- Published on Monday, 24 September 2012 01:58
- Written by Marc Nkwame in Arusha
- Hits: 1319
For many years the National Millings grounds of Unga-Limited have been the default meeting point for local residents converging for public rallies, open-air religious meetings, concerts and road shows.
It was Arusha’s own ‘Trafalgar Square!’ It therefore didn’t come as a surprise when chaos erupted here last weekend as people indignantly protested the city fathers’ move to fence off the open space. The Arusha District Commissioner Mr John Mongella claimed, over the phone that the area was being earmarked for a new market area to cater for the town’s petty traders.
But lacking further details on the matter the DC eventually hung up the phone. But as you read this the former green and calm fields have just been converted into a dusty bowl full of noisy hawkers, debris and confusion in the name of traders’ market. The Municipal Mayor, Mr Gaudence Lyimo had even less details who got slightly confused when asked how comes Arusha is becoming the only town in the world without a single open space.
‘NMC grounds’ acquired its name from ‘National Milling Corporation,’ the former state-owned grain grinding factory and storage silos located next to the open space. It lies in Unga-Limted area but a few meters from the ‘Friends’ Corner,’ junction where the road leading to the Unga-Limited residential areas joined the main Sokoine road and the Kituoni Street connecting to the main bus station.
‘Unga Limited,’ area got the name from the same factory which before being nationalized in the early 70s and becoming NMC it used to be known as Unga-Limited. The NMC grounds became popular during the wave of Christian Evangelization which was sweeping the country (as well as most parts of East Africa) in the late 80s and throughout the 90s up to the turn of the new millennium.
During that era ‘gospel crusades’ were taking place practically everywhere where there was an open space and in Arusha, the NMC grounds became the favourite destination for preachers from Kenya, Congo, Nigeria and from as far as the United States, United Kingdom and even Middle-East. The ‘Gospel Crusades,’ fad started waning in recent years following less funding from Christendom bankrollers in the west who advised local churches to start fending for themselves now.
As the result the number of religious meetings dropped to a trickle and many local churches decided to result to ‘miracle clinics,’ in their quest to attract more followers to bring more offerings and help ends meet. Miracle clinics spawned a new wave of ‘prophets,’ professing healing powers and who would rather conduct their services and sermons in enclosed tents far away from the town (for maximum curing effect), instead of preaching on open spaces like the preceding western evangelists.
Between 1995 and year 2000 however, the National Millings Grounds used to be the only area where people could gather to watch Television for free. The Independent Television (ITV) of Dar-es-salaam was then the only available ‘free-to-air,’ station in Arusha. ITV which went on air in 1994, was the first TV station to broadcast in Tanzania then operating only in Dar-es-salaam.
It ventured in Arusha in late 1995 on trial basis by installing a giant viewing screen at the NMC grounds. So from 6.30 pm in the evening hundreds of people would gather at the NMC grounds to watch the new television phenomenon which lasted for about five years before the station became freely available on air and TV sets for sale started to appear in local stores.
Eventually, the open air screen project folded up and soon the NMC grounds were to play a new role. In recent years when the wildly popular Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA) started taking the entire country by storm, suddenly the NMC grounds became the opposition party’s favourite converging area for its public rallies.
The multitude of party followers and supporters who kept filling up the venue to an overflow gave the NMC ground series of new definitions, some even started calling the area ‘Freedom Square,’ or ‘the battle field!’ One such rally was about to be held again last week, right at the very same NMC venue.
The former Member of Parliament for Arusha, Mr Godbless Lema had apparently organized a public meeting at NMC to address CHADEMA members as well as other Arusha residents, about the looming referral case at the high court, which the party had filed to contest the unseating of the MP.
A night before the proposed rally however the municipal fathers sent round a team of people to erect a barbed wire fence around the venue, announcing that the NMC grounds will no longer be used for rallies and instead the field is going to be divided into small plots that are to be divided among local petty traders and hawkers who will thus be using the area as their business location.
Chaos that erupted last weekend, following the decision were an enough indication that the NMC arena was not about to change into something else amicably. So will the city fathers go ahead and let the town plunge into state of unrest just to ensure that the open space that the NMC grounds are blocked from public rallies (especially those with political flavour) forever?