Masapila’s achievements in ‘Wizard of Loliondo!’
A recent visit to the Namanga Border town revealed an empty ‘Bus Station,’ which around this time last year used to be the busiest terminal in Longido District.
Located behind both the Namanga Police Station and the Border Customs Offices, the ‘bus terminal,’ was actually started to handle passenger vehicles that used to take people to visit a certain shrine operating from the remote Samunge Village in the Digo-Digo Ward of Sale Division in Ngorongoro District.
At the epicenter of the alleged ‘Magical Shrine,’ stood a retired cleric, Pastor Ambilikile Masapila who between November 2010 and December 2011 was the main point of attraction for millions of people from all over Tanzania and neighboring countries.
One of the ‘neighboring countries,’ that joined Tanzania in sending its tens of thousands of citizens to visit the ‘Old Man of Samunge,’ was Kenya, which explains why a special ‘bus station,’ to cater for the masses was established at the Namanga border.
In Arusha, a special ‘bus station’ was established at the entrance of the Sheikh Amri Abeid Stadium which for years it has been handling passenger buses that ply between Arusha and Loliondo, another Division of Ngorongoro District.
In the early days people going to Samunge used to travel on buses headed for Loliondo, then get off at Wasso and take other means of transport to Samunge and due to that Mr Masapila earned the name ‘Babu Wa Loliondo,’ because his clients would always say they were going to Loliondo.
But in reality the ‘Samunge’ Village where the retired pastor lives even today, is located nearly 100 kilometers from Loliondo and without even a direct connecting road between the two. Ngorongoro, which is one of the seven Districts making up Arusha Region, is divided into three divisions, there is the Ngorongoro Division which is essentially a Conservation Area, the Second Division of Loliondo, which is where most of the District residents live and it is also the seat for the District Administration.
The third Division is known as Sale, which is totally different for the other two on that the native residents here are mostly the warlike ‘Batemi,’ or ‘Sonjo,’ people who are arch enemies of the Maasai. The Maasai occupy the Ngorongoro and Loliondo Divisions leaving the entire landscape of Sale to their adversaries.
It is in Sale that the ‘Babu wa Loliondo,’ decided to set up his camp, administering a certain herbal brew to people and promising them that the alleged ‘elixir,’ was capable of curing practically all human ailments including HIV and Aids.
The mass response was overwhelming, by Mid-May 211 a total of 3.5 million people had visited Samunge for the herbal cure according to figures released by Ms Margaret Martin the Regional Chief Statistician and area Census coordinator.
After that the daily take at Mr Masapila’s shrine was averaged at 10,000 people a figure which was sustained until November last year and by January this year it was estimated that more than 6 million people (including foreigners from overseas) had taken the herbal cup which used to be sold at 500/- per dose.
The number of ‘patients’ kept dropping and it trickled down to just 10 a day, by May this year and as you read this almost nobody goes to Samunge again, at least from this side (Arusha, Nairobi and Kilimanjaro). While it is true that millions took the herbal cure, few testified of its efficiency; medical practitioners complained that many of their former patients who decided to replace the hospital drugs with Masapila’s alternative either died or their conditions worsened.
Reports of people who died along the way, en-route to Samunge or those who gave up their ghosts while waiting in line to receive their cups, were many. Some activists even called for state investigations and possible arrest of the ‘Loliondo Babu.’ But whether the herbal drink worked or not, Mr Masapila managed to attract more visitors into the Northern Zone of Tanzania than the combined annual figures of tourists visiting the circuit’s tourism attractions.
Tanzania gets an average of 1 million tourists per year, as of 2011. Nearly 90 Percent of them visit the Northern Zone Circuit comprising of the Ngorongoro Crater which gets the lion share at 500,000 visitors, Serengeti attracting 350,000 and Mount Kilimanjaro getting 55,000.
Single handedly Masapila lured over 6 million visitors to the tiny and almost forgotten village of Samunge and while at that, he helped boost the gate charges at the Ngorongoro Conservation Area Authority through which some people passed on their way to the shrine when the other ‘Engaresero Route,’ became too congested.
People who went through the NCAA gates in the year 2011 were more than 1.5 million and when you subtract the usual 500,000 who visits the crater, you are left with an extra one million who obviously must have used the gate on their way to see Mr Masapila.
Also nobody ever dreamt of installing cellular phone communication towers in the remote ‘Sonjo’ plains, but after seeing potential due to the influx of people there, Airtel, Vodacom and Tigo fought among themselves to include ‘Samunge,’ in their coverage maps.
Like the fairy ‘Wizard of Oz,’ who solved people’s problems through ‘Placebo,’ effects, Babu Masapila’s cure may not have been effective medically but proved to be a wheel of fortune for both Samunge and the local tourism sector.
By Marc Nkwame, Tanzania Daily News
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