A visit to Dar and why Tanzania holds great economic potential

Some of the earliest presidential limousines on display in a Dar es Salaam museum. [XN Iraki]

We rarely talk about our neighbour to the south. Yet it’s one of our key trading partners.

We are tied to Tanzania by Kiswahili language and communication networks, from roads to rail. When are we activating the Voi-Moshi railway?

On visiting a museum in Dar es Salaam, I was taken aback by how Kenya’s and Tanzania’s cultures are similar, particularly traditionally. Polygamy was common and men rarely slept in the same house with wives and children. The first wife held authority over younger wives in most communities.

Cars used by past presidents are on display in the museum. Why can’t we do the same in Kenya? 

I did not know that Tanzania also had an airlift like ours to the USA. Several Tanzanians went to study there. How did ‘ujamaa’ find its way to Tanzania with that capitalism input?

Dar es Salaam, I noted, is a much bigger city than Nairobi in land mass. it has the advantage of being a port and was once the state capital, which is moving to Dodoma. It’s more organised than Nairobi without matatus, but traffic jams are common.

The most admirable thing is accessibility to the beach, with even roads along the beaches. Accessing Kenyan beaches should be improved. Tried visiting Vasco da Gama pillar lately?

Dar es Salaam has changed a lot since I was there more than a decade ago. With plenty of new bridges and buildings.

A few observations caught my attention. One is the rise of private schools. Does that mean the bonds of ujamaa are loosening?

They do not have the big billboards common along Kenya roads. They have hawkers, but few.  

Most adverts are in Kiswahili and you need that language to feel at home. But Tanzania is still a homelier place than Kenya, with very respectable people. Capitalism still has a human face.

I did not find cases of extreme poverty that is the hallmark of Kenyan society. It’s our extreme capitalism that makes Tanzanians wary of us.

Toyota reigns in Tanzania as in Kenya while lots of brands cut across the two countries. Who is behind these brands? Why do we find it easier for investors from faraway lands to invest in Africa than Africans themselves?

Pepsi seems to be doing better in Tanzania than in Kenya. Curiously, and I noted that in Nigeria too, supermarket chains are unique to Kenya; a sign we have come of age economically?

There is a strong Chinese presence in Tanzania through construction projects dubbed China Aid. The Chinese reach in Africa has been underestimated, it seems.

Beyond the name Schule, there is not much legacy of the Germans who once ruled Tanzania before they lost it in World War I. South African influence is palpable. Remember Tanzania helped in liberating South Africa, Mozambique and Namibia.

During my visit, it was reported that maize exports to Kenya would be curtailed; the on-off trade relations with Kenya should be streamlined. We need one another.

Tanzania’s economy might not be as big as Kenya’s, but it has bigger potential. The country is rich in minerals and one of the most strategic resources, a 1,424-kilometre coastline excluding the islands. 

Tanzania could overtake Kenya as the largest economy in eastern Africa. Her hinterland is bigger than ours, and their politics more civil.

Tourism is a big business in Tanzania, with Zanzibar a big attraction. I took a ferry to Ugunja, one of the islands that make Zanzibar - the other is Pemba. Its sandy beaches, offshore islands and old city are great attractions. Spices could be sold more elegantly; any spice museum?

Maize roasting is common in Zanzibar. The island is densely populated, it’s slow but homely. And petrol is cheaper. We hope the new hotels coming up will not spoil the character of this archipelago.

On Changuu island, a boat ride from Ugunja mainland, old tortoises are a big attraction - one is 197 years old!

Back to Dar es Salaam, hotels are priced dynamically depending on supply and demand. They are curiously cheaper over the weekends. Still scratching my head over that. 

I noted like in Mombasa, mkokotenis are pushed while they are pulled in Nairobi.

My visit leaves no doubt why this region has been contested for thousands of years by the Arabs, Portuguese, British and now capitalists. It’s beautiful and idyllic and anyone would want to call it home. I was salivating as a Kenyan to see an empty island off the coast of Dar es Salaam.

Finally, I noted we seem to enjoy more free speech in Kenya than Tanzanians, and our internet is much faster. Political competition is more ingrained in Kenya too with multipartism and coalition building.

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