Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Tanzania’s White Elephant: when will we ever learn?

The Dar city authorities built the Machinga Business Complex with a loan from an investment bank, reputably worth USD 71 million. It was designed as a centre for small businesses. It is a disastrous white elephant – 3 large 5 storey buildings with cage like stalls in narrow ranks. Apart from the outside stalls on the ground floor, with some suitcases and kanga cloth traders, it is virtually empty. It was inaugurated 2 years ago and is based on a Chinese design. We spoke to some of the administrators – they are apparently thinking of converting the top floors into offices. 

Machinga Businss Complex
Empty stalls in Machinga

No one will go there to buy our goods!

Across the football pitch on the other side stands the real market for local kanga cloths – there is a dirt floor, leaking corrugated iron roofing and the stalls are wooden self-constructed benches. There is no storage space so the traders rent places in nearby houses. But business is good and many cooperative members are able to pay for school fees for their children from the sales. The kanga cooperative has 200 members and democratically elects its council every year.

Anton, Cooperative President 
Anton at his stall 

The cooperative President and TUICO Branch Secretary, Anton, explained they were never consulted about the new market. 

“Why haven’t you moved to the new complex?” the visiting representatives of TUICO (Tanzanian Union of Industrial and Commercial Workers), and StreetNet asked.

“It is much too expensive – they are charging Tz$ 60,000 per month and the stalls are much too small – it doesn’t suit our needs and no customer is going to climb up the stairs to buy cloth from us there.” 

“What would make you move there?” Nora Wintour, StreetNet campaigns coordinator asked.

“They would need to bring down the costs substantially and change the design of the stalls.  And we would need to think about better public transport to get to the building", a woman cooperative member explained.

Second-hand clothes seller
A bit further away is the Ilala second-hand clothes market and vegetable market. The cooperative members there are also members of TUICO and give the same story -  “We can’t move there because it is much too expensive – here we are charged $200 per day but there it is too much.  And people don’t want to carry heavy loads of clothing upstairs like that –and there is no transport.  This market is here because it is near the out-of-town buses and the sellers can arrive easily and take their goods to the buses easily.”

Behind the second-hand clothes stall is an informal fruit and vegetable market.  We met the Chawana coconut sellers cooperative, also a member of TUICO, and the vegetable sellers cooperative.  “We used to work around the main central market at Kariakoo.  But then the police drove us away so we came here.  We are only allowed to trade between 6am-10 am.  When the police blow the whistle, it is time for us to leave. We try and push for longer,  we want to trade all day. And the police are often not correct-  they should charge us Tz$ 200 every day but sometimes they can ask for more- up to Tz$ 1000 or else they will take our goods. Here the police make things very hard for the street vendors,” one of the avocado sellers explained. 
Ilala vegetable sellers on the street
Coconut sellers cooperative -need to be near transport

It is sad to think what benefits there might have been for the over 50,000 street and market vendors in Dar if they had been consulted about their needs before investing in a building that no one wants nor uses.  Would that the city authorities had listened, as StreetNet slogan says: “Nothing for us, without us!”

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