Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fuel for Thought

The mid day traffic jam on Thursday, August 4th was unlike the usual congestions motorists of Dar es Salaam see.  Instead of the dense bottlenecks at crossroads caused by the clueless traffic police officers, a handful of oil stations were the hubs of the clogging, with cars, three-wheeled tuk-tuks, motorcycles, and people on foot lining up to fill their tanks and their colorful array of plastic containers.  Journalists cite queues of over 100 meters, and the police had to intervene at a number of servicing stations.  When asked to comment, gas station workers and owners answered, but refused to have their names published.  The young saw a glimpse of what life would have been during the 1970s oil crisis.  The old were just frustrated at the traffic jams, inability to get fuel, and the rising costs of taxis and tuk-tuks.  This shortage comes at a particularly poor timing, as the daily electricity cuts that began in February show no sign of ending, and business owners ranging from banks to restaurants rely on diesel to power their shops using the loud and foul-smelling portable electricity generators.

Cars "line up" at Big Bon, Sinza Mori
(source:, PHOTO/ Jackson Odoyo)

The cause of the most recent energy “crisis” can be explained by simple economics.  Last week, the Energy and Waters Utility Regulatory Agency (EWURA) ordered a directive to decrease fuel prices by 9.17 percent.  Fuel suppliers, in response, boycotted their sale.  Some companies made excuses that their fuel docked at the harbor was not being unloaded quickly enough.  Others are keeping silent and letting their action talk.  With most supplies unwilling to sacrifice their revenue, only a handful has been operating since last Thursday.

As the lockdown between the companies and the government continues, the queues are becoming longer and the complaints louder.  Motorists have abandoned their daily rides, taxi riders are switching to public mini-buses, and most predictably, black markets are charging 50 percent more for petroleum and diesel.  Some signs of improvement are showing, as the national government is about to take action on BP’s boycott, flexing its muscle as the majority shareholder at 50%.  Yet, this seems to be too little compared to the juggernaut size of a problem.

Take the Hint
The leading party CCM sits comfortably in both the parliament and the presidential throne.  It boasts itself as the party that brought democratic reforms in the 90s as well as the party of the founding father, Julius Nyerere.  The current President, Jakaya Kikwete is in his first year of his second five year term, and the next election is not until 2015.  But perhaps that date is too far for the impatient population.  The CCM’s support lies from the large rural and uneducated population, whose lives are less perturbed by the crises, while the urban denizens are increasingly agitated at the growing list of government incompetency and its lack of accountability.  In 2011 alone, the country has suffered daily power cuts, an accidental weapons depot blast, and the free-falling exchange rates, a killer blow for a country that imports largely from South Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. 

Over the weekend of the current fuel crisis, the former colonial power, Great Britain, was bruised and burned by a number of spontaneous riots, and its image as a modern nation was tainted by hooligans.  Meanwhile, in Tanzania, the mood is ripe for similar pandemonium.  It is about time Kikwete turns Machiavellian and throws some of his high ranking officials to the dogs, by that I mean fire them.

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