Traders spoke, state listened. Can we have more of this civility?
Saturday May 20 2023
The memes are already made, of course. And they are great! Like the one of the substantial lady vendor who told the prime minister that the problems caused by the taxman were “causing her to lose weight” which was hilarious. Oh, you had to be there, memes don’t translate well into articles. Anyways, such was the tone of the meeting between the prime minister and the protesting shopkeepers of the great and grand Kariakoo market in the Central Business District.
When the strike was announced a week ago, it got me down. Everything is already expensive and showing up in unreliable supplies. We’re slowly getting back on steady grounds; the economy could be better especially when it comes to distribution but at least there’s usually sugar in the shops these days. Price of cashewnuts has refused to come down though, yet another local delicacy wrecked by incompetent politicians.
Kariakoo is the market heart of the city. There are other markets, sure, but everything radiates outwards from the iconic Almeida building and the surrounding shopping area. If you can’t find it in Kariakoo, maybe it doesn’t exist. That’s where the prices are set so that we suburbanites can calculate the value of the mark-ups for the convenience of shopping in our areas. That’s where the truckloads of fruit and vegetables that feed Dar take their supply the most. And crucially— that’s where trade radiates outwards to the land bound countries from DRC to Malawi.
Read: EYAKUZE: Do protests work around here? For all seems stuck in ‘history’
So yeah, I was worried. But something was different this time. The strike was announced simply with a list of four demands stated very clearly. Out of the noisy chaos of our central market came the clearest, most organised list of issued to be addressed I had ever seen. Nonetheless, I braced. The area has been raided and brutalised before by our paramilitary forces under many pretexts. Folks get their goods confiscated never to see them again. I figured my government might make the mistake of trying to beat the shopkeepers into compliance, which would simply turn into an internal siege.
I am glad to say, I was mistaken. The prime minister showed up in a conciliatory mood, ready to listen to the vendors who wanted an open-air meeting. It’s almost like the government realised that sometimes you have to treat an economic powerhouse with respect! All kinds of issues were addressed; of which I only remember two or three key points.
One: The port needs to stop being such a den of iniquity.
Two: The taxman needs to stop harassing shopkeepers like the mafia that they are. Three: The raids on people’s properties need to cease.
It took a day but there we were, watching the brave women and men of Kariakoo take their turn at the microphone to air grievances. I won’t lie, it made me angry all over again that instead of one of these thinking folks, my Member of Parliament is about as smart as an overripe pumpkin and we still have two years to go.
Resentment aside, it was a beautiful moment. Tanzanians talking, and talking to their public servant, who remembered he was there to serve the public if only for an afternoon. I hope my majestic lady of the beauty products and cosmetics finds comfort in that, and gets the appointment she demanded of the PM. I hope this is how we treat each other going forward.
Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report; Email [email protected]