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1st Chronicle "While in Dar-es-salaam, Tanzania" - December, 2010 - January, 2011

BY: Shaukat Moloo of Toronto, Canada



On December 9, 2010 Tanzania celebrated 49 years of independence with considerable accolades in the local press about the country’s achievements. However, the press acknowledged poverty still remains an insurmountable issue among this country of 45 million people.

Daressalaam is bursting at the seams with conservative estimates putting its population at about 14 million – a third of the national population.

The effect is felt in the capacity of the infrastructure – endless days of interrupted electricity and water rationing. Promises are being made daily by politicians this is a temporary phenomenon. The definition of temporary in Tanzania is different than anywhere else.

As the third largest producer of gold after Ghana and South Africa, Tanzania is
enjoying the boom.

There is untapped uranium in the south and natural gas is being explored off the coast of Tanga. Geologists say it is the same shelf that stretches out of the Arabian Peninsula.

Tourism is being encouraged with the development of numerous resorts across the

The outlook for the country is promising if development can be managed well.

The government has an ambitious blueprint of developing Kingamboni – commonly
referred to as Kivokoni by the Dar residents as efficient crossing to it is only by a ferry. The plan is to develop the area as ‘new Dar’ designed on the model of Dubai.

The World Bank is an ardent supporter of Tanzania with fiscal and governance
accountability agreements being forced on the country for massive injection of
loans and grants.

The stability of the country is a plus in the chaos of Africa.

Corruption is still rampant but innocuous as it operates at the highest level.

Many Africans are in business and drive nice cars and live in most modern homes
in the suburbia Dar.

Despite the stifling heat, politicians visit the local villages in two piece suites and ties. Gone are the Kaunda style outfits or kitenge shirts. A walk around government offices surprised me to see that even the lowly paid clerks were in suites and ties.

Dar’s skyline is changing. New buildings crop up. These are commercial and residential dwellings which command exorbitant prices. A three bed apartment can command prices of around $300,000 or rental of $1500+, an impressive rate of return. In my view, the bubble has to burst given the inherent economy. At least 800 new units will be in the market in the next year to saturate the supply.

When I landed at Dar airport, I had to complete two forms with exactly the same information. One was an application for a visitor’s visa and the other was a disembarkation card. Airlines are prohibited from issuing these forms on the aircraft resulting in delays in immigration clearance.

There were at least 6 officials working in an assembly line mode to process the forms – from validating the information, manually entering the details on the computer, receipting the US $50 visa fees to stamping the passport. The whole process appears to work and that is good enough for Tanzanians.

Only whites are deemed to be trustworthy with ‘nothing to declare’ at customs. Asians and Africans must undergo inspection – albeit cursory. From aircraft landing to exiting the airport building could take up to 60 minutes.

The heart of our community (Khoja Shia Ishna-asheri) is the magnificent mosque and the imambarghah. This is a place where you temporarily forget all the stresses of living. The ceiling fans are humming with zeal with the help of a diesel-fired industrial generator. The mosque has well-replenished underground water well that supplies it with ample amount of water. The faithful are thus
able to do their wudhu (ritual ablution) unhindered.

The Ithna-asheri community comprises 8,000 persons, the largest followed by Toronto and London.

I happened to be here during the first 12 days of Muharram and thus every third Asian walking in Dar was clad in black. Ladies hurried between the three back-to-back majlises, two of which were being recited by the same Zakira (lady priest). The ladies confirmed the Zakira was a good orator who could whip up the emotions with graphic details about the events of over 1,400 years ago. I enquired some of the details and fear the embellishments were rather excessive and illogical.

The faithful were treated to 12 days of sumptuous lunches. A total of 20 ‘dhegs’ (large cooking vessels) were consumed every day. The benefactors compete for sponsorship for designated days. The menu is staple rice with daal or meat curry, goat pilau or kichro. The quality of service and logistics of the volunteers serving such a large Jamaat (congregation) is impeccable. Other communities have a lot to learn from these folks.

The lectures start and end on time and the punctuality put jamaats (communities) in the West to shame. A khoja reciter from Karachi, Shaykh Mohamdraza Dawoodani tried to blend Islamic philosophy of the ABCs – Actions, Beliefs and Character into modern living. Through an unscientific poll later I found out the audience was not impressed with him. Among the comments were that he repeated himself excessively and could have delivered his ‘masaib’ (speech) to about 20 minutes. Without adequate weeping, it did not feel like Muharram for these folks.

