Outside the plane window stretched a vast expanse of blackness punctured by glowing pinpricks of yellow and orange. Not twinkling stars in the sky: backyard and street-front fires.
We arrived in Tanzania after sunset, after nature’s light-switch flipped.
Descending into the Dar es Salaam airport seemed surreal. On the approach, I could make out suburbs entirely void of electrical streetlights or floodlights or illuminated windows. Instead, flames licked toward the dark sky from old barrels and brush piles.
It felt like another world.
Dar es Salaam is one of the fastest growing cities on the planet. The city’s name means Haven of Peace; sadly, it seems anything but.
As a transportation hub, the airport serves visitors from all corners coming to the region to experience tropical islands, to view wildlife in the Serengeti, to work with community development projects or climb Kilimanjaro.
As a home for citizens, the city sprawls with urban slums devoid of long term economic opportunity. A population of relocated rural dwellers came for promises of education and new life, but they seem now caught in a gritty trap.
We arrived in the dark to spend one night in a semi-seedy spot on the outskirts of the city and woke to views of the developed skyline off toward the eastern horizon.
We didn’t remain in Dar es Salaam for more than a couple of challenging taxi rides and views of bleak neighborhoods; the plan all along was to ferry a few hours out to sea away from mainland Africa and spend ten nights on Zanzibar Island.
But this so-called Haven of Peace haunted us both… Then and now, we’ve searched through articles and websites to read about the current predicaments of Tanzania’s largest city.
DAR ES SALAAM, the country’s commercial and the largest city is growing very fast with many people moving from the countryside seeking a better future. These people from rural areas and other towns are driven by prospects of a better life through money making opportunities in the commercial cities but once they arrive in the city, the future seems so gloom.
Most end up living in slums doing petty jobs including hawking of different commodities along the streets of Dar es Salaam, begging or engaging in vegetable cultivation along the city’s chemical infested rivers. Experts have noted that the pace at which the country’s urban centres’ population is growing mostly in Dar es Salaam, is straining government efforts to provide adequate sustainable social services…
-The Daily News: High Population Growth Cause of Concern
“…the approaches pursued by the government in the past had a deepening effect on the population in that the people were reduced to passive participants in national development programmes and activities… Today, the government has adopted another set of approaches that are more in line with the socio-economic realities of Tanzania and that of the contemporary world….based on the new policy objectives i.e. to reflect the increasing significance of the private sector, to give greater attention to manpower requirements at the sectoral and organisational level and finally to leave the market forces to play a bigger role in order to link manpower planning efforts to social demand for manpower.”
-Tanzania National Website
Unfortunately, the city lacks the organizational and financial resources to provide local cultural groups and entrepreneurs with the necessary funds to generate exposure.
In fact, most government officials remain disconnected from what is occurring at the ground level in the communities they represent. On the other hand, local groups and entrepreneurs are unable to share their projects to local officials for fear of rejection, corruption, or inadequate access.
The tourism potential of Dar es Salaam is not maximized despite many small-scale initiatives. The result is a complex web of projects and attractions dispersed throughout the city with few actors connecting them.
It is easy to understand why tourists feel like there are very few activities to engage in. If city officials and locals do not have a comprehensive understanding of what is going on in the community, how can tourists access these activities and attractions?
Sustainable Cities Blog: Dar es Salaam the City and the Tourist Experience
Thankfully, problem-solving minds continue to work toward giving vision for what could be as Dar es Salaam continues growing at a rapid pace and setting precedents for the region.
In 1993, The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and UN-HABITAT joined forces in The Sustainable Dar Es Salaam Project (SDP)…
The team surveyed nearly 2000 urban farmers documenting the range of farming systems – aquaculture to agroforestry – in use across Dar Es Salaam. They catalogued the areas under production, the numbers of people involved, the types of crops grown and livestock raised. The numbers were compelling: Each day urban farmers supply the city with an estimated 95.000 litres of milk, 6.000 trays of eggs and 11.000 kilos of poultry. Furthermore, some 100.000 tons of crops, including staples like maize and cassava, are grown each year in the city… [N]etworks have formed in both East and West Africa to share experiences and training opportunities, and urban agriculture has been recognized as a key part of a comprehensive solution to the problems of the runaway growth of cities in developing countries.
-Dar es Salaam: Feeding the Sustainable City
“By de-railing the waterfront and making it a place for people, Dar es Salaam’s downtown can become a model for all African cities.”
-Our Cities: Ourselves Exhibition – Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Our ferry pulled from shore and motored northeast toward Zanzibar, and we watched the cityscape fade away…
Dar es Salaam was once only an airport code on a RTW ticket itinerary.
It stood in my mind’s eye as a gateway to beyond, nothing more than a fleeting stop. Now it is stamped into memory: sealed by those first plane window flickers of fire, dusted with dirt from well-worn streets, and doused with saltwater of the Indian Ocean. I’ve again adopted a new spot in this world to follow with interest from my future-somewhere.
We cross these places, real-life on the way to so-called paradise, and we are captured.
Daily Travel Journal notes: Day Two Hundred and Forty-Seven