‘Geneva of Africa’ has to stay peaceful…Otherwise the costs are too high

June 27, 2013 7:51 am0 comments by:
Arusha Clocktower

Arusha Clock-tower

Two weeks ago something very disturbing happened in Arusha- the Geneva of Africa, (a twin name given by former U.S President, Bill Clinton). A bomb was thrown into an opposition political rally in Kaloleni Arusha. There were many casualties and four people have died including a child. Saddening, this was following a similar attack in early May, where a bomb was thrown during a Catholic Mass. Such incidences were unprecedented. As a result it has been difficult for Tanzanians to comprehend what is happening. Such is not the nature of Tanzania or Tanzanians.  Tanzania is known as ‘island of peace’ and Arusha is the region that has demonstrated the peaceful nature of Tanzania. This is why President Clinton referred to it as the Geneva of Africa. He did not utter those words in vacuum (and of course, no one would expect Clinton to speak out of vacuum). The city is an asset that Tanzania and its neighbors cannot afford to loose.

Arusha hosts one of the few  for crimes against humanity. This UN Tribunal was set up to prosecutes the 1994 Rwanda Genocide suspects. The presence of an international court to prosecute crimes that occurred in the same region is not something to be taken lightly. It is a sign of trust and capacity.  In addition, Arusha hosts the Headquarters and the Secretariat of the East African Community (EAC)- a political and economic integration bloc that bring together five East African member countries. These are Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi. The city is also a home to many international organizations and NGOs such as World Vision and Compassion International. It has a number of Universities and Colleges including Nelson Mandela University, Arusha University, Mount Meru University, Arusha Accountancy Institute, and Eastern and Southern Africa Management Institute (ESAMI). A number of research centres are also located in Arusha.

Geographically, the city is located right at the centre of Cairo and Cape Town. This is a blessing on its own right. This geographical position is a potential factor for economic and political decisions. Furthermore the city is surrounded by national parks that are internationally renowned including Ngorongoro Crater, Manyara and Tarangire. The city is decorated by Mt. Meru and it is only 45minutes drive away to Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa and second highest in the world.  The city is also the marketing centre for a rare gem that is only found in Tanzania – Tanzanite. The gem is mined only 40 minutes drive away from the city centre.

As a result of these attributes, Arusha attracts thousands of tourists from all over the world every year.  The vibrant tourism industry in Arusha benefits both Tanzania and Kenya. Many tourists shuttle between Nairobi and Arusha. A significant number of tourists come to Arusha through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. Others who arrive through the nearby Kilimanjaro International Airport would often go to Nairobi after visiting Arusha.  In connection to that, Kenya and Tanzania are the closest trading partners and Arusha is the gateway for the trade between Tanzania and Kenya. This signifies the importance of Arusha as a strategic city for both Kenya and Tanzania. If Arusha is in chaos, doing business will be difficult with negative effects to both countries and in light of the above the city can be given another name as ‘An East African City’ as it serves the region well. If Arusha is shaken, the implications are not only for Tanzania but also for the whole region.

Economically, Tanzania has even more reason to ensure stability in Arusha, as some of the finest coffee estates in Tanzania are located in Arusha. There are also a number of horticultural farms that export roses, other kind of flowers, and vegetables to Europe on daily basis. According to Tanzania Horticulture Association (TAHA), which has its offices in Arusha, the horticulture sector in Tanzania grows at the rate of 8-10% per annum. The export of horticulture products is a way of earning foreign currencies, which is crucial for Tanzania’s economy.

Uniquely, Arusha has an interesting history. It is the town where Tanzania’s first President Mwalimu Julius Nyerere- the Conscious of Africa, signed and launched the Arusha Declaration. Unrestricted to political and economic policies, the Arusha Declaration directly touched on the social aspects of Tanzania. It was a novel declaration.  It created and promoted a sense of equality, togetherness, nationhood, and peace in Tanzania. These virtues have been embedded in Tanzania’s culture. That is why even with 120 tribes, Tanzanians identify themselves as Tanzanians and not by their tribal affiliation. Due to the declaration’s impact on Tanzania, it was the wish of many for it to be imitated by other African countries. Henry Bienen called it ‘An Ideology of Africa’.  According to BBC’s James Robbins, Arusha Declaration is “one of the most important documents to have emerged in the developing world”.

Noteworthy is that although the Arusha Declaration was signed only 6 years after Tanzania’s independence, Tanzania was in the midst of fighting for Africa’s independence in particular for its Southern neighbors that were still under one or another form of colonialism. The country supported freedom fighters such as Nelson Mandela and Samora Machel. Tanzania wanted every African to have peace. That is why it ousted the ruthless dictator- Iddi Amini of Uganda. The country has always been active in peace building efforts in the Great Lake Region and it has recently sent peacekeeping troops in the Eastern side of DRC to contain and counter M23 rebels.

Due to these qualities Tanzania’s star keeps shining high and above. There is so much positive international attention to Tanzania. The recently elected Chinese President, Xi Jinping, choose Tanzania to be the first country to visit in Africa, and only the second in the world. President Obama is visiting Tanzania next week.  Yes, these leaders visit Tanzania out of their national interests, but we cannot ignore the fact that they are proud to visit the country due to the respect Tanzania commands in the international sphere. Even with economic difficulties, Tanzania commands respect due to its peaceful nature, moral history, and political weight it carries.

Unfortunately, the police reaction to the incidence was not of Tanzanian nature, and it was not executed to ensure sustainable peace for Arusha; such harsh, uncalculated, and tyrannical response by police force was not only extrajudicial, but also unethical and unprofessional.  The actions of the police force were defensive, which left people with even more questions consequently leading to mistrust. Because of these the moral authority of police has dropped in Arusha.

In the final analysis, Tanzania and its neighbors cannot afford to set Arusha on fire. It is a strategic city for the entire East African region. It’s history and geographical location makes it a potential African city. Indeed Clinton was right calling it Geneva of Africa…as its tranquil aroma spreads all over Africa bringing hope, heroic memories, and peace. Let’s work hard to maintain its peace.


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