food / travel

Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania's Overlooked Tourism Jewel

Life in Dar es Salaam
Life in Dar es Salaam
Carola Frentzen

DAR ES SALAAM — Tanzania has a lot to offer: safaris, mountains, tropical islands. But hardly anyone knows about Dar es Salaam. The country’s largest city offers not only culture but also beautiful beaches.

In the early evening, before the tropical night sinks into the Indian Ocean’s deep blackness, the beach at the Oyster Bay fills up. Tanzanians arrive with their plastic chairs to chat, enjoy the colors of the waves at sunset and taste the specialties of different peddlers.

“You have to try the cassava. It tastes very good,” says Santay Uka, who works as a Dar es Salaam city guide. The potato-like tuber, which is also known as manioc, is cooked on an open fire and served with coleslaw and a spicy tomato-chili sauce.

Amid all the white sand, blue sea and relaxed atmosphere, it is hard to believe that the center of this dynamic business city is just six kilometers away.

Unofficial capital

Dar es Salaam counts about three million inhabitants and is by far Tanzania’s largest city, but inland, Dodoma has been the official capital since 1974. Nevertheless, the government, diplomatic missions and international organizations are still based in “Dar,” as the city is called colloquially.

The literal translation of Dar es Salaam is “House of Peace.” And that it is, with the exception of its bustling center. As in most African cities, armies of cars struggle to make their way through the streets.

But Dar is often ignored or downplayed in tourism guides and among Tanzania experts, who tend to attract customers with safaris in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Conservation Area or by offering ascents of Kilimanjaro or holidays in Zanzibar (a semi-autonomous region in Tanzania).

Most people pass by Dar because the ferries sail from there. But those who decide to stay for two or three nights will be amply rewarded and will have the chance to discover the true Tanzania.

History exhibition and more

The sightseeing tour should start with a stop at the National Museum, a temple of culture that first opened in 1940. It displays not only interesting historical exhibits that explain the history of the country, but also scientific discoveries.

Among these are the bones found by Louis and Mary Leakey in 1959 at the famous Olduvai Gorge site of the Nutcracker man — “Australopithecus boisei” — who lived 1.7 million years ago in East Africa.

Above all for German tourists, it is interesting to see the exhibits and photo expositions related to colonial history. After all, Tanzania (Tanganyika) was, together with Burundi and Rwanda, part of the so-called German East Africa from 1885 to 1918.

A natural harbor-like fishing village

“The city center of Dar es Salaam is still mostly shaped the way the city was once planned by the Germans,” says German designer Annika Seifert, who has lived and worked here for several years.

The Sultan of Zanzibar had originally created Dar as a fishing village because of its fantastic natural harbor, but only the Germans recognized the strategically advantageous location and transformed the place into a typical three-part colonial city.

First, there is the old German residential and administrative district with long avenues, large properties and historical buildings that have been preserved. Then, almost as a buffer zone, there is a dense labyrinth of narrow streets, which is where the Indian community lives. They were once accepted by the Germans as “foreigners.”

At the end, a wide green belt expands into a kind of park, and then there is the African residential area, today called Kariakoo, Seifert says.

Buildings from colonial times

Among the interesting and well-preserved buildings from the colonial period are the imperial government buildings in front of the Kivukoni area. The Catholic St. Joseph’s Cathedral built between 1897 and 1902 and the Lutheran Evangelical Church of Azania are also worth seeing. The altar still bears the German inscription: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you.”

After so much culture, it’s also nice to get an idea of daily life in Dar with a visit to the fish market in Kivukoni’s Ocean Road.

The smell is strong, and on the floor is a mix of water, blood and chopped fins. A few meters further a cloud of smoke rises. Over an open fire, tiny fish — heads included — are fried in iron pots and eaten immediately.

The beach at Dar el Salaam Photo: David Berkowitz via Flickr

Here, far from the luxury resorts, is where the real Tanzania can be discovered. Nevertheless, the impressive Indian Ocean is omnipresent, determining the rhythm of people’s lives.

Almost deserted beaches

Once past the tropical plantations, palm trees and small houses, Sunrise and South beaches appear, no less beautiful than the ones in Zanzibar. The sand is white and almost deserted as a Maasai sells traditional jewelry made of pearls, with the waves lapping gently onto the shore.

“The further you go, the more beautiful and empty the beaches are,” says the city guide Santay.

Suddenly, a sign appears on the roadside: “Caution! Falling Coconuts!” Not many cities in the world have such exotic problems.

At sunset the hungry and thirsty get ready to move to northern Dar, in the direction of Oyster Bay and Coco Beach. Here, on the classy Msasani Peninsula, is where many expatriates live. A breathtaking 180-degree view of the sea opens up at the Karambezi Café, where fresh seafood and tuna steaks are served.

