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#1 Nov 12, 2020 12:02 pm

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Dar Es Salaam - Port of Peace

A drive to the airport, Saturday, 09 June 2001, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

For a pleasant change, I left the hotel disgustingly early for my morning flight to Joburg and thence home to Harare: well slept and fresh as a daisy. On the way to the airport, I was gazing out the window and thinking about the scenery, and what I’m about to write on the plane – if my memory serves me well.

First of all, there’s the robot-supermarkets. As the taxi slows down for each set of traffic lights, otherwise known as robots, swarms of sellers surround each car, selling the most incredible assortment of junk imaginable: steering wheel gloves, cellphone covers, universal phone chargers, toolkits, dart boards, footballs, badminton sets, soap – the list is endless. One guy, sweating profusely and brandishing a handful of lethal looking kitchen knives, was a tad disconcerting, as he lurks by your window. While at the opposite window, another plaintive seller somehow manages to hold onto an assortment of essential items: a lovely clock flanked by two picture frames, a blender, an inflated bunny rabbit, an alarm clock, an electronic keyboard, plus 3 tubes of Smarties. And he can do the transaction, plus make change, in a 30-second red light stop.

These guys don’t just passively sell their wares, oh no. They belong to the in-your-face school of street marketing: pleading, beseeching, six inches from your closed window, never leaving until you have to turn to them, through the closed window and mime: no, thanks, really, I don’t (fuckingwell) want any! Apparently, the Indian traders have these guys selling their junk for them on consignment.

Architecturally, Dar Es Salaam, “Port of Peace”, isn’t the most attractive of African cities (come to think of it: which are?). The city centre was rebuilt during the 1960’s, with Soviet-era functionality and slab concrete construction very much in evidence. But glimpses of the old city still remain: old mosques and peeling-paint buildings, with “Patel Brothers Est. 1929” carved into the faded façade. The one feature that stands out is balconies. It’s obvious that people live all throughout the city, even in the business district. So they have personalised their otherwise identical government apartments by putting up decorative burglar bars, potted plants and colourful clothes lines.

On the outskirts of Dar is the central railway station, built in people-power style by the Chinese, back in the glorious socialist past of the still revered first leader of independent Tanzania: Julius Nyrere, Mwalimu - the teacher. As we get further out of the city we leave the industrial estates behind and the landscape becomes more African – small shopfronts, bars, kiosks, muffler repair shops, women in colourful wraps, men in T-shirts and topis.

What I like about Dar is the everyday evidence of economic growth. It’s a country on the move. When I first came here, 6 years ago, I was singularly unimpressed. Drab, depressing, dour. Everywhere you went (and granted I only went from the airport, Sheraton and back to the airport), you saw the same heavy, unimaginative hand of decades of state domination. All the business had the same theme: The National Tractor Agency, National Tyre Agency, National Grains Agency – no flair anywhere.

What a difference 6 years makes. New buildings; new construction; old buildings spruced up; shiny new 4-WDs on every corner – you can actually see, physically on the streets, the meaning of economic development. The billboards speak volumes about third world consumerism: Vodacom – Mobitel – KFC - Coca Cola.


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