“Tanzania is more urbanised than it perceives itself to be. Urban Tanzanians feel emotionally rooted in their villages of origin, rather than in the cities and towns where they live.” This is one of the reasons we are undertaking to understand more of village life in Tanzania. However, like Australians who identify with ‘Waltzing Matilda’ but sleep in a bed (not a swag) and drive an air-conditioned car (not roaming the bush), many Tanzanians speak of themselves as poor and rural, even as they sit on university campuses with their smartphones. The article continues, “Despite this perception, conditions that are typical of urban areas are more widespread across Tanzania than official figures disclose.” It calls for greater scrutiny to be given to urban contexts.
As stories of rural poverty in Tanzania are contrasted in both the western and African media with new discussions of growing affluence and the emergence of a Tanzanian middle class, it sounds like the cities are places of advantage. Yet proximity to health-care and education, such as one finds in a city, is not the same as access to it. “In most cities adequate facilities and quality services are distributed unequally across the urban space, concentrated in affluent areas that tend to attract the most qualified teachers, health workers and other service providers.” One in four families in Dar es Salaam and one in six families in other urban areas in Tanzania may actually be worse off than those in Tanzania’s villages.
We spoke with someone who was studying water distribution when we were in Dar es Salaam a few months ago. Urban living requires infrastructure to work well, and when it doesn’t, people may not have the skills or options that rural people have. Yet in many places in Dar es Salaam, access to water is a massive problem. What do you do in a city when there’s no water supply? It could be that you simply don’t have water; there’s often no well or local river. We’ve seen people bathing in sewers. The hearts of many westerners go out to villages without clean water; perhaps we buy them a well from TEAR, and so we should. But the poor exist in urban contexts as well, and these people are often more alone. They are forgotten, not just by western aid, but perhaps also by their own people whose focus is on the experience of the rural poor as normative.
Getting to know a nation’s self-identity is one thing; getting to know the reality is another. Both need examination.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.