Gas Boom or Bust? the Discovery of a Rich Natural Resource Is Usually Good Cause for Joyous Celebrations. but That Is Not So for the People of Mtwara and Lindi, in Tanzania. Richard Mgamba Reports

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FIFTY YEARS AFTER TANZANIA'S independence, Mtwara and Lindi in the south of the country still remain quite under-developed; leaving its normally laid-back locals to groan that they are marginalised in the country's development process. Indeed the so-called "laid-back" residents took many by surprise when they rioted in January over an impending US$1.2bn, 524km gas pipeline from Mtwara (where the country's former president, Benjamin Mkapa, hails)--to the capital Dar es Salaam. The project is to be funded by the Chinese. Seven people died in the riots.

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Last year, Tanzania announced a major discovery of 35 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the southern and coastal regions, making it a significant future gas producer in Africa. This has attracted major foreign players, including Europeans, and of course the Chinese. About 2.0% of the discovered gas is in the Mtwara region.

Prof Sospeter Muhongo, the minister for minerals and energy, was quick to condemn the rioters as "naive and unpatriotic Tanzanians", and defended the gas project. In an official statement, he outlined how the gas pipeline would save Tanzania around about $1bn a year, which the country currently spends on importing furnace oil that is used in generating electricity.

He dismissed assertions From critics, including the people of Mtwara and Lindi, that the pipeline would turn into yet "another white elephant". Prof Muhongo argued that the economic gains to be derived from the project would outstrip any envisaged losses.

A week after the minister's statement, President Jakaya Kikwete dismissed the rioters assertions as "baseless and useless". Amid speculation that some opposition politicians in the area instigated the riots, the president added that his government would not condone politicians who incited people to resist policies on natural resources. …