THE SOJOURNER : The Chinese are back

Saturday December 8 2018

A Tazara passenger train. It is an outcome of

A Tazara passenger train. It is an outcome of partnership with the Chinese. PHOTO | FILE 

By Danford Mpumilwa

One day in the early 70s an announcement was made through a megaphone on the streets of Ilembula, a bustling settlement, now midsized town in the newly established district of Wanging’ombe.

The announcement in that hospital town was inviting all those who had the time to spare to assemble at the town football pitch from where they would board buses to ferry them to Igawa, some 30 or so kilometers away.

At Igawa, where the Chinese were building the famous Tanzania-Zambia railway line -Tazara - they will attend a Chinese cultural event.

Having nothing much to do I and a group of friends were among the first to respond to this invitation and went to the football pitch.

In no time about 15 buses rumbled in and hundreds of other Ilembulans boarded them. We arrived at this hastly built theater in the middle of nowhere in the outskirts of Igawa.

Soon after the Chinese cultural presentation began. And what a presentation it was. We were mesmerized by the great artistry of the Chinese dancers and acrobats. It was indeed a very entertaing evening.

I had never seen such artistry before I still fondly and vividly remember that great evening.

But what struck my mind most was the large of Chinese people. They were in their thousands. All clad in olive-green khaki clothes. I had never seen such a large number of Chinese before that evening.

Apparently the Chinese authorities had brought from the then Peking thousands of labourers and engineers to physically build the line from Dar es Salaam to Kapiri Mposhi in Zambia, almost 2000 kilometres away.

When the project was completed all the Chinese were shipped back to Peking. Rumour had it that most of them were actually prisoners.

Now the Chinese are back. They are not the olive-green khaki clad ones I saw at Igawa. They are far from that. They are building roads, bridges, high rise modern structures, mining, managing factories, farming and even running some small shops in Kariakoo and other urban centres in Bongoland.

They are selling a variety of goods. Millions of motorcycles plying on the Chinese built roads are made in China. There are thousands of Chinese built buses, bicycles, clothes, shoes, TV sets; mobile phones, you name them, they are all from China.

Actually the same is happening in other Sub-Saharan African countries.

There is even an outcry from some quarters that the Chinese are out to recolonise Africa.

They allege that they are investing heavily in this continent with an ulterior motive.

The Chinese authorities, for their part, have refuted the allegations. They say they only want to pursue a mutual partnership with the continent. Only time will tell!

The author is a veteran journalist and communication expert based in Arusha