Our Kabrastan (graveyard) is another venue for social gathering. Donated by the Sachoo family, this parcel of land is filled up save for a designated area for the descendants of that visionary benefactor. After a waiting period of 10 years, relatives can now be interred into the same grave.

Regrettably it is not a well-planned graveyard and manovering between graves can be dangerous for the aged and infirm. Neither is there a listing or locations of graves as it exists at Mombasa or Arusha graveyards. The bookish lectures at the Kabrastan is followed by an extremely sweet Chai and a paper bag of assortment of tabbaruk (food that is therefore blessed).

Next – Living challenges of DAR

In a word, Dar is gradually becoming an expensive city relative to the level of income of its population. According to latest government statistics annual inflation at October 2010 was 12.1%. Many new increases are in the pipeline. Electricity rates went up by 19% on January 1, 2011. Cooking gas filled in canisters will go up by 9% in January.

Typical office salaries for non-professionals range between $600 and $800 per month and salary increases have been very modest, no where near the rate of inflation. House helpers (i.e. domestic servants) make roughly US$70 per month. Excluding housing costs, a couple needs anywhere between US$800 to US$1,000 per month to survive in the City centre.

Housing in this crowded city fall into three categories:

government-owned apartment units that were confiscated from the previous Asian landlords at the peak of the Arusha Declaration in 1967 and referred to as “Nyumba Ya Msajili”;

individually owned units;

the new multi-storey apartments that dwarf the old buildings of Dar. These new constructions offer the most luxurious living that are comparable to the North American standards. However, they are in Dar and not in Toronto or Manhattan.

For example, a 12 storey buildings comprised of 24 apartments would have only one elevator to service potentially 72 residents with a load factor of 8 at a time. A tenant should be prepared for a long wait for a ‘lift’ at peak times. With electricity problems and lack of qualified technicians, I observed one such 11-storey building did not have its only elevator for over 72 hours. Some folks were confined to their apartments for 3 days.

One apartment building presently under construction boasts underground parking; but here is the catch. It offers a car elevator that can carry your car to the basement since the builder has avoided building a ramp into the basement to save buildable space. You can park your car at the risk that the elevator would be working when you wish to retrieve your car.

The old ‘Msajili’ units command the lowest rents – between $200 and $400 per month. The owned units can fetch monthly rents of about US$500 to $800 depending on location and size. The newest constructions can rent for between $1200 and $2000 per month. These newest construction provide a bonus that the older units do not, an uninterrupted supply of water and power. These buildings have
industrial generators to provide electricity and huge water tanks or bore wells to supply water when the rest of Dar is struggling through electricity and water rationing, a reality here.

The constant and debilitating power and water rationing is a symptom of government’s mismanagement. The excuse offered unashamedly by officials include breakdown of power generating turbines, dwindling river levels due to lack of rain, supply problems from natural gas providers to fire the grid and delays in shipment of spare parts from Europe. Tanzanians accept these excuses without
even a murmur with occasional letters to the press. By nature, Tanzanian happen to be a docile people who have endured in the past a life worse than what they face today.

It was amusing to hear the Jamaat Mukhi (master of ceremonies at mosque) reminding the audience on the 7th of Muharram that ‘this is the night when water and electricity problem had started in Karbala’. That (freudian) slip confirmed that for people here the two problems go hand-in-hand.

Tanzanian shilling is trading at around 1,470 to the US dollar. As a visitor, I moved around with my calculator to be astounded constantly by the price demanded.

A litre of gas costs shillings 1,730 which converts to US$1.18. That is roughly what I pay in Toronto.

A coconut costs 700 shillings or 48 cents, a glass of khungu juice costs 3,500 shillings or $2, an ice-cream faluda costs 6,000 shillings or $4 a glass.

A meal of barbequed chicken and chips at a street vendor costs $6. Paan costs 1,500 shillings or about US$1.

To enjoy life in Dar, you have to be really rich. For the poor and middle class, life is difficult.

For majority of our Asians life is a struggle. The wives have to supplement family income by either supplying cooked food to the rich, sewing clothes for others or carrying out small scale trading out of their homes.

Dar city centre does not have a single park system that one can stroll in during its beautiful sun down.

I pity the energetic children of the city. Their growth is stunted in the arms of the ayahs or in their car seats.

There are no pavements that one can walk along safely without fear of tripping oneself. The pavements are generally cracked and become the parking spaces for the SUVs.

There is proliferation of Askaris to take care of these expensive vehicles.

An old man trying to make his way to the mosque for the evening prayers does so at his peril.

