Mo­nop­oly and man­goes, eish, I want pur­ple grapes

The East African - - OPIN­ION -

As for­eign su­per­mar­kets try to es­tab­lish a foothold in Dar es Salaam, they are hav­ing a tough time ex­pand­ing their clien­tele be­yond ex­pa­tri­ates and the hand­ful of elites who en­joy Bel­gian cho­co­late and limited-edi­tion co­gnac. But de­spite our love of freshly pur­chased, lo­cally grown pro­duce, not ev­ery­one is good at shop­ping in the lo­cal mar­kets even though we must all eat – women, men, children and the el­derly.

Healthy body, healthy mind as the say­ing goes, and what bet­ter build­ing block than good nu­tri­tion? So yes, it is nec­es­sary to know how to iden­tify the very best pro­duce and suss out ven­dors who con­sis­tently of­fer it. You have to know how to smack a wa­ter­melon to judge its ripeness in re­la­tion to weight, eye­ball the hairi­ness of pump­kin leaves, sep­a­rate your roma tomato from your beef tomato, nur­ture a re­la­tion­ship with the most dis­crim­i­nat­ing butch­ers and fish mon­gers. We have been, over the past two decades, spoiled for choice as our mar­kets so­phis­ti­cate.

Dar was not al­ways like this: In our so­cial­ist glory days we lined up for what­ever ra­tions the gov­ern­ment could af­ford. Yel­low maize meal from for­eign aid dona­tions, an end­less sup­ply of kid­ney beans. Ad­di­tional food was sourced quite from canny ur­ban farmer neigh­bours who se­cretly kept chick­ens or milk cows. What you got is what you ap­pre­ci­ated no mat­ter how limited the diet was.

We started from the bot­tom but we're here now, grow­ing a chain of lo­cal su­per­mar­kets that know us well enough to ex­pand into ar­eas that were the tra­di­tional strongholds of mar­ket stall­hold­ers who, for lack of com­pe­ti­tion, did not al­ways ex­ert them­selves to give their cus­tomers their best. That's the trou­ble with mo­nop­o­lies, isn't it? No in­cen­tive to of­fer qual­ity prod­ucts. In fact, the temp­ta­tion to force cus­tomers to con­sume your ter­ri­ble goods and tell you how much they love them to prove their fealty seems ir­re­sistible if you are the only ven­dor in town.

So, you see, this is why I ad­vo­cate the con­dem­na­tion of this ruse of calling ev­ery Tan­za­nian na­tional who sup­ports mul­ti­party democ­racy “un­pa­tri­otic.” One by-elec­tion af­ter an­other, as the rul­ing party con­sol­i­dates its grip on the coun­try through trans­par­ent and not-so-trans­par­ent means, some in­di­vid­u­als are even gloat­ing in pub­lic, some­thing that is de­cid­edly not Tan­za­nian at all.

The com­pe­ti­tion is be­ing run out of town. We the peo­ple are no longer al­lowed to pub­licly de­sire or even pur­chase lovely pur­ple grapes or red-skinned ly­chees with white in­te­ri­ors tinged with blue. No, the only fruit our na­tional ven­dor is sell­ing is green-skinned man­goes with yel­low flesh. Clearly I can ex­tend this metaphor ad nau­seam: Some peo­ple don't like man­goes. Not all man­goes are the same: Some are de­li­cious mod­ern hy­brids that ma­ture rapidly, oth­ers are small and sweet and rare, yet oth­ers are con­sis­tently rot­ten on the in­side no mat­ter how flaw­less the outer skin or how much pes­ti­cide is used on them. But the point is that an ex­ces­sively limited diet is a great way to get mal­nu­tri­tion on ev­ery level, and mo­nop­o­lies are a great breed­ing ground for abuse of power.

Never un­der­es­ti­mate your client. It's bad busi­ness and leads to kwashakor. There's a rea­son we left the sin­gle-ven­dor 1980s where they be­long: In the past.

The com­pe­ti­tion is be­ing run out of town. We the peo­ple are no longer al­lowed to de­sire red-skinned ly­chees

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