The Kapunga Saga

Sergei Bekker, the production manager at Kapunga Rice Irrigation Project.


“LISTEN, if you are from the newspapers, I better tell you that you are wasting my time as I don’t care about the Tanzanian media.Do you hear me? They come at Kapunga every time and speak to the villagers, what they report is totally negative. No one, I repeat, no one from the newspapers ever came here and published exactly what he was told.”

This was the first remark I got from Sergei Bekker, the production manager of Kapunga Rice Project Limited that runs the ex-NAFCO farm at Kapunga, Mbarali District, once I introduced myself.

“I hate politics; I hate politicians because they are liars. I hate newspaper men in Tanzania because most of them have political motive especially when reporting on Kapunga. They tarnish our image. I rather am surprised to find that you came all the way from Dar es Salaam to find the truth. I never heard of a journalist like you, most of them end up in the village where they get wrong information and put them in the papers. In South Africa I’ve got friends who are journalists, but they do it in a fair way, but not in Tanzania,” he says, pounding up his table.

It took me nearly ten minutes to convince him that I was there on my own, without any political motive, and that ‘the negative reports’, as he was portraying them, are the ones that forced me to go and find nothing but the truth.

This was my second visit at the Kapunga Rice Project, the first one being four days back when I was told that he, Sergei Bekker, was out of office and so the appointment was set by the Administration Manager, Mr Peter Chacha, for Tuesday.

It was going to be tough for me if ever I wouldn’t speak to him because already I had faced the same phenomenon from the villagers at Kapunga, being the victim of the five year land conflict.

“Look! I don’t have any political motive on this. I’m just an innocent journalist reporting on agricultural and environmental issues in the wake of ‘Kilimo Kwanza’ and Green Revolution initiative. I just want you to be free and provide me with information on agriculture development since you took over this farm; the performance, the challenges, and things like that,” I said hoping that he could change his mind and give me cooperation.

My persistence paid off, as he calmed down and set down in his office. I had lost more than an hour, first waiting in the lounge for some fifty minutes as the public relations manager, Mr Sunil, kept himself busy to find the right guy who could provide me with information before taking me to Mr Sergei’s office.

And the impression I got in the first place showed me that I was about to give up when Mr Sergei started to blame the local media on fueling the conflict instead of writing the truth.

“Corruption is killing this country, and is worse when the media become part of it. You should know that if the trend goes on like this, fueled by politics, which to me is another hoax, you won’t realize any development. Yes, all developing countries are facing the problem of corruption, but in Tanzania it is worst. I hate politicians because they lie to people so that they get elected, but they leave problems unsolved. I hate media men because most of them are being used by politicians with or without their knowledge. Politicians talk a lot but there are no any implementations of what they preach,” Mr Sergei says.

He says; investment in Tanzania was being threatened by mixing up politics and corruption, adding that charity wouldn’t help develop Tanzania; instead the country needed more and smarter investments, which now were being hindered by corruption and politics.

“Tanzania, as one of Least Developed Countries, do not need charity, it needs more and more investments. But you can’t get smarter investors when there is much talk (politics) than implementations and most officials are engulfed with corruption. This instead could only see a small group of people flourish while the majority continues to swim in abject poverty,” he says.

He says, though government officials are doing the best to invite foreign investors in the country, but once the investor pay them what is required as per contract, they only leave him to fight on his own.

“We are facing a lot of challenges here since we took over this farm from NAFCO, but all you can see is that we have to fight it on our own. Politics is a big lie, and corruption is another impediment that is doing harm to this country’s economy,” he says.

Mr Bekker, an agro-engineer who has worked in various countries like his native South Africa, Australia, Saudi Arabia and the United States of America, says the Dar es Salaam port is doing worst for the country’s economy as corruption was rampant.

He says, it takes three months to clear their shipments at the Dar es Salaam port, hence affecting their activities at the project.

“When one of my machines breaks down I have to import a spare part from abroad. It only takes one week for the spare part to arrive, but the clearance takes three months! Why? Because of corruption. It is too hectic to invest here and that’s why many good investors are backing away once they see this kind of situation,” he says.

However, he says, they are facing other challenges like theft, manpower, limited market, isolation and indiscipline at their project; theft and indiscipline being the major problems.

“Some of our employees are thieves; they steal diesel, batteries and other spare parts, and sell them to the nearby villages. Some are indiscipline as they come late or even don’t turn to work. You can’t trust policemen in this manner, because when we have a security problem here and you call them, they say the car is out of fuel, so I have to send them my car. Do I do the government’s job to supply fuel for police cars?”

To me this had been an experience, because when I first arrived at Kapunga village and introduced myself to the village chairman and other members, I was ignored by many, citing that they are fed up with journalists. I found out that it was very difficult when covering conflict issues, because each side seems to think has the right.

Kapunga saga

The Kapunga village chairman Mr Ramadhan Nyoni (left), with Rev. Brighton Ngella explaining something to the administrator of this blog.

The villagers had another story, blaming journalists of colluding with the investor instead of putting the stories right.

“When the investor burned our houses in 2006 and left more than 800 people homeless, we invited a TV reporter from Iringa, paid his travelled expenses and accommodation at Chimala so that the incident could be seen by the public. He got the photos, but to date the report is yet to be aired,” says Ramadhani Nyoni, Kapunga village chairman.

Mr Nyoni says some of land crisis, especially those involving investors and locals, are being fueled by the media which don’t write the truth, contrary to media ethics.

I could not blame them because corruption has no bounds, as Nyerere said. I attended Mwalimu Nyerere’s press conference at Kilimanjaro Hotel in Dar es Salaam on March 14, 1995, and he told journalists, “Corruption in Tanzania has no bounds. Every country I visit they talk about corruption in Tanzania. Tanzania is stinking with corruption.”

Maybe journalists have lost their patriotism, media ethics being left behind, and the nationalism pushed aside, thus making many people see their weaknesses.

When the media is implicated in corruption, then the public is denied its constitutional right to information as prescribed in The Union Constitution of 1977, Article 18(1) and (2), the National Information and Broadcasting Policy of 2004, and also contrary to the International Human Rights Conventions.

In this sense then, the National Development Vision 2025 to see a well informed society can’t be realized.

When Tanzania is fighting corruption from every sector, especially the investment sector, the media also have to change as rampant corruption affects the country’s development and hits hardest on people living in poor and marginalized communities.

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