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When lights go red: Nightmare on both sides of windshield

Sunday November 22 2020
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On the corner of Bibi Titi and Maktaba streets in the city of Dar es Salaam, a youngster in blue jeans and a neatly tucked red T-shirt stood on the pavement on an otherwise busy junction with four other boys.

With a squeegee in his right hand and a plastic can in his left — filled with a solution of water and soap — he watched for the traffic lights to turn red and a chance to make some money.

Ayoub Warioba, 21, tries to clean windshields for a small tip from the drivers.

He’s lucky if he gets Sh100 a vehicle. It’s not much, but it’s something.

Ayoub comes from a single parent household and he was fortunate to go through primary school with aid from a Good Samaritan.

But his story ended right there. He was forced to be on the streets by circumstances to cater for his mother and himself.

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Ayoub had a dream of becoming a soldier someday but a series of unpleasant events that he and his mother have gone through seems to have altered this young man’s dream and decided a different fate.

Ayoub says that he has rented a house with other squeegee boys and with his education level he had no better option than to join his friends in the windshield-cleaning business.

Ayoub says, “I would rather wash vehicles than turn into a pickpocketer where there are higher risks for me to die.”

Matched fates

18-year-old Hussein Jumanne’s story is no different than Ayoub’s.

Standing on the same junction as Ayoub, Hussein says he comes from Singida and never got a chance to complete his ordinary levels.

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Both his parents died and he now lives with his brother’s friend, a port worker, who was also a squeegee boy once upon a time.

Hussein is hopeful that he can collect enough money to escape the life of a squeegee boy that is filled with bullying, insults and humiliation.

“I want to become a street hawker and perhaps sell some goods on the street,” says Hussein, a soccer lover.

Malakati, is a squeegee boy who hangs around the same junction as Ayoub and Hussein. He moved to Dar es Salaam from Tunduma with 2 older boys in search for greener pastures but he was misplaced by the boys at a tender age at Ubungo bus station.

Malakati, who neither remembers his real name nor his age, didn’t speak much and looked quite disturbed.

All Malakati wishes, “I want to go back to my village, my home.”

This is some of the reality behind squeegee boys’ life but unfortunately those behind the windshield perceive them differently and have been a target for complain by drivers as ‘nuisance’, ‘nightmare.’

Many of Dar es Salaam’s squeegee boys come from upcountry and aren’t qualified enough to apply for formal jobs.

They are neither capable to apply for a health insurance nor can afford meals three times a day.

Squeegee boys’ are found in some of the city’s major intersections like Ubungo, Mwenge, Maktaba and Morocco.

Painting a hidden a problem

Back in April 2019, The National Geographic indicated in one of its articles that in a decade’s time, Dar es Salaam will become a megacity hence having a population of more than 10 million people.

This commercial city of Tanzania now has a population of approximately 56 million people.

With thousands of people migrating from the rural areas to seek for greener pastures in this city on a daily basis.

With myriads of economic activities, Dar es Salaam seems like a promised land to many people, especially the young.

This presumption eventually is proven to be false because majority of these youngsters usually end up on the streets.

Some falling into drug addiction, some into begging and others take a wild route and become pickpocketers. Worst case scenario, some become all the above three cases.

It’s a few that branch out to and become the sort of hawkers or squeegee boys, options that seem as an achievement for the street children.

The sad thing is even these better options come with unwritten humiliation and dehumanization with them, as a result a new breed of angry kids who have a diehard-trying-mentality.

According to a survey from The World Bank (WB) in Tanzania, the poor quality of jobs held by Tanzanian youth are to a large extent determined by their low level of education attainments. Of the approximately 900,000 youths (15 - 24-years) that entered the labor market in 2010/11: 14 per cent did not complete primary school, 44 per cent finished their primary but did not transition to secondary, an additional 38 per cent went to secondary but did not reach or finish Form IV, and a mere 4 per cent went beyond O-level.

Many of them are unlikely to find a good paying job as the majority did not acquire the necessary skills to create and grow a successful enterprise.

The survey posted on the WB’s blog further revealed that a youth in Dar es Salaam is more than 6 times (13 per cent) more likely to be unemployed than a rural youth (2 per cent).

Upon chatting with Ayoub and his gang, they also claimed that over the years they have chosen to indulge in car washing business to avoid more dangerous street chores such as pickpocketing.

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They have no specific payments for their toll, anything that a driver offers, counts. On good days they make up to Sh15,000 and on worst days make as little as Sh100.

They claim that on the streets they have faced abuses from pickpocketers as well as drivers who have gone to the extent of physically and verbally abusing them with some trying to knock them.

They say most of their customers are foreigners, pointing out that Tanzanian drivers are usually harsh and don’t pay for services.

“We are aware of the fact that some of the drivers find our work as harassment and fear us, but we have no option but to seek money the hard way,” the squeegee boys say.

A driver’s nightmare

A Facebook post ‘squeegee boys nightmare’ on one of the most interactive groups in Tanzania received a lot of attention after a member sought for advice on how to handle the squeegee kids who abruptly pour water on his windshield and continue wiping despite the driver’s refusal hence being forced to pay for unwanted services.

Many people contributed on this post including expats who were expressing their concerns and the fear of the squeegee kids.

Masuma Bharwani, a resident of Dar es Salaam, commutes from Masaki to town for work on a daily basis but she has had to change her route going home because of the harassment faced by the squeegee kids.

She has had to even work longer hours to avoid the traffic jam that usually allows the squeegee kids to harass her.

Masuma used to pack her car with non-perishable items to offer to these kids.

But according to her, the squeegee boys would get wild to an extent where they would scratch her car, lick the mirrors and bully her into giving her all the non-perishable items.

“The harassment reached to an extent where I had to drive off in a speed because of bullying faced from these kids, tormenting me into giving them money,” she adds.

Alistair Elias, another driver, also pointed out that the same incidents that happen on the Maktaba junction, happen in other major junctions as well such as Mwenge and Morocco, where the script is the same. Splash of water on the windshield, forcefully washing despite the drivers’ angry refusal, cursing the drivers when they [squeegee boys] don’t get paid and threat or actually breaking of the wipers.

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What the authorities say

Deputy officer responsible for the traffic police, Khamis Mkadam, acknowledges that the problem and squeegee boys exist on the streets.

“These kids cannot be arrested because majority of them are underage but together with other police, we will look into ways of preventing these kids from attacking the drivers and ensure that the peace of Dar es Salaam drivers is guarded and maintained,” adding, “Letting them to continue growing in numbers is creating future criminals, we have to come together as police officers to find a way to make these kids useful.”

Dar es Salaam’s Special Zone Police Commander, Lazaro Mambosasa also recognised this issue and the existence of these kids.

The police force, according to Mr Mambosasa, has taken several initiatives to educate the squeegee boys on alternative ways to seek livelihoods.

“We have also worked together with social workers to come up with a solution to combat this problem. But the city’s challenge has become a societal problem and hence the whole society is responsible to tackle this problem. Private institutions, together with the government, should brainstorm and come up with a permanent solution to solve this problem so as to provide a conducive and safe environment for both the drivers and the squeegee boys,” Mr Mambosasa concludes. The squeegee boys during the interview acknowledged the fact that a lot of social workers have come and spoken to them to guide them for a better future.

“We also had organisations that help street kids come to us and made us sign documents that we will get aid but all have been false promises. We no more trust people or the system, everyone has let us down and we have no option but to fight for our own survival, the hard way,” the squeegee boys tell.

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By Diana Elinam