Arusha was a Mad! Mad ! World Last Tuesday
by lute wa lutengano
I was in my office on Tuesday morning when I suddenly heard police sirens wailing on the nearby road which is also called Simeon Street. My colleague reminded me of the day’s importance, saying that we in East Africa were going to celebrate the signing of the Customs Union, which among other things will make life easier and more prosperous in this part of the world.
The speeding police vehicles were soon followed by huge and sleek black Mercedes Benz limousines. They had flags splattering above their bonnets signifying which African chief was inside. These were followed by fully armed and mean looking Field Force Unit soldiers in open Land-rovers. Their menacing stance left no doubt as to what could befall anyone who will make a mistake of interfering with this motorcade.
I was later told that the motorcade was coming from a re-naming ceremony of the Simeon Street. It would, as from that day, now be called "Barabara ya Afrika Mashariki’ East African Road/Street, if I may attempt to translate it from Swahili. In true East African spirit all heads of state from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania were in town. Also those aspiring to join the camp Burundi and Rwanda, were in town.
A ceremony later followed at the Arusha International Conference Centre (AICC), a structure built to house the defunct East African Community, which ironically is now also hosting the EAC, but the latter as tenants.
The whole of the AICC car park was cleared and several tenants, in this case including the hundreds of staff of UN Tribunal for Rwanda, had to find space for their also sleek vehicles somewhere in the bushes behind the centre or in town.
The AICC ceremony over; the delegations trooped to the Arusha Sports Stadium for the public ceremony. Thousands of Arusha residents, in true East African spirit, also joined in the ceremony. That is when Arusha turned into hell, at least the Arusha of vehicles and roads.
Having closed the Nairobi road and several other roads in central business district, all vehicles simply could not move to anywhere. In the sweltering midday sun, thousands of Arusha vehicles and fuming drivers were left stranded on the roads for up to five hours. The gridlock was horrifying.
People missed their flights, patients could not reach hospitals, and employees could not make it back to their offices. In one incident, mourners on a pickup, with their casket in tow were seen crying even louder in the midday sun. They and their entourage were left stranded on that patch of road for about three hours.
Tourists transiting Arusha to and from the parks could not do so and were seen wondering loudly as to why a ceremony taking place in the stadium could grind the whole city to a stop. Right now I would not like to be in the boots of local tour operators who I believe are still counting their losses.
Naturally vehicles of Taxi drivers who are notorious of buying enough fuel for just one trip ceased on the jammed streets. One ‘mzungu’ got so furious that he jumped out of his vehicle, kicked its tyre, and went away limping, to God knows where. Some hours later, his car was seen being towed to one side of the road.
"If these EAC ceremonies make us go mad then they better hold
them else where," one local commuter commented. Truly! Arusha was a Mad! Mad!
World last Tuesday.