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Seeing a protest and realising my own privilege

Iringa is about 260km away from Dodoma (say, 5 hours on a good road) but at the moment, you have to go through Morogoro, doubling the distance and the travel time. So the government is currently using aid money and the help of many Chinese engineers in straw hats to build a direct road from Iringa to Dodoma. It’s a strategic move, linking the nation’s official capital with a hub of industry and development.

The final stretch of road comes out heaps close to where we live. This week as we crossed over the roadworks, we were talking about progress, how great it will be for these two towns to be more easily connected, and how convenient it will be that it doesn’t go through the centre of town.

Then we arrived in town and while we were shopping, the main street suddenly lined with people running, dancing, waving branches and holding placards. Was it a celebration or a protest? One of the placards read ‘This is unfair’ and another one referred to bad treatment of poor people so we guessed the latter and asked someone the cause. We were told that the Iringa road we’d been talking about earlier was planned to go through these people’s suburbs. Many of them would have their houses demolished to make way for the road, without any compensation. Any wonder they were angry!

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As we drove past the roadworks, it had not even occurred to me to ask what impact they might have on inhabitants. If I had any thought, it might have been that all the passing traffic would mean business opportunities for them. A protest could potentially be about noise pollution, or the danger to children of such a busy road. But people losing their homes?!

You see, my cultural expectation is of council meetings and committees and consultations. I expect that community’s inhabitants have some say over what happens in their community, even to the point of protesting about the building of a McDonald’s! My expectation when a new road is built is that people will have been consulted, not that work just starts.

There are possibly more sides to this story. Perhaps there were consultations that we hadn’t heard about. But here’s my point: the fact that I don’t associate roadworks with people losing their homes in and of itself points to the privilege of my life in Australia.

Categories: Tanzania Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

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