Tanzania turns 60: The opportunities and few disappointments

Sunday November 07 2021
A Dar Rapid Transit bus

A Dar Rapid Transit bus transports passengers across Dar es Salaam. Below: Traders board a ferry transporting goods on Lake Tanganyika. Tanzanian businessmen say trade across the lake on the Congo side is lucrative but risk. FILE | AFP


There are a few stories that offer answers to what Tanzania is as it marks its 60th birthday in December: A place where the possibilities right now appear bountiful.

In a few weeks, on December 9, Tanzania will celebrate its 60th Independence anniversary. The occasion raises the age-old questions: “What makes Tanzania tick?” and “What are the daily struggles that define it?” What will come to the mind of an ordinary East African when they think of their neighbour, this country that some might not be aware that it shares a border with eight states?

It’s a geography that offers a realistic glimpse of everyday life in small-town Tanzania. The streets Kibirizi port, located 2.6km from Kigoma port in Kigoma Region, gives one a realistic glimpse of everyday life in a small town in Tanzania. Business is brisk on this sunny afternoon as traders and their customers trade in fish.

In the vessels anchored off the shore, workers load tonnes of cargo in preparation for the journey across Lake Tanganyika to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, which relies on supplies from its neighbour across the lake. There is a wide variety of goods to be transported, predominantly food – tomatoes, pineapples and soft drinks. Those who have been involved in this business for many years readily admit that it is a profitable venture. They will also tell you how risky and sometimes dangerous it can be.

Hashimu Musa, 40, who lives in Katonga village in Kigoma, will tell you that the business of transporting goods to DRC is rewarding.

Tough trade in DRC


For more than six years, Musa was a familiar figure on the ferry to DRC. He specialised in selling soft drinks and tomatoes. He started with a capital of Tsh300,000 ($130) and by the time he stopped, he had managed to invest his profit and is now the proud owner of three fishing boats worth Tsh12,000,000 ($5,215) each, which he is managing.

“I travelled for years on the waters of Lake Tanganyika, taking goods to DRC. It is a well-paying business, but very risky, as it involves a lot of travelling. Sometimes you make losses because some people ask you to supply goods on credit,” said Musa.

If you are lucky, some pay after long delays, but many times you have to write off such debts. Although he no longer traverses the lake to supply his Congolese customers, the business will always remain dear to Musa because it brought him into contact with partners who helped him to think and plan for the future. They encouraged him to expand and diversify his investments. He admits that his current business brings good returns, which have enabled him to send his children to good schools. He has built a new house and his family is living comfortably.

Musa wants others to enjoy his good fortune and is prepared to help them achieve their dreams. That is why he is always ready to mentor other traders who are starting in the business.

Almas Juma, 47, is a beneficiary of Musa’s mentorship. For more than 10 years, Juma sold fruits in DRC. With Musa’s help, Juma has diversified his business and now hires a boat to transport passengers between the Tanzanian and DRC ports on both sides of Lake Tanganyika.

But it has not always smooth sailing for Musa, as he has had to face challenges that threatened to bring down his business. Three years ago, he fell victim to a police crackdown on fishing boats. He is one of the boat owners whose fishing equipment was seized and destroyed on accusations of using illegal nets.

“Many people who were affected died after going into depression. They were unable to recover from the trauma. Some of my friends lost almost everything. We were all taken by surprise because the nets had been inspected and approved by the Tanzania Bureau of Standards. We are still wondering what made the government to make such a decision,” says Musa.

He survived, but he is not out of the woods yet because one of his boats is still anchored in the dock as he tries to find money to equip it once again.

Perhaps Musa should speak to Francis John, who has in the past 10 years headed the fishermen’s association in Kigoma. John says he has connected several fishermen with banks to get loans to support their businesses.

One of the greatest challenges affecting the fishing industry is theft. Thieves steal anything from vessels to engines, nets and fuel. John says that from February this year, fishing equipment worth Tsh19,800,000 ($8,600) has been lost.

“I am aware that some people died in 2018 due to depression after their fishing nets were seized and destroyed. Nets are expensive, ranging between Tsh3,000,000 ($1,300) and Tsh3,500,000 ($1,500). You can imagine how challenging it is to deal with such situations,” says John.

Fishermen and boat operators continue to battle the challenges, and John will not give up trying to help them find solutions – and still hopes that the government will act to make it possible.

Musa, Juma, and John are a microcosm of the ordinary Tanzanian’s struggles.

And that state they are looking to as part of the solution sometimes does raise the challenge. The Dar es Salaam Rapid Transit (DART) transport system typifies it as its most productive.

DART, new wonder in Dar

It is only five years since the first phase of DART went into operation, but it is now so firmly entrenched that it has become one of the identifying features of Tanzania.

In one fell swoop, the project, planned to take six phases, managed to sweep away a host of problems that had bedevilled the city’s transport system for decades. For one, it eased Dar’s legendary traffic jams as many residents now do not have to use their vehicles, opting instead for one of the 140 Chinese-built Golden Dragon buses used on DART.

Many private car owners have switched to the transit system to go to work, reserving their vehicles for social travel during weekends.

And the world has noticed this transformative addition to Tanzania’s urban landscape. Three years ago, Dar es Salaam received the Sustainable Transport Award in Washington, ahead of other African cities. The DART project was mentioned as a major reason for the award, which recognises a city that has implemented innovative, sustainable transportation projects. Dar is the first, and so far the only city in Africa that has received the award the 20 times it has been given out since 2005.

