DAR ES SALAAM: Ring of steel around the archbishops
by Jonathan Petre in Dar es Salaam
12 Feb. 2007
A siege mentality seems to be creeping in to the worldwide Anglican Communion's primates' meeting in Tanzania this week.
The relaxed atmosphere that has prevailed for the last day or two between the three or four journalists who have traveled out to Dar Es Salaam and the Communion Office responsible for running the meeting has been soured by a tinge of paranoia.
A "ring of steel", or at least a heavy security presence, has been imposed overnight around the conference centre in the White Sands hotel where the five-day meeting, which will determine whether the Communion has a future, will begin on Thursday.
Guards, some armed with truncheons, patrol every entrance, challenging anyone who dares to wander into the vicinity without a red security pass, which is issued to participants only.
According to one account, there has already been an ugly confrontation between security staff and a writer from a Christian magazine who had strayed into the wrong area.
Such arrangements can, of course, be justified in this age of terrorism, especially when so many archbishops, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, are gathered in one place.
But we journalists know that the elaborate security is primarily aimed at keeping us at arm's length from the meeting, in case we overhear something we shouldn't, such as Christian voices raised in anger.
Unfortunately, the security cordon has had a complicating side effect: journalists with press inquiries were told to go and knock on the door of the media room, which is headed by Canon Jim Rosenthal, the Anglican Communion's avuncular Director of Communications. But the media room is now within the secure zone, and they are turned away. Drawing on years of training, I did manage to penetrate the "ring of steel" this morning, simply by walking through the door to the conference centre when nobody was looking.
While jumpy staff made hurried phone calls to locate the absent guards, I tracked down Jim to his lair. He is now setting up a satellite operation in the main hotel.
The burgeoning bunker mentality can, perhaps, be explained by the palpable anxiety of the organizers that the meeting could be derailed before it has even started by the powerful conservative group of Global South primates, who are determined to seize control of events.
They have set up their own headquarters a hundred yards up the road in the Beachcomber hotel, where they are holding strategy meetings before moving en masse to the White Sands for the official five-day meeting beginning on Thursday, where a bloody showdown is looming.
When I mentioned to one of the conservative primates that there was consternation among Anglican Communion staff about what is effectively an alternative headquarters, he replied: "This isn't the alternative headquarters. It is THE headquarters." With that sort of attitude to contend with, Dr Williams will have his work cut out.
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