The Dar es Salaam district known as ‘Kariakoo’ is the very heart of Tanzania’s commercial city, until recently also the administrative capital. Its name is derived from its function during the last imperialist war (1939- 1945) when the colonial administration was recruiting ‘askaris’ in the colonies to bolster the war effort against Nazi Germany, under Hitler, and imperial Japan under Hirohito.
Porters were needed in their thousands to carry weapons, materiel and supplies to the various fronts, which extended from Europe to the Middle East and into Asia, all the way to Burma. Though some of the recruited East and Central African natives did actually experience real combat, most of them made up what was called the Carrier Corps, who, apart from serving as beasts of burden, also cooked, washed and fagged generally.
After the war, the Kariakoo district gave Dar es Salaam a whiff of urbanisation wherein a mélange of Arab, Indian and Somali town dwellers mingled with fresh arrivals from upcountry and together they forged a potent cosmopolitan population which undergirded the political aspirations of the nascent nationalist movement spearheaded by Julius Nyerere and the Swahili who received him after he returned from Scotland.
From the 1960s Kariakoo has developed into an important trading hub, eventually attracting people from the rural areas of Tanganyika, and eventually people from across the borders, in Burundi, Rwanda, Congo, Nyasaland, Rhodesia etc.
Rapid business growth
Business has grown so rapidly over the past five decades that the linkage between Kariakoo and Quangzu and elsewhere in China has made Kariakoo an international marketplace. Banks and other financial services realised this and set up their kiosks and soon Kariakoo was that part of Dar es Salaam that did not sleep.
The brisk business raked in money, and businesspeople prospered. But soon our ever-busy tax authorities were licking their lips. Seeing as Kariakoo was the hen laying a golden egg a day, they got smart and wanted to slaughter it and scoop the thousand eggs in one scoop! They started raising the amounts payable in taxes, levies and duties apart from placing unnecessary impediments on businesspeople as a way of eliciting bribes.
The businesspeople, who have over time horned negotiation skills, talked to the authorities and complained that the government was not helping them to trade but was rather sabotaging their efforts. It was soon decided that the two sides would get together and negotiate, but instead of heeding the voices of the businesspeople, the government sounded like it wanted to play hardball, at one point the finance minister, who prides himself in holding a PhD in Economics, was telling whoever was unhappy with government policies to “emigrate to Burundi!”
Now, the crap has hit the fan, and for the last week the government is being kept on its toes after the Kariakoo traders closed their shops and demanded the reversal of particular pieces of legislation and other tax collection practices they are unhappy with. Above all, they have expressed little confidence in the officials who have gone to negotiate with them, saying only President Samia Suluhu Hassan will do as an interlocutor, common practice these days when groups want to make their views respected. It is either Samia or nothing.
As I was writing I saw and heard the prime minister saying something worrisome. Some traders were complaining that though they had been told by top government officials that some of the levies and duties would be waived, this had not been done. Now the prime minister was “warning” these officials not to disregard these “directives” because, he said, any directive given by himself (prime minister), vice president or the president does not need any written directive to be implemented.
I knew there and then that the problem was much graver than it sounded. What the prime minister was saying was very wrong. There is no government directive except on paper; verbal communications are chit-chat banter, not worth the paper they are written on (lol!).
But if that is how the prime minister thinks his government should be working, then he better prepares himself for many more problems to come. People in authority should not lend themselves to solutions of facility just because one wants to curry favour with the crowds. Tell them the truth.
One of the truths that we should take on board is that there is no representation of the people since parliament was turned into a veritable rubber-stamp under John Magufuli. Groups like the Kariakoo traders have nowhere to vent their grievances, so they resort to boycotts like they have done in Kariakoo. For all the time the Kariakoo shops are closed, the country is shedding millions and millions in badly needed foreign exchange.
A lot has been said during these two days of the strike about the corruption embedded in the tax collection system, a type of corruption that has been institutionalised in the structures of taxes put in place by the tax administration, apparently knowingly, with the express intention of syphoning off money into individuals’ pockets.
President Samia recently said that each goat will eat according to the length of its tether. Is this what she meant? If so, how long is the tether of tax administration agents?