Tanzania under Suluhu confronts new realities

Saturday August 28 2021
The pedestrian bridge

The pedestrian bridge to the Morocco Terminal of the Dar es Salaam Rapid Transit (DART) bus station in Dar es Salaam. Tanzania is reaping the benefits of investment in infrastructure. PHOTO | FILE


Tanzania’s commercial capital Dar es Salaam is humming along nicely, in harmony with the hustle and bustle of residents and visitors battling in their daily struggles. It all seems ordinary but, again, it isn’t. Watching the ebb and flow of the human and vehicular traffic on the streets, it is easy to discern the unsung spirit that has for the past two decades distinguished the country as one of the most rapidly growing economies in Africa.

Tanzania, like most of the rest of the world, has been hit by the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. It has suffered economic slowdown and stagnation, with its tourism, manufacturing and export sectors at a near standstill. The country saw its GDP growth shrink from 5.8 per cent in 2019 to just 2 per cent in 2020. Recovery prospects have been further slowed down by the threat of future waves of the pandemic as the virus mutates.

Despite these downturns, the buzz of Dar still reflects the upbeat pace that has been the hallmark of Tanzania in the past few years and suggests growth is still on the cards. Pre-pandemic sustained growth gave the country one of its recent milestones when, in July 2020, the World Bank announced that Tanzania had graduated to lower-middle-income status. There are many factors at play in keeping the economic flame alive, and an optimism that grows from several sources, some of them seemingly unlikely.

Tanzania has a large population of young people, with those under 24 making up more than 60 percent of the 57.06 million people. Being the East African Community’s largest country by population and land size, many have their eyes on the prospects it offers as a market. From big buzz entertainment stars, an emergence of “woke” youths to technology and innovation, to new careers in tourism, the country has seen success that has often not been on the headlines.

Spark in economy

There is a sense of optimism among small and medium business owners, buoyed by the promise of the country’s new ranking in the low middle-income economy bracket.


Mashauri Mathias, 34, a shop owner at Kariakoo Market, sees the new economic status as holding prospects for investment.

“There are many things to look at when you want to invest. Agriculture, land, transportation, and technology. The growth of the economy promises good returns on investment,” says Mathias.

Stella Ngambeki, a pepper sauce manufacturer in Dar, is looking to scale up her business to gain a foothold in supermarkets and wholesalers.

“I used to make at least 100 bottles of sauce in a week, but I have tripled production. I know the markets are ready for products made in Tanzania,” she says.

For Mathias and Ngambeki and others like them to access the opportunities, the government’s Vision 2025, the National Strategy for Growth and Reduction of Poverty, and the Implementation Strategy of the Transport Policy of 2011-2025, which focuses on the development of infrastructure, particularly roads, ports, airports and railways, will need to be realised.

Since it took possession of the new Terminal Three at Julius Nyerere International Airport in May 2019, Tanzania has received nine airplanes as it pushes forward with its quest to revive its national airline. Several projects under the Tanzania National Roads Agency, including railways, the bus rapid transit system, the standard gauge railway, bridges and junction sections have been introduced since 2018. The Mfugale Flyover and Ubungo Interchange have been completed.

Businessman Abel Kyalaaliko has seen the fruits of this infrastructure development. “It has helped my business. The different regions are connected and the remote places are now accessible. We have better movement of goods and services. It is a big win for entrepreneurs like me.”

Entertainment for better

The roads, railways, and airports are the hardware of the economy. The software is to be found in the cultural and social places – entertainment, for one. Partying helps a people forget their troubles momentarily and remain sane, but it also brings them together and builds social networks.

Jensen Seth leads the One Mic Sessions entertainment platform through which he and his friends gather lovers of art. Artistes in the spoken word, painters, singers, dancers, and instrumentalists have been part of this family for three years.

“Art binds us in One Mic Sessions. We meet, sing, dance, and vibe together and through this, some have made new friends and partners. Others have found their true love in art,” says Seth.

Music in Tanzania is a fast-growing industry and quite diverse in terms of sound and taste. Frankie Maston, an AfroSoul, AfroPop, and R’n’B artiste, is popular for his vocal prowess. He says that, thanks to exposure to music from all over the world, Tanzania is seeing the growth of new waves and sounds in addition to its traditional portfolio.

“I find that music is not just about the sounds but also a tool for expression, a form of therapy, an outlet of emotions, feelings, thoughts, and experiences. There’s a beautiful fusion of our Bongo Flava with other influential sounds and genres that’s birthing a different taste in music that is present and full of opportunities,” says Maston.

He applauds the multiple channels that have opened up for artistes to get good financial returns from their artistic investment. These range from the online space to corporate partnerships and endorsements.

But the biggest of them all is Diamond Platnumz. When he exploded onto the African music scene in 2010 with his debut song Kamwambie, his mission was little more than to make money to help his mother. He never imagined that he would transform Tanzanian music and become a regional superstar.

The 32-year-old singer, whose music is inspired by American musicians Usher and Michael Jackson, is the first sub-Saharan African artiste to reach one billion views on YouTube and is considered one of the greatest musicians of his generation.

He has built a business empire, with investments in real estate, fragrances and a tech company, and employs more than 100 people. He counts Wasafi FM and Wasafi TV among his investments. His annual Wasafi Festival covers more than 10 regions in the country and features local and international artistes.

Voices of activists

Diamond, though, cannot sing away all of Tanzania’s pain, and smooth the blemishes on the country’s human rights record. The authorities have many times in the past been accused of intimidating, harassing and threatening human rights defenders and independent journalists, and subjecting them to arbitrary arrests, detention and prosecution. Human rights organisations have faced closure or suspension for failing to meet the demands set by excessively restrictive laws and regulations.

Despite the woes, the human rights activists refuse to be silenced. John Alfred, a social influencer and entrepreneur, is convinced that activists bring about radical change in society.

“Championing policies cannot happen overnight,” he says, explaining that it is a long process of rallying and lobbying policy makers and other decision makers to try to make them see your point of view.

Tanzanians are not about to hold back on voicing their opinions, especially on social media platforms, particulary on Twitter and Facebook. Local platforms like Jamii Forums laid down a marker here. Jamii Forums founder and executive director Maxence Melo has built a reputation for championing digital rights and freedom of expression. has been recognised both at home and abroad for its campaigns in the digital space in holding government accountable.Melo has been arrested and appeared in court 152 times in the past five years as the authorities tried to force him to reveal the identity of whistle-blowers on the forum. He holds out hope for the future of human rights in Tanzania since a new administration came into office in March after the death of President John Magufuli.

“But I have to emphasise that this is a process and we need to repeal all bad laws. Since President Samia Suluhu Hassan came to power, she has shown goodwill and this is worth applauding,” he told The Africa Report.

NEXT WEEK: Digital Transformation, youth factor and tourism