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When the system loses its teeth

In fact it was right here –within the living room – Reporter at Large locked horns with a nasty, national affair. Normally, one would expect to come across a nasty affair outdoors, but when you stumble upon it right within your living room, it can be irritating indeed. Not that the affair affected me directly. It affected us – we all, as it were. And here I may, if you will, start to the discussion of that embarrassing signature of our slipshod performance of our assigned duties.

The crisis, for that is what indeed it is, points an accusing finger to leadership at all levels. What an official of the Tanzania Electric Supply Company was doing on TV illustrated it all. The official, one engineer Aboubakar Elangwa Mgheni was complaining bitterly, calling for government’s assistance to have some people removed from an area near an electric pylon under a high tension wire. I did not know whether I should laugh at him or dismiss him with despise.

Mgheni’s complaint illustrated loud and clearly that leadership means possession of a full set of sharp teeth. But given the quagmire the engineer found himself in, the authorities here – those relevant bodies with power to act or not to act accordingly, had either half, maybe a quarter of the full set or not teeth at all. The stout engineer stood in the neighbourhood of a pylon amidst the illegal occupiers of the area reasoning with them with all professional philosophy he could muster.

“You see this wire,” he said pointing to the HT wire above them. “It carries 132,000 KW and if it falls to the ground, it will make the January this year’s floods a child’s play and the 13 May 2011 Gongo la Mboto bomb explosions a tea party. It will be 10 times brighter than this solar light you see,” he told the people around him. “It has a big magnetic field and could get you any time.” Trying to scare the people out of the area with those technical terms must have sounded to them like, as a Swahili saying has it: “Playing the guitar to a goat.”

The goat does not understand what the guitar is or why you should play it for it in the first place. Listening to Engineer Mgheni talk to the people exposed a lot. Some of the people were ignorant of the danger. Lucas Mataya, one of the so-called illegal occupiers, said he was unaware of the effect of the high tension wire under which he spent so much time in his business although at night, he saw the wire above him become red-hot, he told Engineer Mgheni.

The relevant system was, on its part, inefficient, inactive and irresponsible. The authorities’ negligence and inactivity emboldened the people who occupied the area. How does the local government authority, whose task is to deal with the local problems, ask for help from the central establishment when a law in the area is  violated? The Mabibo Ward Executive Secretary Heri Saidi displayed that apathy so plainly that it was shocking why he was still there.

“They are using the area to park cars at night. We need help from the government,” Saidi told Mr Mgheni. The alleged illegal residents occupied the area with the confidence of a lion and had the temerity to make a counter demand of compensation of huge sums before they moved out. One of them, a businessman called Adam Lagani even dared to say: “The government should first find a place to relocate us. Where do I go if I have no place to go to?” The scene as it took place on TV provoked a whirlwind of thoughts in my mind.

Mr Mgheni on behalf of the super power distributor – Tanesco – was literally pleading with the illegal but powerful tenants to relocate. I would have thought Tanesco has by-laws that guard its operation or safeguard its possessions and areas purported by those very by-laws to belong to it. That it was now pleading with the government who the alleged offenders demanded to pay them whooping sums before they left the area, pictured the organization as a weak and toothless dog.

However, that is but one side of the story. Possessions and valuable ones at that, are to be safeguarded. Their safety must be supervised. Buildings or structures like the shacks some of the illegal occupiers used in the area do not mushroom overnight, meaning the authorities looked the other way as they gradually came into being, suggesting ‘kitu kidogo’ exchanged hands and the dog lost teeth. If that dog had any teeth at all, it has only three instead of the normal 42. A dog with gums only will only bark, which it may not even do fear it is defenceless.

joellawi@excite.co Phones: 0785-673979, 0755-666-017

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