Tanzania Church stampede kills 20, injures over 40

Thousands of worshipers crushed in religious gathering 'to receive blessing' from self-proclaimed prophet

Kizito Makoye   | 02.02.2020
Tanzania Church stampede kills 20, injures over 40

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania 

At least 20 people died in a stampede as scores of worshippers who gathered at a religious festival in Tanzania’s northern Kilimanjaro region crushed each other as they engage in a frenzied jostling to be anointed with “blessed” oil by a self-proclaimed prophet around midnight.

Thousands of people gathered in an overnight religious festival organized by a Pentecostal church in Moshi town nestled on the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. The worshippers, including women and children who were jostling to step on blessed oil crushed each other, officials said Sunday.

Among those who died, 16 are women, one man and three children, officials said.

Kippi Warioba, a local district commissioner for Kilimanjaro, told Anadolu Agency that the incident happened around dawn as worshippers pushed each other to be blessed by Boniface Mwamposa, a popular evangelical Christian pastor.

According to Warioba, 40 others who sustained bodily injuries have been admitted at a nearby Mawenzi referral hospital for treatment.

Police have launched a manhunt against Pastor Mwamposa, a key suspect, who reportedly fled the venue at Majengo grounds in Moshi following the incident.

Salum Hamduni, Kilimanjaro police commander, said they have so far arrested and are interrogating seven suspects in connection with the incident.

Sources said Pastor Mwamposa was spotted at his “Arise and Shine Ministry in Tanzania” church this morning. He is reportedly to have told his followers he was traveling back to Kilimanjaro to heed the police. But Internal Affairs Minister George Simbachawene confirmed that Mwamposa has already been arrested for questioning.

Sources at Kilimanjaro referral hospital said most of the injured people sustained bruises, cut wounds and suffocation, adding that the death toll is likely to rise as some of the victims are in in critical condition.

Rehema Masawe, one of the injured worshipers who suffered a fractured arm, said her neighbor died of suffocation after she had fallen down, and the crowd piled on her.

In his condolence message, President John Magufuli has expressed his sadness for the loss of lives, urging the Tanzanians to exercise great caution whenever they assemble in large gatherings.

Evangelical Christian churches, often run by charismatic preachers, have exponentially grown across east Africa in recent years. Some are massive, attracting thousands of worshipers each Sunday, but others consist of dilapidated infrastructures that do not conform with building standards.

In 2018, the neighboring Rwanda banned about 700 churches due to illegal status and noise pollution. According to Rwandan laws, all preachers must have theological training with at least a degree before opening a church.

Peter Msigwa, an opposition member of the parliament, has called upon the government to enact a law that will require religious pastor to have achieved a certain level of biblical education.

“This tragedy is a mix of ignorance and poverty. If the pastor had the right biblical knowledge and training, those deaths would’ve been avoided,” he wrote on Twitter.

But in an interview with Anadolu Agency, Mwamposa's followers defended him, saying stampedes in religious gathering are common.

“I am with him, people stepping on one another is not a surprising thing, he has not committed any crime, God is with him” said Neema Mbinga.

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