Dar es Salaam, the main economic center of Tanzania, is one of the most congested cities I have ever been to and lived in. Traffic in the city is, for the lack of a better word, a real clusterfuck. If you expect to drive from Maktaba Street (downtown) to Mikoceni B, via Ali Hassan Road and Bagamoyo Road (a 5.5. mile ride) in less than 45 minutes during rush hours, you can easily be accused of wishful thinking. If you are taking a dala-dala, i.e., a mini-bus system serving every neighborhood in the city, you can add an additional 20 minutes to it.
Dar es Salaam is a city that was designed to accommodate roughly 300,000 inhabitants. There are more than 3.3 million people living in Dar es Salaam at this time so one can certainly see why traffic is such a pain. Add to that the fact that many streets are unnamed, that urban development followed no structural plan but a constant ad-hoc expansion of the city and then one can certainly become a little bit more optimistic: it could have been much worse than it actually is. Another issue that needs to be taken into consideration is the narrowness of the roads in the city. Many of these streets can only accommodate two lanes but if you take into consideration the cars parked on both sides of the street at all time, driving in Dar es Salaam is like being an overweight mole in the ground trying to constantly squeeze in through the tunnels that can no longer accommodate the animal.
The local authorities have recently announced that starting as of next year, things will change. An Italian company has been chosen to carry out an urban development project meant to ease the traffic and create new arteries throughout the city. Pompously called the Dar es Salaam Transport Policy and System Development Master Plan, the estimated 3 billion-project that is co-financed by the World Bank is assumed to take at least five years to complete (call me cynical, but i will eat my hat if the project is actually completed in time!). The plan was designed by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and it looks strikingly similar to an earlier plan made by a bunch of Canadian consultants back in 1979, a plan which failed to be financed by the government because Tanzania had to channel its resources at the time towards ousting Idi Amin from power in neighboring Uganda (an endeavor which cost the Nyerere government at the time more than 500 million dollars).
According to the Citizen:
Apart from the flyover bridges, it proposes widening the main arterial highways – Morogoro, New Bagamoyo, Nyerere and Kilwa roads – and also constructing roads parallel to Ali Hassan Mwinyi the Selandar Bridge area, as well as near Morogoro Road, to relieve some of the bottlenecks at rush hours. JICA also recommends revamping public transportation through more effective regulation, and to encourage more commuters to use public transportation rather than personal vehicles.
I’m not an urban developer, but I have spent countless hours in traffic in Dar es Salaam. And during those hours the only thing I would think of was precisely how congested the city was. And then the one thing that troubled my imaginary plan to redesign the city were the private businesses and residential areas that stand against such an ambitious plan. I don’t even think that 3 billion dollars would be enough to give a fair compensation to the people who reside along the main arteries in Dar es Salaam which this plan attempts to redesign. In addition, I agree with the plan’s assertion that some arteries should be assigned as expressways, but I fear that there aren’t enough roads in the city to allow for the reservation of particular streets as “heavy-loaded roads”.
Changing gears for a second, I find it quite interesting that the project was assigned to an Italian company. Italian private entrepreneurs have become a part of African economies in a rather silent and unceremonious way. From various Italian NGOs and hostels in Dar es Salaam, to the Italian tourist operators in Malindi (Kenya) and Kampala (Uganda) and in much of Southern Africa (I stayed at Italian guesthouses in Zambia, South Africa, Namibia and Mozambique over the last five years), Italian private ventures are everywhere in Africa. And, honestly, I don’t have a problem with that but I am quite surprised that very few people are actually analyzing these entrepreneurs. They seem to be discrete, cost-efficient and highly skilled, predominantly middle-aged men (a generalization I base solely on the Italian businesses I have been exposed to) and they are all seeing to their business relations, staying out of the political and public sphere. In addition, the two Italian businesses I know in Dar es Salaam are also very aware of the local customs and informal relations as their owners constantly pay off local policemen to avoid harassment and constant raids. Without a doubt, this new master plan is the largest project assigned to an Italian private firm and I hope that more journalists and researchers find the time to look more into it, at the very least for information purposes. For now, however, I find that both the Italian communities in East Africa and the new master plan’s long-term consequences are severely under researched to the point of neglection. And that can’t really help anyone…
You can read more about the Dar es Salaam Transport Policy and System Development Master Plan here.