Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

1 July 2013

Tanzania: When United States Presidents Visit Arusha

Arusha — THE first time that an American President set foot in Arusha was during the turn of the new millennium, back in the year 2000, August to be precise. At that time the US President was William Jefferson Clinton or popularly known as Bill Clinton.

During that time also, the legendary African Statesman, Nelson (Madiba) Mandela used to live in Arusha; his house was at the further end of Kanisa Road in the city.

The charismatic US President, Bill Clinton and the former South African President, Nelson Mandela found their paths crossing in Arusha when both sat at the high table during the climax of Burundi Peace Talks negotiations.

The meeting was held in the Simba Plenary Hall of the Arusha International Conference Centre. Nelson Mandela took over the presiding of the Burundi Peace talks from the former Tanzanian President, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere who had died in London on the 14th of October 1999.

This explains why the former SA President had to live in Arusha where the negotiations were taking place. Madiba invited President Clinton to witness the signing of the accord. President Clinton landed at Kilimanjaro Airport at around 4.00 pm and by the time he left Arusha later at Midnight; the former tenant of the White House had left a deep mark engraved in the city residents' minds.

For the first and probably the last time, the town roads were washed with soap, ordinary people restricted from venturing anywhere near the city centre, the entire AICC building comprising of 2000 offices was sealed off and workers forced to take the day-off (Not a bad idea, considering it was Monday, the blue day of the week).

The local fire brigade trucks, that under ordinary circumstances never seem to have water in their tanks, managed to somehow fill their reservoirs and used them to spray the town in efforts to control the August dust.

Pupils and students were also forced to line up along the road leading to the airport from early morning up to the time when the US front-man motorcade was supposed to drive by; their duty, as stipulated then, was to wave and cheer to the motorcade ... or something! Spending nine hours under the hot August sun, without food or water can be dangerous, and sure enough, many children fainted in the process.

Eight years later another US President jetted into town, this time it was Mr George Bush who unlike Clinton, had first landed in Dar-es-Salaam before making port in Arusha, the fanfare, tight security, rumours, speculations and innuendos were also the same as the earlier visit.

In 2008 however no building was closed for the day, even though some roads were barred from use; however pupils and students remained in class. Mr Bush also spent more time in the city and toured a variety of places than his predecessor.

"Before the former US President George Bush visited Tanzania in 2008, the Anti-retroviral (ARVs) used to be sold to HIV-Aids patients, but after his visit and intervention, such drugs started to be issued free of charge becoming a relief to many," Recalls a local medical attendant Nurse Hidaya Mollel.

This week the third US President Mr Barrack Obama will be visiting Tanzania during the final leg of his African tour but alas! He won't be touring Arusha, which means all roads and buildings will remain open.

But even as Mr Obama restricts his Tanzanian visit into just Dar-es-Salaam City, people here could not resist a few speculations for good measure; like there are those who swore that the US president will actually tour Arusha during his visit but the trip, is to be done under extreme secrecy. Others were sure that all buses, passenger vehicles and other private cars hailing from up-country areas, including Arusha, were totally barred from travelling to Dar-es-Salaam until Obama's visit was completed.

But as the third US Head of State tours Tanzania, 13 years after Clinton raised the curtain to such visits, the former President of South Africa and former Resident of Arusha, Mr Nelson Mandela lies critically ill in Johannesburg at the time when he was likely to cross paths and ideas with Mr Obama.

Even though Mr Obama's African tour included a South African itinerary, the two legendary figures were somehow not destined to meet; the White House tenant apparently could not visit or see Old Madiba who by the time of the leader's visit to Johannesburg, was still under life support.

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