were forced to remain closed, while some teachers ran away. MPs reached for comment advised the government to critically analyse the matter, while calling on Mtwara residents to use wisdom and peaceful means to pursue the matter.
Mr Vita Kawawa (Namtumbo-CCM) urged residents of Mtwara to remain calm as the government was taking measures to address their grievances. "We (MPs) and the government are aware of the people of Mtwara's demands and we are working collaboratively in finding solutions for the grievances," he said.
Mr Kawawa reminded the residents of Mtwara to understand that chaos would adversely cost them and their families and that the only way was to find a peaceful way of dealing with the issue. Ms Stella Manyanya (Special Seats-CCM) also urged the government to go an extra mile in looking for the cause of Mtwara's chaos.
"It should be remembered that the people in Mtwara were initially willing to see the project taking off to the extent that they agreed to be compensated to give room for the gas pipeline to take off, so it is difficult to understand what is really happening in Mtwara now," she said.
She cautioned the residents of Mtwara over the ongoing chaos, saying that it would be difficult for planned projects to take place under such a volatile environment. The situation remained tense shortly after the adjournment and legislators were seen in small groups discussing the matter.
Meanwhile, Rose Athumani reports that in the wake of the violence in Mtwara Region, President Jakaya Kikwete has reiterated that all natural resources found in any part of the country belong to -- and will benefit -- all Tanzanians.
He made the remarks when launching the construction of the 260-km Dodoma-Iringa Road to tarmac level on Wednesday.
The president pointed out that all natural resources found in Mtwara will benefit the people in the region in particular and all Tanzanians in general, cautioning residents not to fall prey to people who instigate such violence for personal interests.
Mr Kikwete condemned the violence and stressed that all those who were involved in the mayhem will be pursued, arrested and arraigned before courts of law. The Dodoma-Iringa Road launched on Wednesday is part of the Great North Road, starting from Cape Town in South Africa through Tanzania to Cairo in Egypt.
It connects Tunduma, Mbeya, Iringa, Dodoma, Arusha and Kenya through Namanga.