New regulations are in to clean up the streets of Tanzania. While some things move very slowly here, others seem to be incredibly efficient.
Week One every drug dealer in Mwanza is arrested and put in prison.
Week Two every street seller is cleared off the street by the police. Now, personally I think some of the ‘colour’ of Tanzania comes from the pavements, chock-a-block with brightly dressed sellers displaying everything from fruit and nuts to footballs, shoes, bags and watches.
And, for some of the parents we are supporting, who have limited numeracy skills or business capacity, then small street businesses is all that they can manage; and small street selling businesses are good ways to ‘test’ people’s business skills if they are in doubt as set-up for a peanut business or similar costs less than £10 so the risk is small to Forever Projects. We set off to assess the threat level of the new regulations for some of our families.
As we drove up the steep hill to visit Menzia, a 20 year old of 2 children, who we had recently set up with a business selling peanuts as snacks to see how she could manage with that, we passed a truck of khaki-clothed police. In a fairly typical heavy-handed way, some of them were barking orders at people in the street while others were breaking up a kibanda, one of the ramshackle little wooden stalls that people build out of spare wood.
The owner of the stall, a shoe-mender by the look of it, was arguing with them and getting repeatedly cuffed round the head for daring to. Other people were shouting at the police from a safe distance or just disappearing up one of the many alleyways, clutching their goods. It was sinister and chaotic and felt like watching stormtroopers in action.
When we reached Menzia’s one room house, she told us she had had to grab her bucket of peanuts and baby and literally run up the hill ahead of the police.
One of the people she had been selling next to was in prison for arguing with the officers. However, she was very proud that she had sold almost all the peanuts that we had provided her with as a start-up and was already thinking about what she could do instead. She wanted to sell dagaa (small dried fish), which she could do legally by walking around with it rather than sitting in one place. Her daughter was less than a year old so could still be strapped to her back or left with the 4 year old at home (don’t get me started…this is very common!). Her husband worked as cheap labour so would go to queue outside construction sites in the morning and hope for a job for the day.
Although her formal education was interrupted by early pregnancy, Menzia is very bright and had worked out if she dried the fish herself it would save money. As March is the rainy month though and, thankfully the rains had actually arrived, we decided to buy her a small stock of pre-dried fish to start her off. I found it really touching that she had dressed up in what was obviously her Sunday best to come and buy the fish. She wanted to look like a serious businesswoman.
We will be following her closely to make sure she gets a good grip of what she’s doing but I feel hopeful for this girl and her family.
Flora, on the other hand, was more of worry. In her late twenties, widowed while pregnant with triplets, she had two failed businesses behind her as she had spent the capital. She had been managing alright for the last six months with the latest venture, selling peanuts, sesame snacks and fruit on the road outside her home.The income is very low but steady so she knows what money she can hope to get each week.
The picture was taken before the ban and she can now no longer sell on the street. We called by to check how she was doing and noticed she had her bucket of goods by the front door of the house. She thinks maybe less people are buying because they don’t walk right past it but she had a lot of regulars and they cross the gully to buy from her still.
The triplets are all doing well but are too young to be left alone and the house in which she rents a room is on a very busy road.
We are continuing to think of other options for her but Flora will need a fair bit more training in managing a business that is slightly bigger and someone to help with the children in order to make a move to a bigger business.
And then we checked on the business ‘tycoons’, the previously featured Mama Joyce and her hair salon and snack business, built up in only 4 months
and Teddy, aunt to toddler Neema, who we set up with a duka (shop) and a small amount of stock 8 months ago, who has expanded her range of goods and also sells clothes on the side.
And next week, we are planning how to do a long overdue visit to baby Mussa’s dad. Apparently the team have been avoiding visiting because you need to cross a stretch of water in a kayak to get to him and neither of them have wanted to because they can’t swim! I’m happy to make the journey but if I go alone, I don’t know enough Kiswahili to understand Baba Mussa’s plan for a business when I get there! Has all the makings………