Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The delights of an African coastal town

Every city has its own characteristics that distinguish it from others. However, sometimes these characteristics leave you with a smile. If you are walking in the streets of an African city and you hear whistles behind you, then you know you are in Dar es Salaam, but don’t worry no one is after you, they are just drawing people’s attention to the cold water bottles they are selling. A much needed drink in the tropical weather of this coastal town that used to be the capital of Tanzania.
Many years after my initial visit to Dar, there seems to be little change in terms of infrastructure, a few new malls, some modern villas built along the coast line, but much more traffic than ever before.
If you happen to arrive in the city after a rain storm and on a working day, then you should prepare yourself to sit in a car that is “floating” in water, in a jam that does not seem to be moving anywhere any time soon! And it happened that just a few days before our visit, the worst flooding in 57 years hit the city, causing human causality and leaving thousands of people homeless.
Apart from a few new high-rise buildings, there are no skyscrapers shooting up on the scene, but what seems to have sky rocked is the prices of land and real estate.While here in Uganda people rush to sell their land as soon as an offer knocks the door, Tanzanians tend to favour long or short term leasing of their land which allows them keep the land title, get a rent and at the end of the day they are still land owners. How Ugandans have by now missed on this point, is now beyond repair!
Our hotel had an amazing view of the harbor where one could see ships, and cargo vessels docking. I was hoping to see more traffic here than on the roads, but that was not meant to be. Coming from a landlocked country like Uganda that depends totally on its neighbours Kenya and Tanzania in terms of sea cargo, I wished there was more activity in that port to take away some of the pressure from long queues in Mombasa port causing the late arrival of cargo in Uganda, but that seems to be a long term
project, or a far-fetched one for now.

One of the best attractions for most tourists seems to be taking the ferry from Dar to Zanzibar, the legendary island of spices and white sand beaches. Just hop into one of the most prominent carriers- Azam marine and costal fast ferries- and two hours later you arrive in this magical island mentioned in tales that kept us mesmerised in our chairs. When adults were telling us stories, hoping to keep us busy and away from mischief, little they knew that as soon as the story came to an end, we had already created our own version of the adventures. Buckets of water were our ocean and broom sticks our swords, there was no wall too high to climb and our ultimate treasure hunt was to find the sweets meant for visitors that our parents hid away from us.

Back to life in Dar es Salaam, I think the historical background of the country seems to influence its present, it is still living in a sort of cocoon. While they are kind and welcoming to visitors, encouraging new investors seems not to be a priority.

A large tax payer told us that the constant increments of taxes and the ‘little flexibility’ of the Revenue authorities is pushing new investors to think twice before making a move.
I hope the future brings better news, having new blood in the economy has its advantages. In our world today there is no more room for vacillation.

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