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Development From Below? This Is the Story of a Daladala Co-op in Dar es Salaam 

A wide range of informal workers in Dar—daladala operators, bodaboda drivers, street and market traders, and more—are experimenting with joint savings, worker and consumer co-ops, and alternative forms of social protection “from below.”

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“You know, we’re at war through life,” says a long-time daladala driver, listing the many challenges informal transport workers face, from no salary and long working hours to no overtime pay and social protection or pension.

Still, drivers battle on. “We’re all the children of poverty. We’ve got ahead on our own strength.” But what happens when drivers “overripen,” too exhausted by hard work to continue? “How will we get by?” In this case, the answer is through collective effort. 

The speaker is one of five association leaders gathered in a sparse office down a rain-furrowed dirt track. They are together to discuss their organising history and how, as informal workers, they did not wait for anyone to save them. They fought their “war” themselves. 

The results of their struggle offer a powerful example to other workers, policymakers, and anyone interested in what it means for precarious workers to seek the “good life.” 

Liberation through compassion

The Association of Bus Drivers and Conductors Dar-Msata (UMAMADARMS) started informally in 2003 along a 137-kilometre route stretching from Dar es Salaam to the town of Msata in the neighbouring Pwani region. 

Like many similar groupings, its aims were initially humble: to handle work-related disputes and, through members’ contributions, to support their pressing welfare needs. Over time, though, these ambitions have grown. 

UMAMADARMS was registered formally in 2011. While certified as a ‘society,’ not a ‘co-operative,’ it has nevertheless innovated its own multi-purpose co-operative model. It combines elements of a worker co-op, mutual insurance, education and training, among others. 

READ MORE: We Can Ensure Everyone’s Safety, Including Bodabodas’, If We Regulate Our Selfish Ways

After a concerted fundraising effort, it bought its first vehicle in 2013. From there, it gradually expanded its fleet from one to three buses, replacing two when they became too worn to repair. 

In 2022, the association’s income was Sh85.5 million –roughly US$36,670. Its cooperative bus operation provides over 95 per cent of that total, leaving the group’s now 53 members to pay just Sh5,000 –US$2– in monthly fees. 

To benefit its members, UMAMADARMS employs six of them as drivers and conductors. It offers better pay and conditions than is the norm among private bus owners, known to them as matajiri, rich people, meaning bosses. 

All its workers have formal contracts and a salary of Sh200,000 per month. They also keep whatever remains from passengers’ fares after paying the association a daily sum of Sh80,000. This sum is lower than the Sh100,000 or more that many matajiri demand, and this is without offering any starting salary. 

UMAMADARMS respects basic labour rights, ensuring paid vacation, sick days, and predetermined working hours. “The association helps a lot,” concludes one of its drivers. “I got a job. If I get stuck, it helps again. Really, the association takes charge of many things. It carries a lot of people.”

Among these “many things,” UMAMADARMS has paid for all members to attend driving school. Some have then used their formal training to seek better-paying commercial transport jobs, although they remain members. 

Another initiative involves investing in land. The association has one shamba, agricultural land its members plan to cultivate collectively. It acquired individual plots. Once it has enough, it will divide these amongst its members. “Let everyone build their houses,” declares one leader. “No more renting.”

READ MORE: It’s Easy Blaming Bodaboda Drivers for Accidents, But Is It Fair?

Perhaps most impressive, UMAMADARMS has since 2015 contributed to the National Social Security Fund (NSSF) so that all its members, their spouses, and up to four children can access health insurance. Every month, the association pays Sh20,000 per member, totalling Sh13.9 million –US$6,000– in 2022. 

Alongside NSSF, UMAMADARMS still contributes towards emergency welfare needs. For instance, it helps members whenever a close family member passes away. When its own members die, it offers a kind of life insurance; it continues to pay the NSSF contribution for their dependents and supports their children through school. It now supports five families in this way. 

Ultimately, the association is itself a “very big family.” Between its members and their relatives, it cares for some 400 people. 

It is this commitment to collective care and self-reliance that underpins the association’s growth. From the start, “We agreed we would liberate ourselves,” recalls a long-time member. “We do everything ourselves through compassion for each other,” another adds. “That compassion is what has got us here.”

Government’s role

Despite these successes, it is important not to romanticise. UMAMADARMS members still face obstacles, individual and collective. They also have many ambitions they have yet to fulfil. This raises the question, how can an organisation like theirs expand further? 

One answer is through more government support. “With this same compassion [that we show each other], the government should now come to help.”

The relationship between independent co-operatives and the state is not a straightforward one. Co-ops rely on governments adapting legal, institutional, and financial systems tailored to their specific needs, including, in this case, the needs of precarious urban workers. Yet, as Tanzania’s own history shows, the line between “co-operative empowerment” and co-optation can be a thin one.  

