trusting . resting . following

Where is our peaceful Mwanza heading?

November 4, 2011
Seeing a policeman here in Mwanza conjures up very different emotions than seeing them in the States. 

To drive by a police car in the states, gives me a sense of security, (unless I happen to have forgot my lead foot, in which case I'm unconsciously taking my foot of the pedal and praying for mercy.)

To see police on the side of the road here in Mwanza, all faculties are alert.  Usually they pull me over in order to meet an mzungu and try out their English.  Then they want to check so make sure all my registration and insurance stickers are current, and that I've paid for the new "safety week" sticker, and that I have a fire extinguisher and triangles ready to go in case of emergency.  That usually is enough to let me go.  But other times they want a lift into town. (The Mwanza police department owns very few vehicles.  If you have an emergency of any kind, you usually have to go pick them up.)  If all is not to their satisfaction, the big receipt book comes out and they wap you with a massive fine (with a maddeningly smug look!)  Sometimes they open the "bribe" door.  You pass me a little "gift"and I'll waive your fine.  Police in Africa are typically not known for their integrity.

So, with all that as background, back to my story...

Wednesday morning I was very grateful for Mwanza police! I drove into town to get some errands done. Turning onto the main road I was blocked by a police lady with one hand high in the air and other directing me to turn the opposite direction, out of town.  (Sometimes if there's an important guy coming through town, the police will clear the road way ahead of his motorcade, I thought that must be what the deal was.)  As I was driving away from town, I started thinking through the side roads, trying to come up with a way back into town.  I started noticing groups of people, way more than normal, standing around and watching something up ahead.  Things were definitely out of the ordinary.

Next thing I saw a puff of smoke like a little smoke bomb had gone off.  But nobody was around.  What...?

Then I saw the truck... loaded with police in their full "swat team" gear parked up ahead.  Others had already gotten out of the truck and were chasing people with tear gas guns.  One shot his gun, smoke filled the area and people scattered... some yelling back, tons watching from across the street.

Then there's poor little me and one other car in front of me driving right by.  "Get me out of here, quick, Lord!"  I big lorry tried to pull out in front of me (also wanting to get away I'm sure), but I sneaked in front of him (one learns to drive aggressively here... pure survival).  Whew, away at last!  That's the kind of excitement I don't prefer to hang around and watch.  (especially hearing horror stories of how angry mobs get out of hand, not a good place for a white foreigner to be.)

A few blocks away I stopped at a little corner shop to get the scoop... some Muslims had taken some Christians to court for burning some Islamic literature (a former Muslim had gotten saved and at some point had burned her Islamic things.)  Reports vary whether the Koran was involved or not.  As far as I could understand the talk, Wednesday was the day of the trial, but the trial had been dismissed because the judge had declared that it's not officially illegal to burn the Koran (or the Bible).  The Muslims were in an uproar.  The Christians were put back in prison to save their lives.

Oh dear.  Mwanza used to be so peaceful.  Tanzania is known for being a peaceful African country!  Never been a civil war!   We've escaped major tribal conflicts.  Now the religion conflict is beginning.

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