Thousands of people braving heavy downpours joined dancers and musicians on Sunday to cheer the 2008 Olympic torch relay as it was carried through Tanzania's commercial capital on its only African stopover.
"I can only congratulate the people," said UN-HABITAT's Executive Director, Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, hailing the warm and peaceful passage of the torch in her home country. One of 79 bearers of the Olympic flame on Sunday, she used it to light the cauldron at Tanzania's national stadium. "We should be proud that we have been selected among many to represent Africa," she said.
The torch procession started at the headquarters of the Tanzania-Zambia Railway Authority, which operates a railway line built with Chinese help in the 1970s. Vice-President Ali Mohamed Shein lit the Olympic torch, passing it on to cabinet minister Mohamed Seif Khatib, who led the relay team from Dar es Salaam's train station to the national stadium where it was handed to Mrs. Tibaijuka.
A crowd of mainly youthful people carrying miniature Olympic flags ran behind the relay team. They chanted, "we are happy the torch came to Tanzania".
"This torch is not a Chinese torch. It is a symbol of our togetherness as the people of the world and that is why as members of the world community, we people of Dar es Salaam and Tanzania in general are ready to give it a very warm welcome and show the rest of the globe our commitment to peace," said the deputy Mayor of Dar es Salaam, Mr. Ahmed Mwilima, setting the stage for the cheerful mood that pervaded this coastal city as the residents and their leaders eagerly greeted the event.
His remarks were a veiled reference to protests in other cities against China's policies in Tibet, the Sudanese Darfur disctrict and its human rights record. Kenya's Nobel Peace Laureate, the environmentalist, Ms. Wangari Maathai, withdrew from the Dar es Salaam as a mark of protest.
In remarks at a news conference earlier during the weekend, Mrs. Tibaijuka said it was "very healthy to raise such concerns so long as you do it peacefully and do not turn it into a violent protest".
The Congolese environmentalist, Mr. Pierre Kakula, who also carried the flame on Sunday, said it was a great honour for Africa to have the torch passing through Tanzania. His fellow torch bearer, the legendary Kenyan track star Mr. Kipchoge Keino was equally upbeat saying that he was proudly participating an east African keen to promote unity among youth around the world.
The torch was taken to Oman on Sunday night on the next leg of its symbolic journey from Athens around the world to the Beijing olympic stadium.