For Asians, Oyster Bay on Sunday is the only outlet. For others it is the over-rated Slipway a short ride from town. There is nowhere else to go. Oyster Bay is generally teeming with cars jockeying for a spot to park. When there, nobody walks. Passengers congregate around their cars drinking madafu, popping karangas (peanuts) or just gazing at the occupants of other cars. Within half an hour, they pack themselves in the cars and head back home.

The half an hour outing is usually supplemented by a stop at Muchachu or Kachupi or Mamboz for a barbequed chicken leg, mishkaki and nundu washed down by ‘soda’.

Asians generally do not drink water with their meals. But, this is a typical outing for those who own a car. For those who do not have transportation, kabrastan (graveyard) is the outlet for a Sunday’s outing. I have not figured out what their women do.

The heat is stifling. In December, the temperature can reach as high as 33 Celsius in the day and 30 degrees in the evening.

Multiple showers a day and change of clothes is a norm. But remember water is scarce.

Fans or air-conditioning is a must for comfort. But, electricity is expensive when available. According to my calculation, cautious use of electricity can cost at least US$100 per month.

When in Dar, just pray you do not fall sick. Primary care attention involving blood test and medication can cost as much 40,000 shillings. There are a few clinics either owned privately or as part of the community charitable trust that provide basic primary care.

Anything more complicated has to be referred to hospitals that are struggling to rise to international standards. Even the once-renowned Aga Khan Hospital is said to have dropped its standard. Those few, who can afford, travel to Dubai or India for medical treatment.

During the 12 days of Muharram, an appeal was made for donations to send two Ithna-asheri patients to India for heart surgery.

Obesity is rampant in our 8,000 strong community. The pulpit and the leadership have failed miserably in promoting healthy living. There are no gyms that cater for our community. The niyaz (after speech/prayer food) is typically unhealthy fried foods cooked with saturated fat. At kabrastan (graveyard), the faithfuls were offered glucose biscuits as if they were in need of extra dose of sugar. A
number of my school-mates looked older than their age and complained of multiple chronic conditions.

Through their aromatic paan (betel leaf embellished with chalk and seeds and additives and often chewing tobacco) breath and pariki stained teeth they complained about the medical costs in Tanzania. They were envious of our Canadian medical system. Little did they know the amount of taxes we pay for our imperfect medical advantage consumes almost 50% of our national budget.

Traffic congestion in this city (Dar es Salaam) is an organized mess. Most of the traffic lights in the city centre do not work.

Adventurous drivers just inch their way at junctions and the unwritten rules win every time. Everybody gets to their destination, no accidents or fender benders or pedestrians knocked down.

I once stood at ‘A Tea Shop’ for 15 minutes to observe how the unwritten rules worked. Amid my laughter, an old African told me ‘watanzania watu wenye busara’ = Tanzanians are thoughtful people. Indeed they are but only in parts.

The pavements of Dar are littered with able bodied African women with young children begging for money. Are they unable to find work or do they lack baby-sitting services to be able to go to work? My driver rationalized these women are either new to the city or are victims of abuse who have found the life of begging an easy outlet. They obviously are not aware of any programs and institutions to help them, if they exist at all.

So what has been the attraction of Dar for the return of Asians from the diasporas who are prepared to buy half-million dollar apartments?

Is it the promise of a boom brewing in the distant horizon?

Or is it the lack of ice cold temperatures of Europe and North America that the old and brittle bones can no longer tolerate?

Or is it the vibrancy of our (KSI) community?

Or is the thought that the monthly pension entitlements arising from years of toil in the west can provide a better life with servants at call and beckon?

Frankly, I do not know the answer.

But all said and done, Dar es Salaam can be an exciting city that offers easy access to beautiful beaches, a trip to Zanzibar, snorkelling in Mafia, or a trip to Mikumi National Park. You can leave outside the downtown core in palatial homes facing the Indian Ocean.

You can afford multiple servants at home and a driver to chauffer you around in style and comfort.

The locals are excessively humble who will bend backwards to help you.

You can fly out to Dubai or India for a quick medical check-up or attention.

The hot and humid weather is bearable and the arthritic aches and pains common in Toronto or London just melt away in this heat.

You do not have to endure the cold winds or lonely confinement of Toronto winters.

You can live like a king in the confines of your kingdom provided your treasury can generate at least Canadian $4,000 per month, not an impossible amount for the successful retirees with no family commitments in the west who need a change; they exist.

Think about it.


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Last updated January 2011 Copyright © Mahmood Fazal 2005 - All Rights Reserved Created By Husain Fazal