Street Vendors’ Struggles in Tanzania and How Media Was Used Against Them

Tanzania’s media can do more than what they did on the whole street vending saga. They should stop aiding the persecution of powerless and vulnerable groups in our communities.
Muhemsi Mwakihwelo17 May 20224 min

If I were a street vendor, I wouldn’t have shied away from declaring the media as one of my foes. In the recent street vendors expulsion operations, Tanzania’s media outlets showed their true colours of bourgeoisie leanings, with total disregard for the downtrodden and the wretched of this country.

Much of the media coverage on the controversial exercise lacked analysis and nuances, ending up running stories that are events-oriented, with most of them seen dehumanizing street vendors as if they are not people who play a big role in building this country.

No tough questions were posed to government officials in press conferences they organised, leaving so-called journalists acting as state propagandists.

A number of important questions failed to be considered in most media coverage about the issue, including why all of the sudden street vendors in Tanzania have become the number one public enemy?

Or why does the top leadership in the government accuse street vendors of tax evasion and the prime cause of road accidents? Why is it that street vendors are accused openly by some elites of being a reason for the so-called poor international reputation of our country?

Also, it is disappointing that many of our journalists failed to distinguish between expulsion and relocation. Why, if I may ask, would any sane person of Dar es Salaam need to sniff much to observe the stinking corruption smell behind the so-called street vendors’ union leadership, judging from their statements and deeds?

There is hardly any journalistic work that critically examined the exercise by trying to seek answers to some important questions that the exercise raised. And one is supposed to ask, why is that the case?

And my answer will be that our journalists are either mediocre and cannot do their jobs properly or they are just comfortable in their air conditioned-rooms, accustomed to covering CEOs’ stories and convinced that the fate of street vendors is not newsworthy.

A result of government failures

Street vending is just one among many outcomes of our government’s apparent failure to formulate policies that benefit all of its people. Street vending is not a source of the problem.

It is the outcome of the problem, which is the government’s deliberate efforts to marginalize a significant majority of this nation – workers and smallholder farmers – through policy decisions informed by ignorance of how the world operates and the interests of wealthier people.

Failure to invest in agriculture and the unprecedented opening of our markets to imported goods and services crushed our ability to develop local import substitution and manufacturing industries.

This phenomenon has been responsible for the rural-urban migration of many young and old people who have been left with no other option but to flock to the cities and try whatever means to survive.

While the government has failed to create opportunities for its struggling mass of uneducated and under-educated people, it has been very creative in ways that would milk what little the people make.

The government has been doing this through the imposition of an untold number of levies and taxes on already starving Tanzanians, leading some critics to change the country’s name from Tanzania to Tozonia.

Tozo means levy in Kiswahili. In short, our government is very good at taking, but not at creating.

No analysis

And yet, this is not the sort of analysis that our newspapers, TVs, radios and other online media outlets carried during the implementation of the exercise that President Samia  Suluhu Hassan publicly said aims at cleaning the city so that it can be attractive to tourists and foreign investors.

Let us not lose to the low level of thinking here. These planners who do not think or act from where we are and instead think from European capitals should be put on a ‘thinking trial.’

The expulsion program of street vendors has been branded as relocation or re-arrangement. But who is and isn’t eligible to benefit from opportunities that our towns and cities can offer?

Why shouldn’t we liberate our minds (including our city planning) and socialize our resources?

Denying others’ rights to the city in terms of economic activities is the same as apartheid ‘Whites Only’ and ‘Blacks Only’ banners, only this time around we are attempting ‘Rich Only’ and ‘Poor Only’ banners.

Public spaces are for all to enjoy. It’s so disturbing that now the motive is that tourists should be prioritized to enjoy the beauty of our country by any means necessary even if that would mean pushing the downtrodden city dwellers to the bottomless pit. Isn’t this profit over people?

Serving the interests of the society

It may sound crazy to propose that the government should compensate for the damage it has caused to the millions of street vendors countrywide.

But in a society in which journalists strive to serve the interests of the society, this is the path Tanzanian journalists should have taken for they have witnessed in detail the gigantic loss to the machinga.

Our media should have carried the stories that amplify the voices of street vendors whose lives have been shuttered in demanding not just compensation but also an official government apology.

This should have gone hand in hand with the calling for leaders of the expulsion program to be held accountable and put the expulsion to a stop.

Tanzania’s media can do more than what they did on the whole street vending saga. They should stop aiding the persecution of powerless and vulnerable groups in our communities.

Journalists’ first obligation is to the truth, not peddling state propaganda at the expense of people who look up to journalists to defend their interests.

Muhemsi Mwakihwelo is a social movement organizer, based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. You can reach him through his e-mail address muhemsimwakihwelo@gmail.com. These are the writer’s own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of The Chanzo Initiative. Want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at editor@thechanzo.com for inquiries.

Muhemsi Mwakihwelo

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