Saturday, August 2, 2008



By Jerry Okungu
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
July 30, 2008

Mheshimiwa Chacha Zakayo Wangwe is dead. This MP who represented Tarime Constituency in Tanzanian Parliament died a mysterious death last Monday in a freak road accident that has baffled many.

I have decided to talk about it on this page for a number of reasons. One such reason is that he is the fifth Member of Parliament in Tanzania to have died in office during the life of the current Parliament, which is hardly three years old. The other reason is that Wangwe was no ordinary MP.

His charisma, outspokenenness and likable character reminded me so much of JM Kariuki at the peak of JM’s political career. And Like Kariuki, he died at the tender age of 52, a very young age for most politicians in Africa. More importantly, at the time of his death, he was embroiled in a bitter leadership struggle with his CHADEMA Party chairman, a dispute that saw him ousted as the Party Vice Chairman.

As Tanzania has lost five MPs in the last two years, Kenya’s 10th Parliament has lost four MPs in its first six months of existence, two of them murdered mysteriously while the other two met their fate in a tragic air crash. Three of those MPs hailed from Kenya’s expansive Rift Valley while the fourth one hailed from Embakasi in Nairobi.

Ironically all the four Kenyan MPs were members of the main opposition party that finally shared the coalition government with Mwai Kibaki’s PNU.
The jinx in Kibaki’s regime started way back in 2002 when the President on a campaign trail was involved in a near fatal accident. That accident saw the President being sworn into office in a wheelchair at the country’s Uhuru Park.

As if that was not enough, hardly a month later, he lost one of his cabinet ministers in an air crash at the home of another cabinet minister where many other colleagues had gone for a victory party.

A few weeks later, another MP drowned on the way to his rural home for another victory party in Eastern Province. As if that was not bad enough, seven months down the line, the country’s Vice President and another cabinet minister succumbed to long term illnesses; the VP in London while the cabinet minister passed on in South Africa.
A year later, two other MPs from Nyanza died of natural causes before five more MPs perished in another air crash in North Eastern Province soon after.
In the six years that President Kibaki has ruled Kenya, fifteen sitting MPs have either died of accidents, got murdered or just succumbed to long term illnesses.

However, the most noticeable fact is that the majority of them died of deaths that didn’t need to occur. Either they died of negligence on the part of the government they served or they were murdered for unknown reasons.

Unlike the well endowed Kenyan MPs who normally have drivers and bodyguards, most Tanzanian MPs drive themselves in small cars and are hardly accompanied by their bodyguards.

Wangwe’s death is a case in point. He died in the company of an undefined family friend who was his only companion that fateful night. Ironically, before he died, he instructed his only passenger to sit in the back seat for his safety! Did Wangwe expect his death that evening?

More mystery surrounding Wangwe’s death was revealed a day after he died. According to his 18 year old son, the MP had been suffering from malaria before he met his death. On the day the father died, the MP had gone to the hospital and was diagnosed with malaria parasites, treated and discharged. When he came home, he was visibly weak and had to be assisted to swallow his medication. He was sweating profusely and could only eat a slice of fruit after which he decided to sleep, asking to be woken up at 5pm the same Monday.

On waking up, the MP decided to travel by road to Dar es Salaam, a distance of nearly three hundred kilometers. On checking his car as instructed, the son found the front wheel bolts were loose! Who had loosened them?

This was the scenario surrounding Zakayo Wangwe before he died a few hours later.
The question to ask is this: Can a normal intelligent person and an MP to boot, knowing well that he is sick with malaria decide to drive nearly 300km just hours after being diagnosed? Can an MP decide to drive a long distance without servicing his car and especially after discovering that someone had tampered with the bolts on his car wheels?

Was Wangwe’s death, like those of other MPs in Kenya and Tanzania, a normal accident or was there more than meets the eye?

The death of this great Tanzanian is a wakeup call for those in authority charged with the responsibility to take care of the safety of our leaders and ordinary citizens. We invest so much in human resource such that losing them for causes that can be avoided should not be taken for granted. If Tanzanian MPs cannot afford security detail and drivers, let the state provide such even if it means subsidy from members of parliament.

If aircrafts, air traffic control systems and airfields are as faulty in Kenya to occasion so many air disasters in a short period, the authorities must wake up and deal with these anomalies that cause many families unnecessary anguish.

Wangwe’s death, like those of Kipkalias Kones and Lorna Laboso of Kenya are enough proof that we are in dire need of safety regulations on our roads and airspace.