The untold story about Dar’s nighttime economy

MARIJAN Mohamed Natenga starts setting up his makeshift table ahead of the business day. This one time shoe-seller at Kariakoo International Market now fries octopus. He wants it crispy and tender and that requires more than a pot and this collagen-rich flesh meat delicacy.

He says most clients want octopus with its melting texture, and to keep it that way, it takes him roughly 1 hour 30 minutes on a daily basis to get it ready.  For the past 10 years, octopus has become one of the favorite and popular foods sold at almost every street corner in the commercial capital city of Dar es Salaam.

Usually, this food floods the streets around twilight until dusk.  Men have been identified as the most consumer of this delicious delicacy, which many confirm boosts fertility and serves as aphrodisia. Natenga’s focus is to ensure his customers visiting his kiosk at Kwa Azizi Ally suburb in Temeke Municipality are always satisfied.

Some haggard looking young men walked lazily past Mr Natenga’s table as he struggled to chop octopus into pieces, unperturbed by the noise from daladala, pikipiki drivers, passers-by and commuters alike. The place is alive today, surely going to be a good business night, he says as he hurriedly preps the already chopped octopus with a variety of spices in a bowl. The spicier the octopus, the tastier it becomes and the more customers Natenga gets eventually.

Natentaga is obviously content with his new business. As compared to his previous shoe-selling trade in which getting a client is not guaranteed, the octopus business surely gives him hope as he has over 20 loyal clients who patronize this delicacy daily after work.

Natenga connects his light bulb from a nearby shop  to illuminate his table as he sets-up. On days that the light is off, business still goes on for Natenga, as he depends on a kerosene lamp to brighten his table like other  petty traders do.

It is 15 minutes to 9pm, Dar es Salaam time. For many residents it’s time to be home. But for Natenga and other traders, it is time for business. Just like Natenga, a 34-year-old single mother and a petty trader, Asha Yahaya says: “Our customers are usually pedestrians. That involves those going and coming from work and those who have free time, we need them out… it’s our only hope of flourishing in our night time businesses.”

Asha depends on cooking and selling food in the street to pay her bills and take care of her three children currently in school.  During the day her business faces serious chaos from law enforcing agents. “It is all good in the evening and especially at night. I can sell my food more comfortably,” she says, highlighting that she makes most sales between 9pm and 1 am.

Besides such struggles with authorities, Asha’s business like many other nightlife businesses are also bedeviled by environmental and noise pollution as well as crimes such as illicit business, sexual abuses and robbery. Dr. Egidius Kamanyi of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Dar es Salaam (UDSM) does not wholly accept this perception made by Asha.

He explains: “There are some people who go to work in what we call night shifts for as long as they can remember but none of them reported cases of robbery or abuse. Yes people need to be sure of their security but it should not be the only reason.”

“The night economy isn’t all about drugs, prostitutions, or other criminal activities,” he said. “The night economy has been slackened by traditional belief and poor infrastructures.” According to the expert, most people tend to associate nightlife activities with evil.

“For instance, if a woman goes or comes from work during late hours the community, starting with her family, would judge her, or call her names,” he says.  “This is exactly the same with men, but married men being the highest victim.”

A pharmacist at one of the medical stores, a few meters away from Asha’s table, believes night time commercial activities add more value to the economy. “We have extended our opening time and we make sales at night and thus pay more taxes,” she said. Emphasizing that most businesses depend on one another. She cited food vendors. Asha happens to be one of the beneficiaries making money from the night workers who patronize her food.

Thirty-six year old Salumu Bakari is another food vendor in the area. He has for the past eight years. been frying chips and chicken, popularly known in Kiswahili as Chips Kuku. Bakari admits, there have been more sales after extending his businesses to late hours. “I was all by myself but now I have been able to employ four others to help run the business,” he said.

A customer who declined to be mentioned said he and his bachelor colleague buy food from the street almost everyday when coming from work. But, Daily News observed some people who could be married also taking soup from the vendors.

Mr Bakari, however, is one of the hundred thousands petty traders keeping Dar es Salaam nightlife economy alive.  His makeshift shop is located just near the roundabouts junction of Kilwa and Mbagala roads. He and other traders serve motorists and commuters.

“Food is everything. Be it night or daytime. People need to eat to function properly and that is what I provide,” he said. “In the end I have been able to raise enough income to support my family and even fund my  sister’ University education”.