As the African sun sinks into the sea, the waiter serves an ice-cold Karambezi Sunset: Campari mixed with lemon and cranberry juice. A good day is slowly coming to an end, a day in an underestimated, beautiful city.

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Why This Sudan Coup Is Different

The military has seized control in one of Africa's largest countries, which until recently had made significant progress towards transitioning to democracy after years of strongman rule. But the people, and international community, may not be willing to turn back.

Smoke rises Monday over the Sudanese capital of Khartoum

Xinhua via ZUMA
David E. Kiwuwa

This week the head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, General Abdel Fattah El Burhan, declared the dissolution of the transitional council, which has been in place since the overthrow of former president Omar el-Bashir in 2019. He also disbanded all the structures that had been set up as part of the transitional roadmap, and decreed a state of emergency.

In essence, he staged a palace coup against the transitional authority he chaired.

The general's actions, which included the arrest of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, are a culmination of a long period of tension between the civilian and military wings of the council.

A popular uprising may be inevitable

The tensions were punctuated by an alleged attempted coup only weeks earlier. The days leading to the palace coup were marked by street protests for and against the military. Does this mark the end of the transition as envisaged by the protest movement?

Their ability to confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

The popular uprising against Bashir's government was led by the Sudan Professional Association. It ushered in the political transitional union of civilians and the military establishment. The interim arrangement was to lead to a return to civilian rule.

But this cohabitation was tenuous from the start, given the oversized role of the military in the transition. Moreover, the military appeared to be reluctant to see the civilian leadership as an equal partner in shepherding through the transition.

Nevertheless, until recently there had been progress towards creating the institutional architecture for the transition. Despite the challenges and notable tension between the signatories to the accord, it was never evident that the dysfunction was so great as to herald the collapse of the transitional authority.

For now, the transition might be disrupted and in fact temporarily upended. But the lesson from Sudan is never to count the masses out of the equation. Their ability to mobilize and confront counter revolutionary forces cannot be underestimated.

Power sharing

The transitional pact itself had been anchored by eight arduously negotiated protocols. These included regional autonomy, integration of the national army, revenue sharing and repatriation of internal refugees. There was also an agreement to share out positions in national political institutions, such as the legislative and executive branch.

Progress towards these goals was at different stages of implementation. More substantive progress was expected to follow after the end of the transition. This was due in 2022 when the chair of the sovereignty council handed over to a civilian leader. This military intervention is clearly self-serving and an opportunistic power grab.

A promised to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

In November, the rotational chairmanship of the transitional council was to be passed from the military to the civilian wing of the council. That meant the military would cede strong leverage to the civilians. Instead, with the coup afoot, Burhan has announced both a dissolution of the council as well as the dismissal of provincial governors. He has unilaterally promised return to civilian rule in July 2023 through national elections.

Prior to this, the military had been systematically challenging the pre-eminence of the civilian authority. It undermined them and publicly berated them for governmental failures and weaknesses. For the last few months there has been a deliberate attempt to sharply criticize the civilian council as riddled with divisions, incompetent and undermining state stability.

File photo shows Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in August 2020

Mohamed Khidir/Xinhua via ZUMA

Generals in suits

Since the revolution against Bashir's government, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council.

This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy. True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19.

Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse.

Demands of the revolution

The success or failure of this coup will rest on a number of factors.

First is the ability of the military to use force. This includes potential violent confrontation with the counter-coup forces. This will dictate the capacity of the military to change the terms of the transition.

Second is whether the military can harness popular public support in the same way that the Guinean or Egyptian militaries did. This appears to be a tall order, given that popular support appears to be far less forthcoming.

The international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin.

Third, the ability of the Sudanese masses to mobilize against military authorities cannot be overlooked. Massive nationwide street protests and defiance campaigns underpinned by underground organizational capabilities brought down governments in 1964, 1985 and 2019. They could once again present a stern test to the military.

Finally, the international community's appetite for military coups is wearing thin. The ability of the military to overcome pressure from regional and international actors to return to the status quo could be decisive, given the international support needed to prop up the crippled economy.

The Sudanese population may have been growing frustrated with its civilian authority's ability to deliver on the demands of the revolution. But it is also true that another coup to reinstate military rule is not something the protesters believe would address the challenges they were facing.

Sudan has needed and will require compromise and principled political goodwill to realise a difficult transition. This will entail setbacks but undoubtedly military intervention in whatever guise is monumentally counterproductive to the aspirations of the protest movement.


David E. Kiwuwa is Associate Professor of International Studies at University of Nottingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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