Dar es Salaam, Tanzania – These days, Godfrey Massima, one of the shopkeepers at the Mwenge market on Sam Nujoma Road in Dar es Salaam, sometimes closes shop at 6pm without even selling to a single customer all day.
The 30-year-old’s stall, a wooden table, is littered with second-hand shoes. Sandals and colored trainers are hanging, while some are scattered on the table. But the items remain unsold, as are those of other merchants around him, who seem depressed while the streets remain quiet. And with no electricity in the market, they start packing early as the sun begins to set.
“You feel really bad when a day goes by and you don’t have a client,” Massima said. “It feels like you’ve wasted your time when you stay from morning to night without making any money.”
Last September, municipal authorities carried out evictions of merchants across the country, demolishing many stalls with only a few weeks’ notice. And now, poor sales are the new reality for many of the machinga, as small shopkeepers in Tanzania are known.
There are no official statistics on how many Machinga live and work in the congested commercial capital of Dar es Salaam. But various reports estimate that as many as two-thirds of the city’s six million people live in unplanned settlements, most of them engaged in petty trading on the streets, in traffic and, for those who can afford it, at market stalls. like Mwenge. .
Their earnings are usually meager: around $30 a day for most. Still, petty trading is the only way many can buy food and water, as well as pay rent and school fees in a country where nearly half the population lives below the poverty line.
Experts say the latest eviction is the latest in a series of multi-year attempts to get the urban poor off the streets as Tanzanian authorities seek to gentrify central Dar es Salaam and boost tax revenue.
“The government has lost a lot of revenue by allowing the machinga to do business anywhere,” said Walter Nguma, an economist and analyst in Dar es Salaam. “They don’t pay taxes, so the government doesn’t make any money from them. However, the owners of formal stores who contribute are struggling to earn enough while the machinga takes their customers.”
“The eviction means that the machinga can only sell their products in areas approved by the government and they need to register their business to do so,” he added. “This makes them responsible for paying taxes.”
‘Freedom to do business’
The Machinga, who have been accused of clogging roads and contributing to the city’s notorious traffic jams, have also repeatedly refused to cooperate with evictions. Their reason is that the new areas they relocate to are far from clients and as a result they cannot earn enough money to live on.
So over time, they return to the roads to sell.
Seeing them as a key voting demographic, the late Tanzanian President, John Magufuli, ordered the local government to let street vendors continue their businessafter his pleas. But her successor, President Samia Suluhu Hassan, has taken a different stance since she took office in March 2021.
“We have given [the machinga] freedom to do business so they can get their daily bread, but we have seen laxity to the extent that they are everywhere and block merchants,” he said. he said while addressing local journalists.
By September, Hassan had ordered regional commissions to relocate the machinga, adding that the government intended to move the traders to a better environment, not completely crush their livelihoods.
But the Machinga say, as in previous eviction attempts, that this has not been the case and that the impact has been devastating.
“When we heard about the eviction, we were ready to comply,” said Khamisi Hussein Mohammed, 41, an informal trader in Mwenge who sells second-hand clothes. “But the challenge came when we saw the new places where we would sell. There are no customers here and when we first arrived there was no electricity. The streets are dirty because there is no waste disposal and there is only one toilet.”
Business has plummeted for Mohammed, who no longer sells in the busy streets of Mwenge’s largest market, but instead in an alley on the outskirts of the area, where few people pass. He used to earn around 100,000 shillings ($40) a day, but these days he barely earns 10,000 shillings ($4), barely enough to make ends meet.
He accused local authorities of profiting from the new deal, saying the Machinga were shocked to learn that the new stalls they were promised for free are selling for between 200,000 and 500,000 shillings ($80-200).
Several fires have also recently broken out in the markets of Dar es Salaam. In January 2022, one such incident at Karume market, 5 km from the city center, left more than 3,000 shopkeepers without a market.
All this has led many of them to become increasingly desperate and some have returned to their old territories.
“Some have already returned to the old markets although they are not allowed, or they come at night to do business,” Massima said. “But the police are brutal. If they see you doing business where you’re not supposed to, they can dump whatever you’re selling, sometimes even stepping on your staples. But you can’t sit here without working; our children need to eat and go to school.”
long term solutions
For its part, the government has announced plans to build and invest in new market areas to accommodate traders in Jangwani and Karume, close to the city center.
They also announced plans to renovate the Machinga Complex, which has been empty. for over a decade since its commissioning. The complex, which cost $50,000 to build, has sat idle since street vendors refused to move in, citing a lack of customers.
Zitto Kabwe, a former lawmaker and leader of ACT Wazalendo, an opposition party, told Al Jazeera that these infrastructure projects will most likely remain “white elephants” and instead a more comprehensive long-term solution is needed.
“As it is done now, it will not solve the problem,” Kabwe said. “The core problem is an economy that doesn’t create jobs for the thousands of people who enter the workforce annually.”
Indeed, unemployment was the inspiration for Massima, who has a degree in teaching and community development from a university in the capital Dodoma, to change course. Unable to find a job after graduation, she moved to Dar es Salaam and started her small business selling shoes.
It was a challenge at first, but he finally started gaining more clients after several months. And now, this recent eviction has once again left him, and many others, worried about the future.
“The days I sell something, I thank God,” Massima said. “The days that I don’t, I suffer. Like everyone else, I have goals for my business that I’m not achieving. It’s hard, but I try to think that the next day could be better and my life will be better.”