Dispatches from Dar, RCA In-House, Series

Dispatches from Dar: Arusha – The Gem of East Africa

By Mpuga Rukidi, Uganda:

Arusha, located in the North of the vast country that is Tanzania, is a unique city. It is the East African Community's answer to the EU's Brussels. Back in the 1960s when the leaders of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, wanted to create an economic community, Arusha, the leafy quiet town, was chosen as the headquarters. But it is not just the leaders of the community that identified its beauty. Long before them, the Germans, when they still controlled Tanganyika, as Tanzania was then known, chose this town as their headquarters for the Northern Province. Arusha is located so far from Dar es Salaam, the port in the East of the country which was the point of arrival for most of the outside world. Numerous organisations working in East Africa find it convenient to have branches here.

Arusha is a city loved. Unlike Dar es Salaam, with its heat and hustle and bustle, Arusha is cool and quiet. It is loved by expatriates. This small city is home to people of all nationalities. Its dark, loam soils have got to be some of the most fertile in the entire region. The Germans, as early as the 1880s, had noticed this. The established their headquarters of the Northern Province in this town. The resistance they faced forced them to build a garrison to protect themselves from the native Masai, who were not impressed with the idea of taking orders from Germans.

This part-garrison part-residence for the governor of the Northern Province later became the Arusha Boma- British Overseas Military Administration, following the defeat of Germany and the surrender of the territories under its control to Britain. So impressive was this structure that it still stands and the walls don't seem to have been bothered by the passage of time. Today it houses a museum that documents the history of the city as well as that of the region. The famous Zinjathropus skull found at Olduvai Gorge by Dr. Louis Leakey, the renowned East African archeologist, rests here. The museum also contains a display of some of the unique plant and animal species found in Tanzania and the rest of East Africa.

When I enquired from the curators at the museum were quick to point out that the structure has not received any structural renovations since it was built. The walls, windows and floor, one of the curators told me, are still the way they were built. Even on close inspection, there are no signs of dilapidation. My fascination for old architecture was pleasantly aroused. How come, more than a century since it was built, this structure stands, unbothered by time? How come many structures built nearly a century later do not have the strength to stand firm for just a couple of decades? The answers may be difficult to find, not least in this piece. What is not difficult to find, though, is the beauty and laid back nature of this city, punctuated by beautiful trees that should belong to paradise, the pleasant air and the beautiful fertile soils. Little wonder, then, that East Africa is fabled to be the cradle of humanity.

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