Destinations, Landscape Architecture, Musings, Zanzibar

Descending into Dar es Salaam…

October 26, 2012

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

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12 Comments

  • Reply Andi of My Beautiful Adventures October 26, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    Tanzania is #2 on my dream destination list! What incredible shots…

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians October 28, 2012 at 12:36 pm

      Thank you, Andi. I look forward to hearing your impressions when you someday touch down on Tanzanian soil. I’d love to return and spend more time.

  • Reply Sheila October 27, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    thank you for this…I think that’s what developing countries do – engaging your soul.

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians October 28, 2012 at 12:45 pm

      Sheila, thanks so much for that. It means a lot, especially coming from someone who’s on the ground day in and day out working with longer term goals in mind. It feels really humbling to pass through a place so quickly and not be engaged in any real solutions, but hopefully by sharing stories and raising interest, I can help prompt us all to be good neighbors in this great big world, willing to encourage and support and, at very least, pay better attention. Thanks for sharing the post on Twitter! xx

  • Reply Tom @ Waegook Tom October 28, 2012 at 4:09 am

    This is the first thing I’ve ever seen written on Dar es Salaam, what an intriguing post! I’m semi-considering Tanzania (well, Zanzibar) as a stop on my RTW trip next year and, like you, I’d be entering the country through Dar es Salaam. Hopefully the city can overcome its problems and become, as one of the sources you’ve quoted here says, a model for all African cities.

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians October 28, 2012 at 12:58 pm

      Tom, thanks for reading and commenting. I’ll be really interested to hear what you think if you do make Dar a stop along your route. I’m torn – I don’t know if I want to encourage you to stay in the city longer than we did and take more time to explore, or to just experience it for what it is during a transit stop and keep moving… Drop me a note next year if/when you go and let me know what you decide!

      I do hope, too, that the planners in power will guide the city toward the best possible outcome. Here’s to hoping wise decision making leads them to become a place for Tanzanians to successfully live and work and foreigners to gladly visit.

  • Reply Audrey | That Backpacker October 28, 2012 at 4:25 pm

    This place looks beautiful! And I really like the last shot of the boat on the water. It’s not a destination I’ve considered before, but perhaps one day. :)

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians November 3, 2012 at 5:03 am

      Those dhow boats are just gorgeous, aren’t they? I loved seeing them everywhere…in the crowded waters around Stone Town and out on their own on the open sea.

  • Reply Jennifer October 28, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    When I think of Tanzania, I always think of all the game reserves and safaris. Thanks for sharing another perspective of it.

    • Reply Bethany ~ twoOregonians November 3, 2012 at 5:05 am

      Thanks, Jennifer. We didn’t make time for a trip inland to see Mt. Kilimanjaro or the Serengeti, but we were really grateful to get to know Zanzibar better and to get a taste of Dar es Salaam. I’m even more interested now in reading about other people’s visits to those spots we didn’t experience. Great to be able to swap stories with a world full of travelers : )

  • Reply Arrival in Zanzibar - twoOregonians October 30, 2012 at 12:45 pm

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