Monopoly and mangoes, eish, I want purple grapes
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