Sun, Aug 20, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Film linking fish to arms trade angers Tanzania

FISHY BUSINESS The president says a documentary, which shows that planes carrying exports of Nile perch return laden with arms, has harmed the country's image


An Oscar-nominated documentary highlighting links between fish from Lake Victoria and the global arms trade has drawn a furious reaction from Tanzania's president and led to harassment of local people involved in the film.

President Jakaya Kikwete said that Darwin's Nightmare, a film by the Austrian director Hubert Sauper, had hurt the country's image and caused a slump in exports of Nile perch. His comments triggered angry protests against the film in the western town of Mwanza, where it was shot. Richard Mgamba, a local journalist interviewed in the film, was detained by police and threatened with deportation.


Other people who talked on camera have also been intimidated, according to Sauper.

"I don't think that the president has even seen the film," he said. "This whole thing is insane and has turned into my nightmare."

"The very last thing you want as a film-maker is for the people left behind to be in danger," he said.

Darwin's Nightmare, which was nominated for best documentary at this year's Oscars, examines the history of Nile perch in Lake Victoria. Introduced in the 1950s, the fast-growing predator nearly wiped out several other fish species.

Highly Valuable

The perch's fleshy white fillets proved popular on European dinner tables, however, and spawned an industry worth millions of dollars a month. Mini boomtowns emerged on the shores of the lake.

But the bulk of the profits still end up in the hands of middlemen.

The film shows a still darker side to what Sauper calls "the hidden half of globalization": Russian pilots interviewed on camera admit the planes that flew fish to Europe returned laden with weapons.

`Ungodly alliance'

"This booming multinational industry of fish and weapons has created an ungodly globalized alliance on the shores of the world's biggest tropical lake: an army of local fishermen, World Bank agents, homeless children, African ministers, EU commissioners, Tanzanian prostitutes and Russian pilots," Sauper wrote on the film's Web site.

But Kikwete, who has set up a special parliamentary committee to investigate the film's effect on the fishing industry, took offence.

"The documentary is an insult to our country and the people of the lake zone as it does not depict the true nature of the business," he said.

Globefish, a division of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, said the film had only briefly affected sales. Far bigger factors in the decline in exports -- worth US$116 million last year, down from US$127 million in 2004 -- were overfishing and low water levels.

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