It was not easy for Bakari to calculate the figure he makes at night. But he says it’s usually more than what he makes in the daytime.

Although scattered, these chains of small traders play a significant role in the Dar es Salaam’s nightlife economy, providing goods and services to all despite the many challenges that confront their businesses.


About the Nightlife Economy


In Seattle, U.S.A, the night-time industry was the first largest industry to create employment at an annual average of 2.2 per cent IN 2020. During the same year in New York, the industry generated 35.1billion US dollars (about 81.85tri/-) in economic activity, further contributing nearly 700 million US dollars (about 1.6tri/-) in local tax revenue. Nightlife economy accounted for 8 percent of total employment, making it the fifth-largest industry  in 2019 in the UK.

Nightlife economy has been so important in the developed economies. In Seattle for instance, the city designated a night mayor. Since 2016, this nightlife advocate was charged with helping nightlife establishments navigate the permit and zoning process and ultimately stay in business. The nightlife business services advocate has also organized sexual harassment and opiate overdose trainings, and worked with the transportation department to manage late-night ride shares.

In recent years, many cities across the globe have recognised that a vibrant night time economy plays a crucial role in not only supporting sustainable economic growth, but also by making a positive contribution to the people’s life and culture.

Economist and Lecturer at the Zanzibar University (ZU) Prof Haji Semboja told the Daily News that a vibrant and mixed night-time economy can encourage tourism, boost the local economy and contribute to shaping places where people want to live.

He says: “These night-time activities are governed by legal and institutional systems. The more the economy develops, the less the difference becomes between day and night.” The institutional system here includes authorities tasked with licensing and giving permits, police force operations among other things.

“The challenges in developing economies like Tanzania is that people are not well informed,” he noted. “It’s not about the time but the kind of business which is generally accepted in the community.”

Unofficial figures suggest that 60 percent of Tanzania’s GDP has not been accounted for and remains in the informal sector. Anitha James, a policy analyst in Dar es Salaam agrees with Prof Semboja. She says Tanzania needs a systematic transformation to manage small traders.

“Businessmen should agree to abide by the law, while society also learns to accept the traders,” she said emphasizing. “Nationally, the night-time economy makes a significant contribution both to the economy and employment.”

Whilst this clearly benefits, the experts warn that the nighttime economy can also create challenges for local communities. Dr Kamanyi highlights that an unwell-managed night economy can lead to increased crimes, anti-social behavior, and alcohol-related hospital admissions all of which put additional pressure on police and emergency services.

“The evening economy requires policies and structures, just as much as the day time economy,” Mr Deo Shayo, Business Analyst at the Tanzania Trade Development Authority (TanTrade) said. He also agrees that there is a need to promote night-time economy to help increase efficiency and productivity.

In Tanzania, widespread traditional belief, legal fragmentation, insecurity and poor infrastructures have made it near impossible for cities to run the night economy, leading to massive loss of potential revenues to the state. Among the five cities in Tanzania, Dar es Salaam has been making efforts to operate the night economy.

Now there is at least one shopping mall, Jumbo, that runs nearly 24 hours. The Airport and a number of entrepreneurs and small businesses are keeping the nightlife economy alive.


Dar es Salaam Night-life


For over a decade now, Dar es Salaam has been working to become one of Africa’s modern megacities. Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner Mr Amos Makalla believes a fresh commitment by the government to fix street lights and CCTV cameras will help propel the country’s commercial capital plan to run a night-time economy.

Observers, however, say such plans have been on papers since 1995. “I believe we are moving in the right direction. We have high tower buildings, structures and several roads illuminating the streets,” said Dr. Kamanyi. “The problem is the city by-laws are not permanent.”

Dr. Kamanyi was referring to a decision that was earlier issued by the regional authorities instructing all pubs to be closed by 12:00 pm. The same decision was reversed and has not been uniform across towns. On the other hand the police force insists all night business to be closed by 12:00 pm.

As one of the quickly urbanizing African cities, Dar es Salaam is home to a population of 5.4 million people, according to the latest August census results, having increased from 4.4 million in 2012. In 2020, the region had the highest Gross Domestic Product (GDP), of about 25.3tri/- (10.9 billion US dollars). The figures put Dar es Salaam as the second largest economic city in East Africa after Nairobi.

