Already on the TAZARA train, we learned that Zanzibar was without electricity and would be so for the coming weeks. Apparently, an undersea cable between the mainland and the island had snapped and reinforcements had to come from far away.
The major tourist hotspots, that is, bars, hotels and restaurants, run on generators, as did ours, St. Monica’s. Though, as with others, our generators stopped running at 1am, meaning that most of the night ended up being a sweaty, bug filled, challenge.
The story on the street is that technicians had to come from South Africa and though they managed to get the main generator back online shortly before christmas, it gave up the ghost again shortly after. However, the South Africans are said to have wanted to spend christmas and new year’s with their families back home, them coming back only on the fourth of January.
However, I find this story hard to swallow. 25% of Zanzibar’s GDP comes from tourism, as does 70% of its forex. With some two million people on the Zanzibar archipelago, it’s hard to believe that a few South Africans’ desire to be home for christmas outweighed access to power and running water for millions of Zanzibaris, let alone the longterm effects on the economy. For one, by the time we left for the beach, some three weeks after the start of the outages, cholera was starting to hit some of the outlying villages.
And, indeed. Later, I learned that the truth is slightly different. Zanzibar depends on the mainland for its supply of electricity. In the past, this was the mainland’s responsibility. But more recently, with Zanzibar re-asserting their relative independence from the mainland (Tanganyika and Zanzibar merged to form Tanzania in 1964), it was the Zanzibar government who thought it imperative to have full control of the electricity supply.
The system, as can be expected, hasn’t seen major changes since the 1960s and regularly breaks down. However, before, specialists residing in Dar, with an extensive understanding of the equipment and its history, used to be responsible for getting the system back online after a break down. Now, with the proud Zanzibaris in control, they have looked to both Norwegians and South Africans to solve their problems, ignoring the expertise available on the mainland.
Not surprisingly, the newbies were at a total loss, plunging Zanzibar in darkness for now over three weeks.
We went on a spice tour, a walk on a spice farm where a guide shows you the different crops that are being grown, giving some background on each of them, while you’re being fed the different spices as well as fruits. This was followed by an excellent lunch and a visit to a very pretty beach.
In between, a short stop at a cave, near the sea, used by illegal slave traders between 1873 and 1907, cost extra money and wasn’t really worth it. The cost of the excursion, 15 dollars, isn’t too bad, but I also couldn’t find the whole trip too special. It was entertaining, sure, but I was hoping for more. A visit to a market, for example, where we would experience the spices on sale. Or the slaves.
Stone Town itself reminded me on occasion of some towns in Iran, as well as, interestingly enough, coastal towns on the Adriatic, such as Piran.
Internet speeds, both in Zanzibar and particularly Dar are refreshingly good as well as extremely affordable. Just before we leave Dar at the beginning of the new year, I expect to sign a contract with Twaweza, which should see me spend a few months here early next year. I think I will be able to cope.