It’s agony not knowing where Ben Saanane is, say parents

Mr Focus Saanane, who’s Ben Saanane father, recounts recently in Moshi, Kilimanjaro Region to The Citizen reporter the family’s agony in relation to the mysterious disappearance of his son. Mr Saanane, who works as a food vendor at Tausi Hotel in Moshi, says family members are concerned about his long absence. PHOTO | DIONIS NYATO

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  • The only noise one could hear that formed part of Mrere Village on the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro in Rombo District were sounds of children playing, domestic animals and flapping trees and banana leaves due to seasonal winds blowing from the Indian Ocean to Mt Kilimanjaro.

Moshi. It was eerily quiet at Hiti, a hamlet tucked in the midst of banana and coffee plantations.

The only noise one could hear that formed part of Mrere Village on the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro in Rombo District were sounds of children playing, domestic animals and flapping trees and banana leaves due to seasonal winds blowing from the Indian Ocean to Mt Kilimanjaro.

Ms Renatha Saanane, 54, the mother of Mr Ben Saanane, was doing her routine domestic chores, but had to stop and attend to visitors she had been notified about a few minutes before.

She was visibly in agony over the disappearance of her first born, Ben, whose whereabouts are still a mystery for nearly eight months now.

“I don’t know if he has been killed, abducted or detained. I leave this to God,” she said as she briefly shed tears before she controlled her emotions and sat down to relate how her first born had mysteriously disappeared.

The last time she talked to him by phone was on November 11 last year and discussed family matters, including a wedding of a relative in Dodoma.

Last contact

“That was my last contact with him,” she said, noting that normally she had not been worried by his son’s long absence given the fact that he was ever busy, being an aide to Chadema National Chairman Freeman Mbowe.

A few days after the November 11 phone call from Dar es Salaam, she fruitlessly called him, but couldn’t hear from him. She took it for granted though that he was around!

But to her utter astonishment, she learnt later that even Ben’s young brother Erasto and sister Agripina, who also stayed in Dar es Salaam, could not reach him by phone despite repeated calls.

“All of us started getting concerned about his long absence. But some guessed he could have travelled outside the country or to areas not covered by mobile phone networks given his political activism.

“We did not have an answer,” she said. The matter was later reported to the police in Dar es Salaam as the media picked up the disappearance, which adding to the family’s worries.

Ms Saanane could related efforts made by the family to trace her son after repeated reports in the media that he could have been abducted by people known to the government.

“We have been at pains trying to find him, but couldn’t go much far because he is nowhere to be found. We pray to God he will be back here alive one day,” she said as she took courage he was indeed alive.

The last time the 35 year old young opposition politician was at his home village, according to his mother, was in August or September last year during the burial of his grandmother at the very family compound.

The agony of disappearance

His disappearance has not been taken lightly at his home village of Mrere in Mashati Ward, 60 kilometres from Moshi and in Rombo District in general.

Ordinary citizens in the area are aware of the country’s political climate, where opposition leaders are often arrested and charged with alleged unlawful assembly or sedition and the like. Ben was himself no stranger to Rombo politics. During the 2015 General Election he vied for the Rombo parliamentary seat as Chadema candidate, but came second to the current MP Joseph Selasini in the preliminaries.

“He is known to many people because he was active during campaigns,” his mother told The Citizen, noting that his disappearance was also a concern of many people.

Ben’s father, Focus Saanane, 63, is equally concerned about the disappearance of his son, but pointed an accusing finger at the government for the way it handled the matter.

Family vs Prime Minister

He specifically faulted Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa, who once promised in Parliament that the government would give an official statement on the mystery behind Ben’s disappearance.

“We leave everything to the government. Information from the authorities has always not been forthcoming,” he said in an interview in Moshi, where he conducts his business.

Minister of Home Affairs Mwigulu Nchemba last week said the police were doing everything possible to find Ben, but blamed Chadema for delaying to involve them in his disappearance.

“I am responsible for the safety of my assistant [he points to the assistance, who was present]. If he disappears I must be the first person responsible and I must involve the police as soon as possible,” Mr Nchemba told a local TV station.

Mzee Saanane indicated the family was increasingly losing hope given that efforts made to trace the whereabouts of the ambitious young man, who besides being in the opposition, was reported to have been pursuing a PhD degree, had borne no fruit.

Mzee Saanane said although his son, Ben, was a grown up person with freedom to go “wherever he chooses to”, he was getting irritated by conflicting versions over his disappearance.

“We don’t know if he is alive or not. The last time I met him was during the funeral of his grandmother,” he said, adding; “And the last time I heard of Ben was on November 15, when his disappearance was reported to the police”.

A desperate plight

“The family is deeply pained, but we have nothing to do. His mother is under pressure in the village. As a family, an extended family, we have struggled to trace his whereabouts, but to no avail”.

Mzee Saanane said Ben’s mobile number, a Vodacom number, had been blocked and could not know who he communicated with last before his disappearance. The matter was reported to Tabata Police Station in Dar es Salaam.

He said he pleaded with the government to help trace the whereabouts of his son and erase fears about his safety, saying even Chadema officials had not been helpful for tracing Ben as they also appeared to be equally mystified.