Poor planning compounded with limited infrastructures are largely affecting Dar es Salaam’s schedule to  enjoy a diverse evening and night time economy. A spot observation on several streets running night-time business have no direct access to electricity, not to mention permanent facilities. While other spots are powering their tables with expensive generators, most vendors use kerosene lamps and rechargeable lamps.

From President John Magufuli’s administration to President Samia Suluhu Hassan, authorities have been racing to increase brightening up the city. Almost all tarmac roads are being fixed with solar powered lights. An interview with residents, however, revealed that there were still problems with the light, as for several days the lights are usually off. And even if they are damaged it can take more than a year to be repaired.

Samora Street, for example, is in the center of the city just a few meters from where the President’s Office is located, Magogoni. There are lights that have been damaged since the 2020 general election until now, two years later, they have not been repaired. Tarura, who is responsible for managing the roads or the Ilala city council have no answers.

“We have a pending  project –which is to light all the streets in Dar es Salaam and fix CCTV cameras from the Julius Nyerere International Airport to Kariakoo and City Centre,” Mr Makalla said. In order for traders to operate 24/7, we have built modern markets and intend to build more so  residents can have access to markets for longer hours.”

Police Spokesperson, Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police (SACP) David Misime says the Police force has increased its patrols in the city to ensure total safety of people and their properties. “We’re also engaging the general public to play a part in strengthening the security… the police cannot be at every point across the country,” he said.

Natenga and Bakari, the two night-time entrepreneurs, say lack of permanent light solution is seriously affecting their business. According to Bakari, the small traders have been forming groups to contribute to  one generator that helps blighter their tables.

“Legal frameworks and friendly policies are very crucial to the night economy.  The infrastructure, including light, creates an ambience of safety and security,” added Prof. Semboja during an interview with the Daily News. Many roads are still in darkness.  Recently the National Assembly Speaker Dr. Tulia Ackson was of the view that most road accidents could be a result of lack of public transport, notably buses at night.

Addressing the challenge

Traders in Dar es Salaam told the Daily News that the existing challenges have not stopped them from running the night-time economy, creating jobs and expanding the economy.

“Electricity has recently been a problem, but we cannot fold our arms. We’re moving forward with alternative solutions,” said Alex Massawe who runs a nightclub in the city. Energy Minister, January Makamba admits that climate change recently hit the country’s hydropower system. Data published by Tanzania National Electric Supply Company (Tanesco) in November said power generating capacity had fallen by 350 megawatts due to severe drop in water levels across the strategic dams.

“We believe we have a permanent solution… The Julius Nyerere Hydroelectric Power Project (JNHPP),” said Mr Makamba. This 2115 megawatts project will start power production in 2025.

Salehe Ally, a university graduate who operates a taxi ride at Ubungo says electricity is everything. “With light people will also be out working and we will be getting business, other than that it’s just bad.”

He said after missing out of the formal jobs, rideshare is helping him pay bills. Another entrepreneur, a bodaboda driver told this newspaper that security is a challenge at night. “It becomes even worse if the light is off. We get scared taking people but they too get scared and there have been cases of Bodaboda riders being robbed,” he said. “Customers too report incidents of being attacked.”

Many bodaboda narrated how their colleagues have been in trouble during their busy work at night. Some cases were also confirmed by the police force.

The police spokesperson SACP Misime said the police is working with the community in helping wipeout criminal acts as well as gender abuse in the community. “We’re pushing for public awareness training from primary schools to the university on how to detect criminals,” he said. Now, there are 420 gender desks across the country that are helping address gender and sexual related abuse in the community.

With Dar es Salaam targeting to become a nightlife economy by 2030, experts are calling for the government to address the contradicting policy issues which could affect its match towards the region’s top nightlife economy.

Like in England, Policy Analyst Anita, says, nationally the Government’s stance towards alcohol related entertainment has been contradictory. “While police want the entertainment business to close by 12:00pm some regional commissioners find it okay for businesses to run 24/7. This is a problem,” she said. She suggests that the city council must integrate its policies with other state policies.

Across the world, bars, night clubs, petty traders are symbolic features of every  city’s social life. Dar Es Salaam, just like other Cities in Africa, is fast becoming a hotspot for both old and young adults, tourists and business travelers  who want to connect and have a great time over drinks, food and music. Providing the service provider and the consumers with sufficient lights and security, will definitely boost the nightlife economic industry.

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