Researcher Benjamin Masebo is one of the contented residents of Dar. He remembers the days it would take him more than three hours on the road to and from work, spending a small fortune on fuel.

“We now take a very short time. I would spend up to TSh30,000 ($13) a day. Now I leave my car at home and use public transport,” Masebo says.

William Gitambi, public relations officer at DART, says the first phase built between 2012 and 2015, includes three pedestrian bridges, 27 bus stations, five terminals, the widening of Msimbazi bridge and two box culverts at Jangwani Valley, four feeder bus stations, and one depot at Jangwani.

In April this year, the government released Tsh5.7 billion ($2.5 million) to compensate 77 residents who have been displaced to pave the way for the third phase of the project.

Gitambi says the second phase covers 20.3 kilometres from Gerezani to City Council BRT Station. It cover Kawawa, Kilwa, Chang’ombe, Gerezani Street, Sokoine Drive and Bandari roads, and is expected to be completed in December, 2022.

Many struggles, however, remain.

Kariakoo Market

The iconic Kariakoo Market has, for many years, been one of the landmarks of Dar es Salaam. Its reach extends beyond the borders of Tanzania, serving people in several countries of East, Southern, and Central Africa. Any problem that affects it is bound to send shock waves in the whole region. Such a catastrophe happened on July 7 this year, when a fire swept through the famous market. Many Tanzanians could not help but wonder at the sheer coincidence, as it was almost five years to the day when Beda Amuli, the architect who designed the market, died, on July 10, 2016.

John Saho, chairman of the market committee, says Kariakoo has been the lifeline of many people, providing them with income-generating activities. It accommodates traders of different financial means, allowing all of them to make a living. Obviously, the market makes a massive contribution to the economy of Dar es Salaam. And that is why the fire was such a huge blow.

But the traders who depend on the market are not about to give up. They are struggling to make a comeback.

Tecla Timothy who, for more than seven years, has been selling clothes at the market, symbolises that spirit. She is determined to survive. Her background will no doubt help her get back on her feet because she has overcome many obstacles in the past. She started small and joined a women’s group of 10 members. They would contribute money for one another to build their business. By the time the market was razed, Tecla owned two shops, which were destroyed.

“It was not easy surviving such a trauma. I went into depression for about a month. I had bank and group loans to pay every month. I am still struggling to pay through another business I established recently,” she says.

She now sells shirts and bedsheets online for cash and on credit. She buys her stock from Uganda and the business is helping her to support her family. Before the fire, Tecla employed three people. She contributed to paying the bills and was helping to build the family house.

While the Kariakoo Market folks are still licking their wounds, there are sunnier headlines elsewhere.

Tanzania’s new lower middle-income status

In September 2018, Tanzania launched its first flyover, which was named after Engineer Patrick Mfugale. The new landmark in Dar es Salaam took two years to build using a $45 million grant from Japan.

Though not directly linked, shortly afterwards, in July 2020, Tanzania was upgraded from low to lower middle-income status on the World Bank’s list. That year, the Bank defined as lower middle-income economies, countries with a gross national income per capita of between $1,036 and $4,045. The report from the World Bank shows that Tanzania is among seven countries whose status changed that year.

Akida Mnyenyelwa, director of Policy and Advocacy at the Confederation of Tanzania Industries, says the upgrade is something to be proud of and urged experts to think of ways to utilise the opportunity for greater benefit.

He has called for enhanced efforts to create a friendly investment environment.

According to Prof Mwanza Kamata of the University of Dar as Salaam, the country’s new status is a sign that poverty levels are finally starting to slow down and that the country is slowly approaching achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Donald Mmari, executive director of the Research on Poverty Alleviation (Repoa), a non-profit organisation, says it is important for the country to find ways to maintain the status, and even gain higher ranking.

One way, he suggests, is to invest more on agriculture, especially because the country is endowed with large tracts of arable land. Agriculture can employ 65 percent of the population, he says.

Another area that needs attention is education. According to Mmari, some African countries have dropped out of the lower middle-income bracket due to lack of proper planning strategies in vital areas of their economy.

In the past few years, Tanzania has fared relatively well compared with its regional peers, but economic growth has slowed significantly. This has been attributed to the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Real GDP growth rate fell from 5.8 percent in 2019 to an estimated 2 percent in 2020, and per capita growth turned negative for the first time in more than 25 years.

These things often need a soundtrack, and here there has been no shortage.

Cue Bongo Flava

Over the years, Tanzanian music has travelled around the globe and has managed to create a new bond with other peoples. There is no doubt that Bongo Flava beats have deepended the communion between Tanzanians and other East Africans. On social media platforms you can tell that other East Africa countries are quite taken with Tanzania’s Bongo Flava artistes. In Uganda and Kenya, Tanzanian musicians pull crowds and could fill stadiums in the pre-Covid-19 days, when social distancing protocols were not in effect.

Isaack Abeneko, coordinator of the Marafiki Music Festival, says music connects people. He has attended many music festivals in East Africa, and everywhere he goes, he has felt the vibe that connects people who enjoy the power of live music.

Abeneko, a contemporary Tanzanian live performer, guitarist, singer, songwriter, and choreographer, mixes innovative East African melodies and Afro-fusion. He says it is easy for artistes to connect and come out with different collaborations within a very short period of time. Through his music, he has travelled the word and met different people. He is always ready to learn from each festival he attends, especially those organised by Kenyan bands.

They are a few stories, but they offer some kind of answer to what Tanzania is on its 60th birthday: A place where the possibilities right now appear limitless.