The tragic story behind my very first four-wheel contraption

Saturday May 01 2021
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By Danford Mpumilwa

I bought my first mobile contraption in 1990. It was a used silver-metallic 300D diesel Mercedes Benz. Naturally over the years it turned into a rusty metallic eyesore in my backyard in Arusha.

It was this piece of junk that the other day - and with a heavy heart - I sold it as scrap metal to some backstreet garage.

I say ‘I sold it with a heavy heart’ because, behind that heap of metal is a long and tragic story of friendship and eventual death of a big-hearted colleague.

It is also the story of sacrifice and support as experienced by young men and women who were in the employ of government and public companies-cum-parastatals in the 1980s and 90s in Bongoland. There were then very few private companies.

It was around this time that I found myself working in one prominent parastatal in Arusha with strong international connections.

Among the perks that went with my job was that I made frequent official trips to Europe and the US.


No wonder I eventually became a veteran of the streets in New York, London, Paris, Rome and Brussels. It was indeed an exhilarating experience, and important shopping opportunities on account of the fact that those were the years of acute scarcity of commodities in Bongoland.

It was during these sojourns that I fell in love with Brussels. Perhaps it was because of its rich cultural cocktail, including the presence of a large population of Africans, particularly from the-then Zaire (DRC today), in one central business district in the city, Gallerie de Exelles.

Indeed, if one visited the district - popularly known as ‘Quartier ya Matonge’ - one could easily come across a heavy doze of Zairois: their music, cuisine, attire...

Being who I am, I fell in love with their music - and was a frequent patron of Gallerie de Madelleine Hall where several prominent Congolese bands - including Wenge Musica and Bozi Boziana - used to perform.

All this was possible because I had help and guidance from a close friend from our days at the University of Dar es Salaam, Mr Kanyenye, who was now a Commercial Attache at our embassy in Brussels.

It was during one of these visits that Kanyenye advised me to look into the possibilities of buying a car from the popular Sunday car ‘marche.’ To facilitate this, he offered me free meals, drinks and accommodation at his residence.

Indeed, I saved some money from my ‘per diem’ allowances, with which I bought and shipped my Mercedes Benz car to Bongoland - thanks to Mr Kanyenye...

A few years later, I hosted him in Arusha. His tour of duty in Brussels was coming to an end, and he had been invited for an interview at the Kagera Coffee Curing Company which was looking for a marketing director. He easily got the job.

It was during one of his trips from Bukoba - apparently to pick up his family in Dar es Salaam - when, on May 21, 1996, he boarded the ill-fated Mv. Bukoba. Some 30 nautical miles from Mwanza, the vessel sank, and he died inside it. Two years later, in 1998, I visited the Mv. Bukoba Memorial site in Mwanza to mourn my friend Kanyenye.

And this is the tragic story behind my first mobile contraption.


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