Hope for fe­male in­for­mal traders in Tan­za­nia


DAR ES SALAAM: It’s nearly midday at the bustling Tegeta bus ter­mi­nal in Tan­za­nia’s big­gest city, and Olivia Mbiku is busy pre­par­ing ugali – a pop­u­lar maize meal – beef stew and veg­eta­bles for her cus­tomers.

“I wake up early, light up the fire and rush to the mar­ket to buy meat, cook­ing oil, toma­toes and every­thing I need for the day,” says the 25-year-old mother-of-two.

Shrouded in a cloud of smoke, and with a tra­di­tional colour­ful khanga tied around her waist, Mbiku takes some maize flour from a sa­chet and sprin­kles it into boil­ing wa­ter while briskly stir­ring with a stick to make it stiff.

“I cook ugali ev­ery day, be­cause most of my cus­tomers like it,” Mbiku said. “It’s not a lu­cra­tive busi­ness, but I get enough to feed my fam­ily.”

Mbiku is among dozens of food ven­dors try­ing to earn a liv­ing amid the hub­bub of the Dar es Salaam bus ter­mi­nal, where con­duc­tors hoot and yell to at­tract cus­tomers.

She works eight hours a day, earn­ing around 45 000 shillings (about R270) to sup­ple­ment her hus­band’s in­come as a ma­son.

But un­like li­censed hawk­ers who work from rows of wooden stalls, Mbiku cooks in the open air and is of­ten ha­rassed by the city mili­tias for sell­ing food with­out the proper pa­pers.

“They of­ten seize my cook­ing pots and some­times lock me up. I have to pay some money to be re­leased and get my stuff back,” she said.

Mbiku and other women with un­li­censed busi­nesses fi­nally have a glimmer of hope af­ter the Tan­za­nian govern­ment last month an­nounced it would recog­nise them as part of its broader pol­icy of em­pow­er­ing women.

Maria Ezekiel, 31, who has a stall where she is serv­ing chicken soup, cha­p­ati and tea along the busy Bag­amoyo high­way each morn­ing, said the move to for­malise mi­cro-en­ter­prises like hers was an im­por­tant mile­stone for small-scale en­trepreneurs.

A li­cence would al­low her to ap­ply for credit to up­grade her busi­ness, she said.

“I think it’s a very good op­por­tu­nity for me. As soon as the iden­tity cards are is­sued I will start pro­cess­ing my bank loan,” Ezekiel said.

“I want to bor­row at least 500 000 shillings to mod­ernise my cook­ing busi­ness.”

The road­side chef wants to buy bet­ter equip­ment and switch to a gas stove to re­place the smoky fire­wood she now cooks on.

Op­er­at­ing in the in­for­mal sec­tor leaves women with­out pro­tec­tion and un­able to ac­cess credit, ex­perts say.

“Ur­ban food vend­ing may be a good tool for cre­at­ing liveli­hood se­cu­rity for the ur­ban poor, but to achieve this there have to be bet­ter pol­icy ini­tia­tives,” said Haji Sem­boja, eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Dar es Salaam.

Pre­sent­ing the an­nual bud­get in June, Tan­za­nia’s Finance Min­is­ter, Philip Mpango, said all food ven­dors – most of whom are women – would be brought into the main­stream sec­tor.

The govern­ment would work with re­gional author­i­ties to iden­tify in­for­mal busi­nesses and li­cense them be­fore 2020, he said.

“We will is­sue iden­tity cards and des­ig­nate spe­cial premises for them,” the min­is­ter told

I want to bor­row to mod­ernise my busi­ness


Mar­gareth Chacha, a banker and for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive of Tan­za­nia Women’s Bank, which sup­ports smallscale women en­trepreneurs, said women were held back be­cause of strict loan con­di­tions im­posed by the banks.

“Most of the women can’t ac­cess the loans be­cause the con­di­tions are too tough,” she said. “But if the govern­ment can act as a guar­an­tor, I’m sure the banks will be will­ing to give loans.”

The ben­e­fits of thriv­ing women-led busi­nesses are felt through­out the econ­omy, Chacha said.

Back at the Tegeta bus ter­mi­nal, Mbiku said she was now hop­ing for a more sta­ble, pros­per­ous fu­ture.

“I would very much like to get a bank loan and start a big cater­ing busi­ness,” she said.


BAL­ANC­ING ACT: Car­ry­ing ba­nanas on their heads, women walk through the streets of Dar es Salaam.

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