Wednesday January 30 2013

Tanzania battles deadly protests over billion-dollar gas project

By Agencies

Tanzanian leaders are struggling to calm the troubled southern region of Mtwara after protests over a billion-dollar gas project turned deadly at the weekend, claiming eight lives.

Some 44 people have been arrested in connection with the violence that has also saw the houses of senior politicians from the region burnt.

Prime minister Mizengo Penda, Home Affairs minister John Nchimbi and police chief Saidi Mwema were all in the restive region over the weekend in a bid to restore calm.

Mtwara residents have been protesting a government decision to construct a pipeline to pump natural gas to Dar es Salaam, the country's commercial city to produce power for the country, seeking assurances that the $1.225 billion project would benefit the region.

Some have argued that power from the gas should be produced in Mtwara first before being distributed countrywide as this would create more jobs and opportunities for the region.

The government holds that Dar es Salaam already has the infrastructure to upload the electricity produced onto the national grid.

The planned 532km-long pipeline, expected to complete by 2015, is projected to pump gas to produce 2,780 Megawatts of electricity to alleviate the east African country's chronic power problems.

It is a joint project between a Chinese company and the Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation (TPDC).

We are working hard to restore normalcy, that’s why I’m here," the Police Force Training and Operation Commissioner, Mr Paul Chagonja, told reporters at the weekend, adding that the suspects arrested would soon be arraigned.

On December 27 last year, thousands of Mtwara residents marched for about 10 kilometres protesting the pipeline plan. Other demonstrations have since followed but the most recent one at Masasi was the most violent yet.

Opposition leaders have urged the leaders heading to Mtwara to listen to the people as opposed to talking and issuing directives.

Speaking in Dar es Salaam, parliamentarian Zitto Kabwe said the leaders must show Mtwara people how they would benefit from gas mining in the region if they want to end the current chaos.

Mr Kabwe, who also chairs the country's energy and minerals House committee, asked the government to publicise the details of the contract it had entered with China, saying the cost was suspect.

He accused the government of misleading people on the exact demands by Mtwara residents, saying what they are asking for it to be assured that they would benefit from the project.

They are not against the gas being pumped to Dar es Salaam, he said.

There is huge police presence in the now-deserted Mtwara town.

Church leaders have urged the central government to put the pipeline plan on hold.

Tanzania has made a number of rich natural gas finds over the last decade, positioning it as a potential major energy producer in the region.