Dar’s Hawker Complex is a White Elephant

An influx of youth arrives in Dar es Salaam daily, harbouring hopes that Tanzania’s biggest city will transform their lives and allow them to earn a living. Some have prospered through their endeavours and Dar es Salaam has proved to be their promised land. But for most of the “good life” seekers, life is a nightmare fueled by economic hardship. Thousands of them make a living from hawking, a business that brings them into constant battles with the police.

Hawkers are commonly known in Kiswahili as ‘machingas.’ They operate everywhere in the city of over four million inhabitants, moving from one street to another and shouting to grab the attention of potential buyers. The machingas sell clothes, domestic utensils, fruit, vegetables, electric devices, and other wares.

For city residents, the presence of the hawkers is a blessing because they sell their items at prices that are relatively lower than the big shops in town. Despite endearing themselves to the residents, the hawkers’ business style does not go down well with government officials. Government wants hawkers to formalize their business and operate at one area like other traders. Formalization would also make it easier to regulate and tax the vendors.

In the city’s busiest areas, such as Kariakoo, Ubungo, Mwenge and Buguruni, the machingas are always in a cat-and-mouse game with city militiamen and sometimes policemen. If caught, they risk losing their commodities and getting fined at city council court. Those found guilty of hawking in unauthorised areas are required to pay a $25 (Tsh50, 000) fine.

City militiamen carry commodities seized from machingas (hawkers) operating in Dar es Salaam’s Kariakoo area. Emmanuel Herman.

A failed solution: the Machinga Complex

In an effort to solve the machinga problem, the government secured a $16 million (Tsh32 billion) loan from the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) for the construction of a building where most of the peddlers can be accommodated. The Machinga Complex, as it’s called, is at the intersection of Lindi Street and Kawawa Road in Ilala ward, a block away from Mchikichini Market in Dar es Salaam.

Completed in 2010, the building has 4,500 trading spaces and includes 4,206 stalls, eight storage rooms, 33 food vending spaces and 68 kiosks. But all these spaces have not been fully occupied over the last five years and the project is now considered a white elephant. Very few machingas complied with the government order requiring them to stop hawking on the streets.

Dar es Salaam has more than 700,000 Machingas who operate outside of the formal government system, based on an initial survey by the College of Business Education (CBE) in collaboration with the Organization of Merchants from Across Finland (FBMA).

The Machinga Complex building is located at the intersection of Lindi Street and Kawawa Road in Ilala District, Dar es Salaam. Florence Mugarula.

Because there is no serious business taking place in the Machinga Complex, it is difficult for NSSF to get its money back from the project, according to business analysts.

Speaking on the matter, the Dar es Salaam city mayor, Dr Didas Masaburi said the building must now be used by both machingas and big traders — who operate formalised businesses — so that his office can raise the money to pay the NSSF loan.

Some machingas who spoke to UrbanAfrica.Net said big traders occupied stalls on the ground and first floors. They said the remaining spaces were not attracting businesses.

“You cannot rent a space on the fourth floor and expect customers up there,” said Musa Ndaki, one of the petty traders at the nearby Karume market. “The first and ground floors were grabbed by big traders, but so far they do not like to put businesses [there].”

Initially, the city council had set $30 (Tsh60, 000) rent per month for each trader who owns a space within the building but most machingas turned the offer down. After some months, the city council was forced to reduce the rent to $5 (Sh10, 000) a month, but still machingas prefer to take to the street with their products in hands as usual.

Another machinga, Josephat Mulengeki said machingas have been requesting the government to put a public bus stop at the Machinga Complex but authorities have turned down their request. He said the complex was located at the wrong place since there was no public bus stop there for customers.

“This place looks like a security agency’s offices where people are not allowed to approach. There is no way someone can walk for more than 1000 metres from a bus stop [and] climb to the fourth floor only to buy spoons and forks,” he said.

Government previously promised to construct similar machinga complexes in other cities such as Mwanza, Arusha and Mbeya, but so far the promise has been fulfilled in Dar es Salaam alone.

A machinga (hawker) selling bags on Dar es Salaam’s streets. Florence Mugarula.

Government to focus on youth employment

Presenting the 2015/16 budget estimates recently, Minister for Labour and Employment Gaudensia Kabaka, said at least 500,000 youth will be employed in different sectors in the coming fiscal year.

Government was looking forward to providing entrepreneurship training to youth including machingas at regional and district level so that they can manage to do profitable business, she said. Government also plans to provide loans for capital to youth, and will help to allocate special areas for businesses.

The College of Business Education (CBE) in collaboration with the Organization of Merchants from Across Finland (FBMA) is conducting research to determine business opportunities, challenges and the machingas’ contribution to the country’s economic growth. This research also aims to provide answers that will help the government to formalize machingas’ businesses.

Most of the machingas do not have any business or entrepreneurship knowledge and the majority have primary school education level, said CBE principle Professor Simon Msanjila.

“Our aim is to use research findings to form special education programs that will help machingas to acquire business and entrepreneur skills,” he said. “We will also advise both machingas and the government on the best way to formalize their activities and avoid troubles with city militiamen.”


Florence Mugarula is an editor for the The Citizen newspaper in Tanzania. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism (BAJ-Hons) from the University of Dar es Salaam. He is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Mass Communication at the University of Dar es Salaam. He can be contacted at mugarula2004@gmail.com.

Main photo: Machingas (hawkers) look for business on Dar es Salaam’s streets. Florence Mugarula.


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