Socialist Worker

Hundreds of Tanzanians perish in overfilled boat catastrophe

The deaths of 224 people in east Africa were caused by unscrupulous ferry operators and extreme poverty, argues Charlie Kimber

Issue No. 2623


The tragedy has highlighted the levels of poverty in Tanzania

A drowning tragedy in Tanzania, east Africa, has highlighted the fatal effects of poverty.

Tanzanian authorities said on Sunday that 224 people had died when a ferry capsized in Lake Victoria. The ferry, MV Nyerere, sank on Thursday of last week just a few metres from the dock on Ukerewe, the lake’s biggest island.

Local reports indicate the ferry was overloaded with up to 400 people on board, even though the maximum capacity was around 100. 

Boat operators cram as many people as possible on board to make money, and people are too poor to choose any other option.

Tanzania, a British colony until 1961, has moved from the “African socialism” of post-independence leader Julius Nyerere to acceptance of all the market dogmas of the world’s bankers.

It has implemented the World Bank doctrines of privatisation and charges for key services such as health facilities.


The country has high debt repayments to financial institutions and banks which drain money from vital needs. And debt relief is linked to implementing austerity policies.

The local rich are also to blame.

Mbaki Farki, a rescue diver in Tanzania, said that the ferry fleet on Lake Victoria lacks adequate safety precautions.

Ferries are supposed to have life jackets, but the fleet has insufficient equipment, Farki said. He added that the vessels’ operators also lack plans for aiding people with disabilities, among the most vulnerable in such incidents.

John Mnyika, of the main opposition party Chadema, accused the government of dereliction.

“We have often raised concerns about the poor condition of this ferry, but the government turned a deaf ear,” he said. “We have repeatedly denounced this negligence.”

Accidents are not uncommon on Lake Victoria, which straddles Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.

In 1996 around 800 people were killed according to Tanzanian government records when the MV Bukoba capsized on Lake Victoria.

In 2011, hundreds of people were confirmed dead when the MV Spice Islander I sank off the coast of the archipelago of Zanzibar.

  • Tanzania has high debt repayments and debt relief is linked to implementing austerity policies
  • Tanzania has implemented privatisation and charges for health services
  • Over a quarter of its 55 million population live in acute poverty
  • Half the population lives on less than £1.50 a day
  • And 20 percent live below the United Nations food poverty line


Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.