Helium is used in brain scanners and other medical and scientific devices. So scarce had natural deposits worldwide become that the British Medical Association asked for helium to be priced out of the children’s party market – say, $100 to fill a single balloon to hover on a string and fly skywards to the glee of the children.
The Tanzanian reserves can fill 60 billion balloons and keep all the world’s MRI scanners going for many years to come.
Today, Tanzania, unlike Zimbabwe, is investor friendly and welcomes prospecting and research to exploit its remaining natural resources. Energetic President John ‘the bulldozer’ Magufuli, who took over last year, has waged a relentless campaign against corruption, fired many lazy and ineffectual civil servants, slashed wasteful government travel and perks and banned lavish partying for Independence Day, suggesting people should clean up their neighbourhoods instead on that day. He cracked down on the Dar es Salaam port authority, firing all its top managers and customs officials after thousands of shipping containers were found to have been whisked through the harbour without duty or tax being paid.
Of course he has made enemies among the privileged classes, who call him misguided, parsimonious, stingy, mean and evangelical to the extreme – much to the delight of the impoverished classes.
Back to the helium. It makes the voice go all squeaky by tightening the vocal cords if inhaled when filling the children’s balloons.
Plenty of Zimbabweans must be so afflicted.
‘The argument Zimbabwe doesn’t have any industry to protect, thus protectionism will not work, is an unfortunate and reductionist argument,’ squeaked one correspondent in the local media on the latest bans on imports.
‘Stayaway flops,’ squeaked another, regardless that industry is running at less than 30 percent of capacity and unemployment in the formal sector stands at nearly 90 percent.
John ‘the bulldozer’ Magufuli would probably like to know how a strike/stayaway is defined in such circumstances.
‘Are you on strike?’ the caller asks one of the most powerful ministries in Harare. ‘How can I tell?’ came the answer. Desks are deserted as usual, and/or: Can I speak to Mr X, please? ’He must be in the building somewhere because his coat is on the back of his chair.’
But the most piercing and distasteful squeak of all, widely quoted in the state media, came from one of Mr Mugabe’s youth leaders. Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri, he said, should ‘stand aside and let us deal with Mawarire,’ the peaceful pastor of the This Flag campaign who preaches non-violence but has been accused of inciting violence.
How will the youth deal with Pastor Evan Mawarire if not violently? There were no accusations of incitement to violence this time around.