2 July 2013

Tanzania: Hold On! That Is Air Force One Arriving!

IT was a really rare spectacle. Dar es Salaam has never experienced an occasion like that for a very long time, maybe since Independence Day in 1961 and the day when the body of this nation's founder, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, arrived from London in 1999.

The major business of the day was none other than the arrival of President Barack Obama of the United States from South Africa where he has been visiting before coming to Tanzania.

Thousands of Dar es Salaam residents from all walks of life lined up both sides of the official route the American president was scheduled to pass from the Julius Nyerere International Airport (JNIA) to the State House, braving the mid-morning and mid-afternoon sun.

It was like a public holiday in the country's commercial capital and caretaker national capital as roads were empty as all the roads the US leader was to pass through had temporarily been closed to traffic.

And there was no mistaking the giant aircraft carrying President Obama and his entourage when its light metallic blue and white colours glittered under the afternoon sun.

There was an excited wide acclaim from the crowd on the ground as the supersonic-speeded jet slowly sailed over the Dar es Salaam sky at a slow gear. Its majestic descent was seen at various points - in Upanga East, Upanga West, Kariakoo, Buguruni, Nyerere Road and Kipawa.

The usually busy city almost came to a standstill as residents and visitors pointed skywards, turning their utmost attention to the arrival of President Obama, who in 2008 became the first African-American or 'black' president of the world's remaining superpower.

And the tense situation was compounded by the closure of several main thoroughfares in the city, including Ali Hassan Mwinyi Road, Ocean Road (renamed Barack Obama Avenue), Nyerere Road and Sokoine Drive, to ensure uninterrupted passage for the visiting president and the entourages.

But first and foremost, the road closure arrangement was meant to allow security personnel, both local and from the US, to have a level playing field to facilitate their job. The US president is one of the most heavily guarded heads of state in the world.

There was excitement in the air as thousands of Dar es Salaam residents lined both sides of the official route the US president was to pass from the Julius Nyerere International Airport to the State House. At exactly 2:38 pm EAT, the presidential jet with the words 'United States of America' came to a complete standstill.

Still his host, President Jakaya Kikwete, the rest of the welcoming team and hundreds of city residents who thronged the airport to get a glimpse of this US president whose father hailed from neighbouring Kenya, had to wait for nine minutes before the US leader came out.

Excitement ensued as thousands of people who had lined up the 'Obama Route' from the airport to the State House noticed initial advance team vehicles passing at high speed before the motorcade of black vehicles carrying President Obama came cruising by.

Probably being carried away by the moment's excitement, the crowd at some point near the Tanzania Broadcasting Corporation (TBC) vicinity of Nyerere Road surged forward, literally invading the road, taking the helpless police by surprise.

In a nick of time they had just retreated back. In a nick of time the Obama motorcade came speeding by. It was a quite a scare! At the airport's welcoming ceremonies, the crowd watched as President Obama alighted from the plane to be greeted by President Kikwete and First Lady Salma.

Mr Obama's wife, Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha, in their colourful dresses, were whisked to the State Lounge and to waiting vehicle. President Kikwete was also accompanied by the American Ambassador to Tanzania, Mr Alfonso E. Lenhardt, Zanzibar President Ali Mohamed Shein, the Prime Minister, Mr Mizengo Pinda, the Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner, Mr Sadiki Mecky Sadiki and the city's Mayor, Mr Didas Masaburi.

Two brightly-dressed girls garlanded both Mr Obama and his wife with bouquets. The two leaders then stepped on the red carpet and proceeded to the presidential dais to receive the 21-gun salute, which was accompanied by the national anthems of the two nations, the 'Star-Spangled Banner' of the US and 'God Bless Africa, God Bless Tanzania.' President Obama inspected the Guard of Honour staged by the Tanzania People's Defence Forces (TPDF), led by the Chief of Defence Forces, General Davis Mwamunyange.

Before leaving the grounds for departure to the State House, the two leaders inspected different traditional dance groups.

And when the airport welcoming ceremony was over, it was time to go to the State House where the two presidents held talks on matters of mutual interest. About 700 American delegates, including the business community, accompanied President Obama for the state visit to Tanzania.

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