READ MORE: Twenty-Five Years of Struggle: Transport Workers And the ‘Rights of the Wretched’ in Neoliberal Tanzania

Leaving aside these potential challenges, UMAMADARMS’ experience already points to the importance of state support. The association registered when the Tanzanian government actively encouraged urban informal workers to form groups. This suggests that if this agenda were prioritised more consistently, it could significantly contribute to organising.  

Since this first step, though, government support has remained limited. UMAMADARMS leaders argue that if they are to progress, further interventions are needed. 

Access to interest-free loans is the top priority. UMAMADARMS borrowed from commercial banks in 2022, completing the repayment of a Sh37.7 million loan –US$16,253– from CRDB Bank. But leaders insist that the loan “hurt us.” 

With its 24 per cent annual interest rate, “repayments were a problem.” The association “survived” thanks to its clear “objectives,” but “many other groups die because of [high] interest.”

Surviving is also not the same as thriving. By the time UMAMADARMS finished repaying CRDB, the vehicle they purchased with their loan was already “tired,” costing a lot in repairs. “Instead of making any progress yourself, you stay where you were,” said the group leaders. “You are working for them”, i.e., the banks.

Finance aside, leaders also call on the government to help with vocational training. UMAMADARMS wants to give its members small loans, but they lack the training to invest in viable businesses. 

The association would like to support these lending efforts by registering the Savings and Credit Co-operative Society (SACCOS). Yet its leaders worry about tough new Bank of Tanzania (BoT) regulations. These require that SACCOS use a complex electronic accounting system, among other conditions. 

READ MORE: Getting Ahead or Getting Exploited?: Here Is How We Can Make Bodaboda, Bajaj Driving in Dar Better

These rules may work for the SACCOS of civil servants or corporate employees, who now dominate the urban co-op sector. But UMAMADARMS leaders conclude, “The system of our government is hard for people at the bottom like us.”

Despite having joined the wave of rural-urban migration, the group’s members still dream of farming together. But they insist that the government must do more for smallholders. “There should be experts to help support in every ward,” one leader stresses. Their group just needs a little help, he adds, and then they could be “an example to others”, including young people who are now leaving farming. 

Fundamentally, association leaders want the government to listen to them, recognise their contribution, and learn to respond to their needs. 

“Now the government, I’ve never understood why it fails to visit groups like ours,” comments one leader. “If we can buy land and vehicles and pay for people’s NSSF using our own strength, then if the government gives us a little support, how much could we do? We would do very many great things.”

Bigger, better organising?

Pending this government support, informal workers are exploring new ways to expand independently, including organising beyond their individual groups. 

While UMAMADARMS is in many ways, a model, it is not alone. Five daladala groups are operating out of the same stand – Mbezi. 

Elsewhere in Dar es Salaam, UWAMAMAPO—plying the route between Makumbusho and Posta—invested the profits from two co-operatively owned vehicles into land for its members. Another daladala group operating from Tegeta has eight vehicles and has similarly invested in land.  

Ultimately, a wide range of informal workers in Dar—daladala operators, bodaboda drivers, street and market traders, and more—are experimenting with joint savings, worker and consumer co-ops, and alternative forms of social protection “from below.” 

Far from just isolated units, these organisations work together. UMAMADARMS, again, is an example. It coordinates with the other groups at the Mbezi stand. Its leaders now plan to extend their contacts through a tour of groups around Dar es Salaam, hoping to learn from each other’s successes. 

READ MORE: Tanzania’s Women Entrepreneurs Seek Alternatives to Predatory ‘Blood-Sucking’ Loans

The association is also part of the Tanzania Drivers Workers Union (TADWU), a worker-led union born out of national transport strikes in 2015. The relationship between UMAMADARMS and the union exemplifies an important form of mutual support. 

TADWU helps with political representation, e.g., linking the association to key government officials. The union also leads a longer-term struggle. In the private transport sector defined by its exploitative labour conditions, “TADWU’s job is to ensure that every driver gets their rights.”

Meanwhile, associations like UMAMADARMS are the building blocks of this larger struggle. TADWU “depends on us,” say association leaders. Through the group’s “development,” and its day-to-day “compassion,” it has united its “family.” That family then joins its “neighbours”—other groups like theirs—in the union.  

Again, despite its successes, more can and—in the eyes of association leaders—must be done. “UMAMADARMS wants to get bigger… to get stronger.” 

The question thus remains. How can groups like UMAMADARMS keep building solidarity, staying united themselves while joining forces with others? How also can they access external support, support that helps them grow without risking their autonomy?

Michaela Collord is an Assistant Professor at the School of Politics and International Relations, at the University of Nottingham, UK. She can be reached at Michaela.Collord@nottingham.ac.uk or on X as @MCollord

One Response

  1. A truely impressive piece to read and learn from. The basic challenges for such joint ventures is honesty and trust among the leaders elected, which is a very rare commodity today!

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