Dar es Salaam. Opposition party CHADEMA on Tuesday joined ACT-Wazalendo and other pressure groups in demanding accountability within the government for the alleged failure to respond on time to disasters, leading to the huge loss of both lives and properties.
The recent plane accident that took place in Bukoba, and the subsequent failure of relevant authorities to intervene on time, have been described as a microcosm of a larger problem that Tanzania’s system of disaster response currently faces.
Sunday’s accident, involving aircraft 5H-PWF, ATR42-500, which was flying from Dar es Salaam to Bukoba, occurred around 08:53 am, crashing at Lake Victoria, killing 19 people.
There were 39 passengers (38 adults and one infant) and four crew on board the plane, according to reports.
The loss of nineteen lives has put the government in a tight spot, with institutions responsible for disaster response facing intense criticism from members of the general public for their alleged failure to act on time to save the passengers aboard the plane from dying.
On Tuesday, CHADEMA called on all relevant authorities responsible for disaster management in Tanzania to take responsibility and step down, saying doing so is the first step in their commitment to protecting people’s lives and properties.
“[Tanzania] should not continue to be the nation of condolence messages every now and then,” the party’s director of protocol, communications and foreign affairs director told a press conference. “It is very clear that [the plane crash] shows just how incapable the Disaster Management Department is in responding to disasters.”
The Disaster Management Department is under the Office of the Prime Minister and CHADEMA’s calls followed high on the heels of ACT-Wazalendo’s demands that Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa should step down, followed by a transparent and independent investigation into the matter.
“We emphasize the need to empower this department in an attempt to ensure security and immediate rescue during the time of disasters,” the party’s deputy national chairperson (Tanzania Mainland) Dorothy Semu said in a Sunday statement.
In his statement regarding Sunday’s plane crash, the Executive Director of Lawyers Environmental Action Team (LEAT) Dr Rugemeleza Nshala said that once again the organs entrusted with the role of responding to disasters proved to be incapable of the task, demanding an “immediate responsibility.”
A long way to go
Simon Mkina works as an editor for Pambazuka, a digitally-circulated weekly newspaper, and was at the scene of the accident. He told The Chanzo on Tuesday that much of the rescuing efforts were conducted by fishermen and other ordinary people.
“I’m talking about people who have no training whatsoever on responding to disasters,” Mr Mkina said. “The people with the training, those entrusted with the role of responding to these issues, came way later when rescuing was almost over.”
Mr Mkina thinks there is still a long way to go until Tanzania has a responsive disaster management system.
“You’ve people [from organs responsible for disaster management] coming at the scene of the accident without any tool that would allow them to do the job,” Mr Mkina observed. “You could clearly tell that our disaster preparedness is very low.”
With all the voices calling for Mr Majaliwa’s resignation, as of writing the Ruangwa MP (Chama cha Mapinduzi – CCM), or anyone from the government, has not done so in relation to the accident.
However, an investigation has been launched into the accident, with French air accident investigators expected in Tanzania anytime from now to help probe the plane accident.
The death of the nineteen people aboard the plane reminded people of past disasters that the government failed to respond to on time, causing serious loss of lives and properties.
Most recent disasters
The most recent of these disasters include the capsizing of MV Nyerere in Lake Victoria on September 20, 2018, killing an estimated number of 100 passengers aboard the ferry which was thought to have carried about 400 passengers, twice its capacity.
On July 10, 2021, a fire broke out at the busy market of Kariakoo, affecting dozens of businesses that were conducted around and inside the market. The rescue team showed up so late at the scene that they found so much damage had already been done.
On May 30, 2022, another market burnt down in Dar es Salaam after a fire gutted the Temeke Veterinary market located along Mandela Highway, destroying an estimated number of 453 stalls in the market.
Dr Egidius Kamanyi is an expert in disaster management from the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) who told The Chanzo during an interview that the first step to solving the problem is for authorities to accept that there is a problem.
“Only when such an appreciation of the problem has been firmly established, the issues of infrastructure and gears necessary to allow timely disaster response can be easily taken care of,” said Dr Kamanyi who teaches sociology and anthropology at UDSM.
“A mapping of the riskiest areas for disaster is also important,” added the scholar. “[This mapping] will allow the government to know where investment in disaster response is highly needed and thus take necessary steps to prevent disasters from occurring.”
CHADEMA is proposing the overhauling of the entire Disaster Management Department at the Prime Minister’s office, calling for the establishment of a new and autonomous Tanzania Emergency Management Agency (TEMA).
“This agency should be under the Ministry of Defense,” CHADEMA’s Mrema told a press conference at the party’s headquarters in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday.
“This agency will work to prepare Tanzanians on the best way to respond to disasters, whether those involving fire, floods or anything,” he added.
“It will work to stop preventable disasters from happening as well as conducting timely response to occurring disasters,” noted Mr Mrema.
Speaking during the ceremony to hand over the bodies of the victims to their families on Monday, Minister for Defence and National Service Innocent Bashungwa said the government was noting down all the suggestions provided, promising that the government would work on them.
Mr Bashungwa, who doubles as Karagwe MP (CCM), also noted that the government would come up with ways of working with the private sector to improve rescue operations.
“We are going to make sure we have a database of rescue equipment in government as well as those available in the private sector so that when a disaster occurs, we have the ability and readiness to handle it,” Mr Bashungwa said.
Perhaps a good starting point will be the signing into law by President Samia Suluhu Hassan of the Disaster Management Bill that currently sits on the Head of State’s table awaiting her signature.
Passed by the parliament on September 13, 2022, the Bill aims at providing a new direction in the way Tanzania responds to disasters, seeking to establish, for example, a National Oversight Committee, comprised of experts, as well as a Disaster Management Fund with most of its funding depending on well-wishers.
Will President Samia sign the bill into law? Some think she will in the wake of Sunday’s accident and the pressure it has generated on the need for the government to do more in protecting the lives of Tanzanians during times of disasters.
Lukelo Francis is The Chanzo journalist based in Dar es Salaam Tanzania. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.