- Published on Sunday, 01 January 2012 23:00
- Written by MARC NKWAME in Arusha
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HOW a skillful driver came to drive the President down the Ngorongoro crater in 1969 is an interesting story of two leaders who wanted to assert each ether's authority. The driver, Mr Aloyce Songai, a resident of Karatu, was later nicknamed 'Wangu-Wangu' by Nyerere's bodyguards due to his outstanding expertise during the 1969 caldera expedition.
Songai started out as a tractor mechanic during the days of expansive wheat growing in Karatu District. Coming across a job vacancy advertised in the papers calling for qualified drivers at the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority (NCCA), he submitted his application and landed the job. Songai's first job at NCAA was to drive a supplies pick-up. Later he drove Mr Solomon Ole Saibul, the first indigenous conservator at Ngorongoro.
"Steven Ngereza who used to drive Saibul had fallen ill, so I filled his position," says Songai. At that time the head driver at Ngorongoro, who was of Somali origin schemed with the head of accounts department and both of them disappeared with one-month salaries for more than 40 employees. They took off in one of the organisation's cars. From then on the management at NCAA was very cautious and watched the employees very closely not entrusting any of them with high positions. The head of drivers' post for instance, was vacant for quite some time.
In 1969 Nyerere visited Ngorongoro following an incident where NCAA conservator, Mr Solomon Ole Saibul was at loggerheads with the then Regional Commissioner for Arusha, Mr Aaron Mwakang'ata. It was alleged that the RC Mwakang'ata, forced his way into the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority refusing to sign the official guest book placed at the Park's entrance gate.
Driving a government car, a Peugeot 403 with registration numbers GT 519, Mr Mwakang'ata sped past the NCAA entrance after snapping at the guards to open the gates and then proceeded into the park where he, reportedly, was to meet some foreigners at one of the lodges.
The then head of security, Mr Samuel Maida, taken aback by the RC's actions, reported the matter to the Chief Conservator, Solomon Ole Saibul. On hearing that the RC had refused to sign into the visitors' book, the NCAA conservator, Ole Saibul, took the register from the gate and went to confront Mr Mwakang'ata at the lodge where he was meeting the foreigners, demanding to know why the RC ignored the park procedures.
"I am the Regional Commissioner, in charge of the whole of this precinct," Mr Mwakang'ata is reported to have retorted before dismissing the conservator with a wave of his hand. But Ole Saibul was not about to be put off easily by the RC. Mr Saibul took out the register, leafed through the pages and slammed the book on the coffee table showing the RC a page on which Nyerere had earlier on signed at the gate a few weeks earlier when the President was passing through the NCAA on his way to Musoma, from Arusha.
"If the President himself can sign in our book, then may I ask, who is a 'mere RC' to refuse to register himself at the gate?" shouted the clearly angry Ole Saibul before storming out of the lodge, promising to take the matter further. And he did, the opportunity presented itself a month later when President Nyerere was presiding over a meeting in Moshi (Kilimanjaro). That misty morning, Songai was instructed, to take Ole Saibul to town where he intended to consult the President. Saibul was granted audience with Nyerere. "I remained outside in the Land-Rover while the conservator went in to see the Head of the State."
The NCAA Conservator, Ole Saibu, asked for an audience with President Nyerere who agreed to seem him on such a short notice. The guards at the doors searched the conservator and found him with a pistol under his belt. "You cannot take this inside," they told him. Saibul showed Nyerere the register and told the President; "With due respect, if you, the Head of State can sign our visitors' book, how comes a Regional Commissioner, appointed by you, should regard the official act of signing in the same book as stooping so low?"
The president then decided to end the misunderstanding amicably by telling Mr Mwakang'ata;" You see this conservator is right because even in our Zanaki culture, you cannot enter a man's boma (house) without first greeting him and getting his permission."
The RC reportedly argued that he was rushing to sign a very important tourism development project that was to be executed in Ngorongoro.
The President then reportedly asked both the RC and the NCAA conservator to shake hands and forget their differences and promised to personally visit the Ngorongoro Conservation Area after concluding his Moshi meeting. Nyerere was also curious to find out more about the alleged hotel project which Mr Mwakang'ata was so occupied with.
"The day Nyerere visited the crater he arrived in a black Jeep and realised that none of the drivers in the President's motorcade had ever driven into the crater before, so Mwalimu was placed under my charge in the conservator's Landrover 109."
The vehicle needed some hasty modifications as it lacked an open roof top, a necessity so that the President would enjoy the trip. Fortunately the shells of the old Land-Rovers were usually made of sheets of steel riveted together. "Thus it was easy to unscrew the entire rooftop and replace it with another one taken from another Land-Rover which had an open hatch on top. The adjustment took less than an hour and soon we all set out down into the crater," says Songai.
The rain-drenched tracks were very slippery; Saibul rode in front of Songai and served as the guide. Nyerere sat in the second row with a bodyguard, while the remaining guards sat behind.
The protocol was broken as Songai who was the only one who knew the crater well and he led the motorcade. Almost all other vehicles got stuck in the muddy roads including the Presidential Jeep. That was how Songai earned the name "Wangu-wangu" eventually working his way to the top of his career as the head Transport Officer, a position he held until his retirement.
After the visit Nyerere declared that the post of the Chief Conservator at Ngorongoro would be a presidential appointment. The Ngorongoro Conservation Area thus became an autonomous authority as far as management of its resources, after the Ole Saibul and Mr Mwakang'ata showdown.
Nyerere also put a stop to the hotel project terming it as destructive to the caldera. The hotel project, was to be undertaken by a hotel group from the Netherlands. Nyerere called for the removal of the gas-filling station which used to operate inside the Ngorongoro crater. To date; no hotel, camp or petrol station exists inside the crater which is Tanzania's leading tourist attraction attracting an average of 500,000 visitors every year, beating Serengeti, which NCAA annexed in 1959 gets around 350,000 tourists annually.
The Ngorongoro crater is a large, unbroken, volcanic caldera. It is believed to have been formed when a giant volcano erupted and collapsed on itself around three million years ago. The natural bowl is over 2,000 feet deep with a basin covering 260 square kilometres. Songai is now a retired pensioner who has chosen to devote his time in preserving the environment as green activist and heads the "Hifadhi Mazingira Karatu" (HIMAKA), organisation.