Remembering the Dar es Salaam of yore as a serene, orderly, efficient city

Monday September 21 2020


By Danford Mpumilwa

The year was 1971. I had just completed my Form IV secondary education at the-then Mkwawa High School,in Iringa town. And now one of my aunts had invited me to visit her in Dar es Salaam, where she was employed by a major public company. Naturally, I was excited, as this was going to by my first experience of Dar es Salaam. I had grown up and attended all my primary and secondary schooling in Njombe and Iringa regions in the southern highlands zone.

I boarded one of the-then East African Railways and Harbours Services (EARHS) buses from Iringa to Dodoma on my way to Dar es Salaam. The EARHS was then under the first East African Community (1967-77), serving its member-nations of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. But, the buses did not have direct services between Iringa and Dar es Salaam.

That was why I had to go to Dodoma where I caught the East African Railways train from Kigoma to Dar es Salaam. Again, this was a novelty: my first train ride ever. Early the following morning, the train huffed and puffed its way into Dar es Salaam. I must admit I was amazed. But I was also shocked by the excessive heat and humidity in this part of Bongoland.

As I was new in the city I had to wait at the Central Railway Station, for an hour or so, before my aunt arrived to pick me up.

She took me to her Mwananyamala-A National Housing Corporation quarters where I spent my first night in Dar es Salaam.

On account of the excessive heat and humidity - which was almost suffocating me - I literally slept naked and guzzled down almost half a gallon of water. Then, to acquaint me with the city, my aunt used to allow me to accompany her to her workplace near the Old Post Office in the Central Business District (CBD).


That is when I noticed and marvelled at the efficient and timely services of the public buses operated by UDA (Usafiri DAr es Salaam).

Every fifteen minutes, there would be an UDA bus passing by our bus stand along Mwananyamala Road, to the city centre. The bus drivers stuck to their timetable to the minute. I was greatly impressed.

I soon became a ‘Dar es Salaamite’ - and even got temporary employment as a cashier in one public company in the city. I indeed did enjoy my stay in Dar es Salaam, as the excessive heat and humidity had become a non-issue!

As a ‘rookie Dar es Salaamite,’ I soon became a frequent patron on the many joints where music for the interested was available. These included The Princess Hotel, facing the Mnazi Mmoja Gardens where the Afro-70 band performed; the Splendid Hotel along Independence Avenue - ‘home’ to The Sunbursts band of the-then ‘Zaire’ - and the Forodhani Hotel (now housing the Court of Appeal), where The Safari Trippers performed. Little did I know then that, after my schooling, I’d spend more than fifteen years in this city. However, during those years, I would sadly witness steady but sure deterioration of what was once a lovely, pristine city - changing from the serene and orderly metropolis I saw in 1971 to a chaotic, noisy and disorderly one.

The smart bus timetables went to the dogs, and public buses became deadly contraptions packed sardines-like with sweaty commuters.

The once neat and orderly National Housing Estates in Kinondoni, Mwananyamala, Magomeni, Keko, etc., fell into disrepair, becoming dangerous, unhealthy ghettos. Roads got pot-holed... In fact, the city seemed to be falling apart. Dirt and peeling paint covered the walls of most buildings. That 1971 experience - when I last took that particular train trip - haunted me the other day as I again travelled by train from ‘Idodomya’ to Dar es Salaam!

Things have changed a lot - and for the better - since then. On the way, I saw from the train windows impressive works on the new standard gauge railway (SGR) under construction. I saw mushrooming modern industries and smart townships as we chug-chug-chugged along the way. The biggest change and contrast in Dar es Salaam was the modernisation of the facilities and structures in and around the Central Railway Station district.

Modern high-rise buildings are now competing to reach the sky. Roads with flyovers and interchanges are being constructed. A long bridge across the seafront is also being constructed.

Plying special carriageways are ‘Mwendo Kasi’ commuter buses. Modern hotels and restaurants are in place...

This is in contrast with the sleepy Dar es Salaam of 1971 - and, subsequently, chaotic, sprawling city that it had become in the late 1970s and early ’80s.

The new Dar es Salaam is a promising hope for a modern, vibrant and thriving future. It is my fervent hope and prayer that these positive changes will continue - and be sustained. But that is still a long way to go. Improved and expanded drainage systems are still a problem.

Also, there is still a need to plant more trees, expand existing gardens and establish new ones in the city and surrounding areas. This would, I am sure, go a long way in not only beautifying the city, but also to alleviating the notorious excessive heat and humidity in this coastal metropolis. All in all, however, I still love Dar es Salaam, ‘Bandar-Salama’ - or whatever!