Meet the unlikely heroine


Ms Azama Mahmoud stands on the shore of Lake Tanganyika, near the scene of where she pulled seven people from a capsized boat to safety. At least 10 people drowned when two wedding party boats capsized.
Ms Azama Mahmoud stands on the shore of Lake Tanganyika, near the scene of where she pulled seven people from a capsized boat to safety. At least 10 people drowned when two wedding party boats capsized.

Kigoma. A woman risking her life to save others who are on the verge of death is considered a rare incident on a continent where men are the ones expected to show bravery in the face of serious danger.

Ms Azama Mahmoud from Kigalye, a village on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, deserves the accolades that have come her way. She fought gallantly against the treacherous waters of Lake Tanganyika to rescue seven people who were about to die after their vessels capsized.

Aged 28, the expert swimmer and diver was hailed for her daredevilry after she dived into the world’s second deepest lake to rescue those in danger of drowning, among them her close relatives.

She was a passengers in one of the boats and managed to save herself but she decided to go back in response to desperate cries for help from her fellow travellers. One after another, she held each of them above the water as she swam with them to the shore near Kalalangabo Village in Kigoma Region.

She almost died when one of the victims held her too tightly in her panic. She had to shake off the woman otherwise they would both have been gone under the water. Ms Mahmoud recalls: “I saw my fellow passengers, some of them my relatives, too close to the jaws of death and I swam back into the treacherous water and brought seven of them to safety.”

Her indomitable courage and complete disregard for her own safety saved the lives of the seven people, one of them a pregnant woman. Her close relatives and friends attest to her gallantry, saying what Ms Mahmoud did was one of the “most unselfish acts” they had ever witnessed.

Suspicious faces of Kigalye villagers

The curiosity of locals tends to worry visitors to the village. There are many operators of unlicensed marine vessels here. Even Mzee Mahamoud Bwanza, Azama’s father, was suspicious when The Citizen reporter made his maiden tour of the village. “It was an episode that deeply saddened residents of this village since it messed up a wedding ceremony,” says Mr Bwanza. “Instead of celebrating, we ended up mourning.”

Mr Bwanza said he was travelling back to Kigoma from Dar es Salaam when he learnt of the boat accidents and the death of six members of his family. “I was shocked upon hearing of the death of people I knew and loved,” he recalls. “It paralysed me.”

But he was somewhat relieved when he was told later that it was three of his people who died, not six as he had been told earlier. The dead included the groom’s father in-law, a grandchild and his son’s wife.

It was a bright day at Kigalye Village when friends and relatives boarded two boats ready to sail to Mwandiga suburb in Kigoma municipality to attend a wedding. The couple rode motor vehicles escorted by hooting motorcycle riders. That journey ended at Kalalangabo Village, where they boarded canoes—the only transport back to Kigalye.

The couple and their relatives boarded two dug-out canoes joined by a pole to enable them run on a single engine. “A few metres from the shore, a big wave hit us, breaking a pole that joined the two canoes,” the bride recalls, sobbing. “The first canoe capsized and went under immediately. Ours, miraculously, held on for a while.”