Dar es Salaam. The clock has stopped ticking for Happy Musa, 16 and her siblings Esther, 14 and Joseph, 3.
They arrived in Dar es Salaam from Dodoma by train on Friday April 1, just two weeks ago.Their mother told them that their grandmother needed to see them. But when they got here, they were surprised to be dragged to the street. The family lives in Kigamboni.
“It is grandma who told us to come and beg. She is doing the same but at another location nearby,” explains Esther with a frown, standing at the junction of Bibi Titi Mohammed Road and Ali Hassan Mwinyi Road.
It is raining and none of them is wearing warm clothes. Esther is barefoot. Joseph giggles, carried on Happy’s waist.
Just a week after their arrival, Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner Paul Makonda ordered all beggars to return home by today, or else they will be arrested. He said that the government would not finance this exodus.
Although their bibi has promised that she will send them back home if they manage to raise enough for a train fare, they usually spend all they get on food. On a good day, they can get Sh5000 all together which they use to buy rice and beans for dinner. They usually skip lunch.
Dr Naftali Ng’ondi, deputy rector at the Institute of Social Work, says that repatriation is not a sustainable solution. The trend shows that they keep coming back. “We must analyse their socio-demographic characteristics. Who are these beggars? What is their level of education? Where are they coming from? What made them leave their homes? They aren’t all the same. Hence, there can’t be a uniform solution for them all.
From a sociological perspective, these are the first things to look at,” he says. He thinks that there must be preparations before such a move is made. Experts must be used to address this issue.
“There is a gap between the experts’ opinion and decision-making. There are a lot of researches and report findings that have not been considered. Even with the current directive, I doubt if the regional commissioner has regarded this. Trust me, they will come back and the worst thing is, they always double when something like this happens,” he explains, adding that social rehabilitation is needed because there are those in the streets who are poor in kind and those who are poor in mind.
On the other hand, Kate McAlpine, Lead Strategist with Caucus for Children’s Rights (CCR) based in Arusha, with almost 20-years experience working with street children in Tanzania, asks if this is practical.
“The destitute are vulnerable. The government must govern in the interest of all. Such a move is just a way of relocating the problem. Dar es Salaam is in a far better position to offer support than the under-resourced districts where most of these people come from. I am behind the ‘Hapa Kazi Tu’ motto, but it has to be done the right way,” she says.
She explains that the social protection system is broken and needs to be fixed. There is lack of child protection services in the local government. She also says that what is being done is unconstitutional. “You cannot penalise people’s status of poverty,” she says, arguing that the law that gives the RC power is The Removal of Undesirable Persons Act (1946), a colonial era Act which CCR is currently challenging in court.
However, Jeanne Ndyetabura, former assistant commissioner (family, child welfare and childhood development) at the then ministry of Health and Social Welfare, says it is wrong to think that these people shouldn’t be touched because of their human rights. It is because of their rights that they need to be taken home.
But she agrees that the government needs to create that conducive environment for them to go back to. And there must be a system of reintegration when it comes to education and resettlement. If done properly, this is the right way to go.
“Street life is dangerous for children. It is not safe for them to stand along the busy roads. And parents must know that children are not business entities. It is their responsibility to provide for their children.
“Otherwise, they are training a child to have a begging mentality, thinking that it is the only life there is. If it is done properly, then it is good. If we leave them on the streets, we are encouraging them to continue, which is wrong. Ms. Ndyetabura emphasizes that the people’s needs must be addressed. There are reasons that make people move into the streets. Some are driven by personal problems, and others have created a habit. “It is common to find young strong men r women with children on their backs begging on the streets. But I am sure that these women could do something to earn a living. They could sell maandazi (buns) instead. You might also find a person with sight impairment being guided by a man in his 20s. Both of them have become beggars. But the young man is capable of doing something to change their situation,” she says. But then there are those who genuinely have nowhere to go, and no-one to help them.
She recalls working in the regional office during RC Yusuf Makamba’s administration. She was one of the social workers involved in repatriation. They interviewed them one by one and found out where they came from. “It is usually thought that most of them come from Dodoma. But we found out that some came from Songea, Kilimanjaro, Arusha and elsewhere. The government incurred the transportation costs. They were put on a train and sent back home,” she explains. Each group was handed over to the respective local government authority. “They said, thank you for sending us on leave. They were back on the streets of Dar es Salaam begging, after two weeks.”
Ms. Ndyetabura explains that there are push factors, things that make them feel like they can’t live there. These things must be addressed. Although there is a hypothesis that some come to cities like Dar es Salaam because of drought in their areas, more research needs to be done because of cases like that of the famous (deceased) beggar Matonya, who was a livestock keeper. He used the money earned from begging to pay his workers.
“This is a global issue; it is hard to solve. Actually, it is impossible. But maybe, if there are procedures and laws that would make people think twice before they came to town, then that would help a lot,” Ms. Ndyetabura says. She has 24 years of experience as a social worker. She retired in 2014. According to a 2012 study by Dogodogo Centre, an NGO that provides rehabilitation services to children living in the streets, there were 5000 children in 2012. Sabas Masawe, co-ordinator of Dogodogo Centre in Dar es Salaam with 20 years experience in the field, says that history shows that no one before RC Makonda was successful.
“What is RC Makonda doing differently? What has he learnt from his predecessors? Sadly, what is going to happen is, children are going to be hurt this week if the operation is launched and they will become violent as a result. This sounds to me like a political move. I do not support it,” he said. Perhaps it is time for the government to stop giving a panadol to a patient suffering from malaria, says Onesmo Olengurumwa, National Coordinator of Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition.
Although he supports RC Makonda’s decision, he thinks that the government has not played its part in addressing the problem. “If there aren’t adequate social services in the rural areas, we probably wouldn’t see such a migration of people to big cities such as Dar es Salaam,” he said. Lilian Liundi, executive director of Tanzania Gender Networking Programme (TGNP), thinks that this is not the right approach. “I know that beggars are a nuisance in Dar. But this is not a new problem. It is not as simple as it seems. It needs in-depth analysis and planning to solve.
“I think that with his good intentions, the RC must analyse the situation before he takes any action. If he does so, he might end up helping other RCs as well. This is a national issue,” she said. Happy and her siblings do not know their fate; they say that they might stay at home today until things have settled down. But for many others, they might find themselves behind bars for a few nights before they return to the streets once again.