If Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the Father of the Nation, visited Dar es Salaam today, there is no doubt he would be surprised at what the city has morphed into since his time. From less than one million people in the early 1990s, Dar es Salaam’s population has grown at an average rate of 5.8 percent annually to reach 4.4 million people today, making it one of the fastest growing cities in the world. It is now estimated that the city will be home to over 10 million inhabitants by 2027.
The urbanization process in Tanzania is a tale of two cities, as illustrated by the recent growth of Dar es Salaam. At first glance, Dar es Salaam looks like a modern city with a panoramic skyline of tall new buildings. But this façade of the modern metropolis quickly gives way to sights of congestion in the city slums, highlighting the realities of poor urban planning and inadequate public services.
In the busy Kariakoo area of Dar es Salaam, vendors hawk their shiny silverware right next to scattered rubbish heaps and overflowing sewage. The luckier ones have small makeshift stalls from where they can display their merchandise. A conversation with a group of fruit and vegetable traders reveals that most are not born in Dar es Salaam; a testament to the process of rapid urbanization that brings together aspiring migrants from all corners of the country to realize their shared dreams of attaining wealth and prosperity.
Tanzania’s cities receive busloads of new arrivals from rural areas every day. In fact, approximately 70% of the population increase in Dar-es-Salaam between 1978 and 2012 is due to in-migration from other parts of the country. People move not only for better educational and employment opportunities, but also because life is perceived to be better in urban centers. This is not far from the truth as seen in the available data:
- The poverty rate of 4.1 percent in Dar es Salaam is lower than the average rate of 33.3 percent in rural areas.
- Urban workers have better access to electricity and other basic services: approximately 85 percent of urban households use improved water supplies (compared to only 43 percent of rural households) and 34 percent of urban households have access to electricity (compared to only 1.3 percent of rural households).
- Businesses also prosper in Tanzanian cities. Between 2008 and 2011, urban-centered businesses grew at an average rate of 12-15 percent per year.
Regardless of the numbers, what is clear is that many benefits can be derived from the urbanization process, particularly with strategic urban planning to reduce the costs of congestion, and the development of secondary cities (the 5th Economic Update for Tanzania further elaborates on these recommendations). The increasing concentration of population and firms in urban areas can be leveraged to improve the livelihoods of ordinary Tanzanian citizens. But this is not the case today, where parts of Dar es Salaam are characterized by sprawl, informality, and uneven development. Inadequate organization, along with the influx of migrants, results in the mushrooming of slums and more congestion in the city. There is visible and increased pressure on public services such as transport, water and sewage systems, and garbage collection.
All of these factors affect the current and future quality of life, and impede opportunities for jobs in urban areas. Given that Tanzania will become a predominantly urban nation in the not-too-distant future, a deliberate focus on the development of urban areas is warranted. These issues need to be addressed while they are still manageable in scale, but time is of the essence. Indeed, inaction will inevitably lead to the development of urban areas not as modern metropolises, but rather as urban metropolis slums.