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Arusha farmers plan a special May Day

A CONCEPT tractor displayed at May Day fete.(File photo)PETER Kamondo Karanja used to work as a baker in the booming, economic vibrant Arusha township. The Arusha Bakery which used to operate from Unga-Limited area was forced into closure when a fire razed it down and in those days, getting new equipment was not easy, so after tarmacking for months, Mr Karanja left the country.

Mr Karanja who was originally a Kenyan even as he worked in Arusha during the former East African Community (EAC) days, is now back home as a farmer in the neighbouring country. With his Tanzanian wife, he runs an estate at Illassit border town, within the Oloitokitok division of Kajiado District where he set up his new home.

His fondest memories of the life in Arusha include the May- Day celebrations when thousands of workers from various factories that were operating in Arusha in the 70s and 80s would gather to mark the annual ‘Labour day’ in full fanfare. When Arusha celebrated ‘May-Day’ last year, even the then Regional Commisioner, Mr Isidori Shirima who was the guest of honour noted that the turnout of participants left a lot to be desired.

Essentially it was the A-to- Z and Sun-Flag textile mills that fielded the highest numbers of workers at the stadium held celebrations, leaving almost half of the venue with a capacity to seat 2,000 people to be empty. During past years’ May-Day fetes, the Sheikh Amri Abeid Stadium used to be filled to capacity, causing many people to turn up at the venue as early as 6.00 in the morning so as to be assured of space.

So where did all the people who used to fill the stadium on every 1st of May go? One of them is Mr Francis Magessa who used to work for Kilimanjaro Textiles (KILITEX), the former garment making factory in Arusha. Mr Magessa will be spending the 1st of May 2012 in his Taxicab; “I was lucky enough to leave my employment with enough money to buy a used car, which served as Taxi for years before I was able to buy a better one,” he said.

Many of his fellow workers left the town, going back to their rural villages when the factory closed shop, others became small scale traders or self-employed but there are also those who were driven into alcoholism after losing hope in life. In other words, the people who used to fill the stadium while celebrating May-Day did so because most Arusha residents were employed people, nowadays, many are self-employed and like Mr Magessa, would rather be busy taking care of their businesses instead of
being at the venue with placards.

“The first of May is a holiday for those under formal employment, they are compelled to be at the stadium because their offices are closed for that purpose, but the rest of us who are self-employed, regards it as an ordinary working day,” explains Magessa. But even for the majority of employed people, May-Day may just pass as an ordinary day; Mwalimu Pelle Ibrahim Shaibu a retired teacher is on view that during their time, teachers did not have alternative jobs.

“Nowadays teacher use holidays and free days, including weekends to conduct private academic coaching in what is known as ‘tuition’ while others may even be running businesses like shops, beauty parlors and food joints,” stated Mr Shaibu. About this time, ten years ago in 2002, Arusha hosted the May- Day celebrations at the National Levels for the last time, with the immediate former President Mr Benjamin Mkapa as Guest of Honour.

During his speech, Mkapa warned against the trend of that time to treat investors as enemies, pointing out that unless foreign entrepreneurs come to inject new life into ailing public establishments, including factories, many Tanzanians should brace for massive job losses. In 2002 the stadium was fully packed but tomorrow, ten years after the national celebrations, Arusha may want to pause and reflect back into the decade whether things have changed for better or worse.

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