'Little' Dodoma is just fine but that grand Ikulu is charmless

Saturday December 03 2022
A statue of Julius Nyerere

A statue of Tanzania’s first president Julius Nyerere in Dodoma. PHOTO | APOLINARI TAIRO | NMG


Dodoma was, for the greater part of my life, a wish. Wishes and dreams are of course far more interesting than mundane reality. Long before Dodoma started to actualise as the Capital of Tanzania, it was the quintessential “little town in the middle of nowhere.” If Tanganyika is vast and sparsely inhabited, then Dodoma certainly makes you feel it. Driving there from the City proper remains an endeavour, a real safari.

Now, with a singular lack of imagination, we have decided to make Dodoma the real capital of Tanzania. I thought this would mean slow but steady construction. I envisioned contemporary takes on classical features such as shaded avenues, impressive architecture, verdant parks, a State House that would be lovely to view. Nothing grand, for Tanzania is not a grand sort of polity, no. We are many good things, including mildly reticent and plain with a suspicious view of ostentation.

Ridiculously grandiose

The Dodoma we have built and are expanding is… not what I had hoped for. For starters, Ikulu is grand. More accurately, it is ridiculously grandiose, as sensible in size and style as the most inappropriate building you can think of in Dubai. Money doesn’t buy taste, and in the case of Tanzania, even our brief and contested “middle-income country” status didn’t buy us any sensibility. Ikulu in Dodoma is charmless, fighting its environs, and worst of all it is a copy. Swahili Coast Colonial works in Dar but it is entirely the wrong note for the Tanganyikan interior and Gogo land.

The rest of Dodoma is…fine. The last time I cast an eye at the complex where Parliament is housed I was perplexed to find it crammed with buildings whose styles seemingly hate each other. Tales from brave travellers who venture to Government City in pursuit of treasures such as submitted audited accounts and various registrations and permits make it sound hostile, distant and formidable. In effect, our capital is designed to be user unfriendly to the non-vieite class, also known as taxpayers.

I have heard good things from precisely one person who pointed out how much more accessible government has become to the neglected interior of the country, the South and the West. This is encouraging and I hope that as time goes by it will mitigate the cost of shipping our legislators and functionaries back and forth between Dar es Salaam and Dodoma because much business is still conducted here.


If the Capital sort-of functions then why gripe? Well. One might not think this is important, after all Tanzania is a HIPC, but beauty is its own reward. Dodoma is no slum: considering how much money we have sunk into it shouldn’t it be a jewel of the nation? While there was a certain poetry to having a nominal Capital city that we were never going to move to, the Fifth Administration decided it would be one of its defining projects, a legacy. It is said that how one presents oneself is a commentary about how one feels about oneself. If Dodoma is Tanzania’s “face”, I wonder how much the Government of Tanzania loves Tanzania. Truth reveals itself in the most interesting places.