Dar es Salaam. It is 1pm on a day of unusual high temperature, food vendors along the busy Azikiwe street in the city centre are aggressively inviting passersby to their open air eateries to buy their food.
Here, customers occupy wooden benches or stools to help themselves to plates of their dish of choice. Next to the makeshift eateries, daladala touts are also competing for customers at the busy ‘Posta Mpya’ termini.
One of them, Esther Mtonga, wins a customer. She hurriedly picks and fills a plastic plate with rice-and-beans and a portion of vegetables to serve a young customer.
There is no running water at the place and the hygienic condition is questionable.
The nearly unlimited freedom she and colleagues enjoy today has made them forget the miserable lives of constant harassment from city militias.
The militias have arrested her countless times and confiscated her kitchen wares besides being made to surrender a part of her working capital to secure freedom.
However, as Esther and thousands more street traders enjoy unrestricted conditions for their businesses following a direct intevention by President John Magufuli, their massive and unprecedented takeover of Dar es Salaam streets is now a matter of grave concern to road users, shop owners and for eroding the status of Dar es Salaam as a modern metropolitan.
And the experience is not only unique to Dar es Salaam as other fast rising towns are also suffering the consequences of an unplanned influx of street vendors.
In Dar, the hawkers and food vendors have virtually occupied every open space in a scale never experienced before. They have encroached public road pavements and footpaths to erect stalls. Some are permanently cooking food in these places.
The state of affairs is also blamed for dirtiness and congestion of vehicular traffic in the central business district.
In some places, the encrochment of road pavements and footpaths is so exasperating that pedestrians are forced to negotiate their way with motorists. This situation is evident, for example along Aggrey, Congo, Msimbazi and Azikiwe streets.
Although the busy downtown streets have become a reliable and key source of livelihood to thousands of jobless town dwellers on one hand, urban planners are warning that the situation could degenerate into a crisis if left unregulated.
Petty traders who talked to The Citizen are all praises to President John Magufuli who gave them the greenlight to do business freely and repeatedly warned city authorities against harassing people “who voted him into presidency.”
The president wants authorities to leave the traders alone or create conducive environment for them to do business.
“President Magufuli has done us a great thing. He gave us the freedom we never had before. We were extremely being harassed by city militia,” says Ms Mtongo, who has for the past nine years survived as a food vendor at Posta Mpya.
For her, the complaints that their business causes vehicular congestion, blockage of footpaths and causes dirtiness in the city are nothing but attempts by people who benefited in arresting and charging them dubious levies to reclaim control.
Only recently, President Magufuli launched a massive nationwide drive to distribute 675, 000 business IDs to petty traders to recognize and formalize their business and enable them get out of daily harassment.
“We rejoice at our president. He gave out IDs which protects us. It is not true that we cause congestion or dirtiness although some of us cause mess in town but that is not the case for most of us. We were not doing business in peace, we were being arrested like dogs. When election campaign starts they come with sweat promises but when it is over they kick us out.”
She says president Magufuli is assured of her vote in 2020.
“Look at how the president is creating opportunities for women. Have you seen any woman staying back home nowadays? asks Tatu Khalid, 23, a food vendor at Posta Mpya bus stand.
Elsewhere, shop owners are accusing hawkers and food vendors of blocking entrance to their businesses and selling products similar to theirs at low prices, thus affecting their income.
“Their (hawkers) cost of doing business is very small. They do not pay rent, they are not subjected to TRA taxes, Electronic Fiscal Divice (EFD) machine, business licence but they would come and block their entrance to my shop and sell similar product at a low price, “says Annamaria Mashoto, 30, a shop owner along Nyamwezi street, Kariakoo.
She says, for instance, a cloth which she sells for Sh20, 000 is sold by hawkers at Sh12, 000 or less despite the fact that they all source the goods from one supplier. “Definitely their price will be low, they hurt us so much but we are unable to get rid of them or make authorities see sense,” says Annamaria.
There are fears that if the influx of street traders continues unchecked it will eventually erode the status of Dar es Salaam which has recently been ranked one of the fastest growing cities in Africa.
It could attain the mega city status by 2030, with more than 10 million people from the current estimate of slightly over 5 million dwellers.
Current statistics on the number of street vendors in Dar es Salaam are hard to come by but a survey done in 2003 by the Dar es Salaam city Council (DCC) show more than one million people were eking a living out of street vending in Dar es Salaam.
It was estimated in another study that there were about 700, 000 vendors in Dar es Salaam in the 2000s.
Reached to explain if it was alerted by the situation, DCC threw the ball to municipalities which it says were responsible for regulating activities of street traders.
DCC spokesperson Beata Singano says although they have a role in ensuring the city is clean, the councils has not been legally charged to deal with petty-traders.
“But don’t you know they were allowed? Asked Ms Singano, adding: “We as the city council do not deal with petty traders. Off course, it is our role too to ensure the city is clean but you need to know activities of street traders are dealt with by municipalities they operate from,” she said.
Ilala District Executive Director, Jumanne Shauri, told The Citizen recently that a team of experts in urban planning in his municipality were currently working on the concern to come up with a better and long lasting solution.
“There is a team working on the matter, they are examining proper areas and regulations for doing that business,” he said.
According to Mr Shauri, the district plans to erect uniform stalls he likened to those used by traffic police “to make Dar es Salaam attractive.” He said they were also identifying new areas conducive for their business.
Ilala district which covers most of the Dar es Salaam Central Business District (CBD) including Kariakoo and the city centers has experienced the worst of the bad side of street traders.
Dar es Salaam city mayor, Isaya Mwita, whose function include to recommend legislative action to city council and enforcing all laws of the city apparently didn’t want to go deep into discussion about the issue, saying it was a collective decision.
“What I can say is that we collectively decided as a country that petty traders should be allowed to do their business freely since 2017 to make ends meet.
He declined to give direct comment on whether he feels the impact of allowing hawkers to do business as they are has had a positive or negative impact. “You should remember that the government is working as a team, one person cannot just wake up and cancel the decision, so we will do so when we feel there is a need to do so,” he said.
Will the Dar es Salaam Master City Plan 2016-2036 whose first draft was launched by minster for Lands, Housing and Human Settlement Development, William Lukuvi, in July last year take into consideration the need to regulate street traders?
This is a question city planners cannot avoid. Mr Lukuvi told The Citizen in an interview for this report that the draft was still in the hands of experts commissioned to do the work and public hearing on the document were going on.
“The masterplan is supposed to be crafted by the Dar es Salaam residents themselves, including you. It is they who will propose the right way to deal with street traders,” he said.
Urban planning experts say the situation serves as a wakeup call for urban authorities to consider street traders as unavoidable reality in circumstances of high rates of joblessness among the youth, and accommodate them when formulating urban planning policies.
“It’s both yes and no because we are yet to accept and face the reality that they needed to be included in our urban plans” says Mr William Kitonka, CEO of City Plan Consultancy when The Citizen sought his views.
According to Mr Kitonka, street vendors have many positive things for the economy, including bringing goods and services close to the people that it would be absurd to get rid of them from the streets.
“What is supposed to be done is for responsible authorities to set up locations for them at every place which provided good business opportunities for them. “As informal sector and economic activity, you cannot neglect those in that space. A policy should be developed for them.”
“Even municipal council revenues we need the informal sector like street traders to contribute,” he says.
But for Ms Esther Mtonga, whatever authorities plan for her, it will not matter if it will mean anything other than to let her continue her business without harassment so that she could feed his three children and take care of her old mother.