Tanzania: Blogging the Opening of a Bed Net Factory

8 February 2008

Arusha — Sharing power with a coffee urn, Kenyan blogger Bankelele reports from Arusha on the opening of factory in Arusha which will have a significant effect on the health of many Africans. His next entry will be posted tomorrow.

There's a factory launch at the Arusha export processing zone – a joint venture between the multinational, Sumitomo Chemical, and a Tanzanian company to fight malaria. The factory will produce long-lasting treated nets to combat malaria which has been a plague to malaria-infected parts of Africa. It is expected to produce over 10 million nets this year.

We are all set for the ceremony and launch. Present are executives of Sumitomo Chemical, diplomats and the Acumen Fund, all awaiting the arrival of Tanzania’s president, H.E. Jakaya Kikwete. Star power comes from South African musician and UNICEF ambassador Yvonne Chaka Chaka.

However, the event has been slightly overshadowed by a breaking corruption story in Tanzania and the resignation of the prime minister yesterday.

At 10 am, the MC for the day, Mr. Somji, former chairman of the Rotary Club, announces that the program will be delayed by an hour. The president is yet to arrive, but we are invited to continue taking coffee, which is plentiful.

The factory is about 20 kilometres out of town, just past the Arusha airport, which is on the opposite side of town from the larger and better known Kilimanjaro International Airport.

Arusha is a beautiful town, with picturesque scenes under the cloudy shadow of Mount Meru. Coffee estates dot the green landscape,as do international schools and lodges.

Before I left Nairobi I checked the Arusha weather forecast online and it showed rain for the next five days. Arusha is sunny this morning, but rain and clouds are visible and may roll this way soon.

Driving in, it was pleasant to see only a few policemen along the way, all dressed in sparkling white uniforms. In many African countries, a presidential function is preceded by armed police along the way and difficult security to get past.

My laptop battery is dead this morning and I am writing from behind the coffee serving point, where I am sharing a power outlet with the coffee urn. The catering staff have been friendly, courteous and amused by my requests.

I eavesdrop on an interview with Julian Fleet of the Roll Back Malaria program that my new friends from NTV, The Standard and Citizen, with whom we drove down from Nairobi, and he talks about the joint venture, improved government commitment and new technologies used to make malaria nets durable and long lasting.

We expected to have a media centre and our local coordinator, Jackie Murphy, has been helping with the event logistics. A Sumitomo executive has promised all media questions can be answered after the function, but that we unfortunately can't access the media centre until after the event is over.

Mr. Somji makes another announcement at 11 am, revising the program again. It appears the vice president will be officiating and will be the chief guest. The first program revision was last evening during dinner, bringing the event forward an hour. But I wonder if some of the executives present in full business suits have heard of “African time.”

As I type this, I notice several mosquitoes hovering over my bare arms and realise I must keep typing (and moving) to shake them off. Two Japanese executives meet and exchange business cards. It is a ceremony with bows, acknowledgement and thanks for the cards. I hope we can do more of this in Nairobi, where cards are exchanged and immediately put away in pockets – to be found by the dry cleaner, weeks later.

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