What is a Slum in Tanzania?

With time my perception changes. I can almost feel it. It’s due to the fact I am confused. What is poor and what is rich? At their extremes these terms are clear. But what’s going on in the middle? Whenever I see a dirt poor person with threadbare clothing and no shoes walking the streets the sign “poverty” flashes up in my head. But occasional local companions label such persons as “crazy”. So it starts to look like only the mentally ill are at the very bottom of the pyramid.

Housing is a similar case of confusion. What clearly looked like slums to me at the beginning is looking less and less so. I see unpaved roads, narrow pathways and no running water but then I see power lines running through such places and I see that most houses are built from bricks. Can this qualify as slum?

The no-running-water situation is an everyday fact in Dar es Salaam and there are lots of guys pushing their carts with up to 14 jerry cans along the road, selling 20 liters at TZS 500. In upscale neighborhoods big trucks deliver a few thousand liters upon request.

I tried to find an end to my confusion by looking up the definition of “slum” in Wikipedia.

“A slum is a heavily populated urban informal settlement characterized by substandard housing and squalor”.

So there it is. Everything should be clear now. But hold on!

The squalor can be found in a lot of places. I’ve found it around local homes near Zanzibar resorts in 2011 and I’m seeing it every day in Dar, even inside the gated community in my upscale neighborhood. People just don’t seem to care about dust- and rubbish-free surroundings unless it is their cars or inside their homes which are cleaned frequently.

Informal settlements might be prevalent but there is a process to convert them to formality, either through surveying or through local authorities. So people in the middle of Dar are living on properties that may be valued at up to 1000 USD per square meter.

What is substandard housing? To my Swiss perception influenced by over-engineered dwellings every other place looks sub-standard if it has not passed the test of centuries. But on a local level the standard is as it is and here in Tanzania a house built from bricks and covered with corrugated iron does not look substandard. It looks suitable for the climate and protects from rain.

The UN has some bullet points on slums

  1. Inadequate access to safe water
  2. Inadequate access to sanitation and infrastructure
  3. Poor structural quality of housing
  4. Overcrowding
  5. Insecure residential status

The new thing sticking out is the inadequate sanitation. I have no idea about where the toilets are – if there are any or not.

So I am left to ponder the questions: Is it slums I’m seeing every day?

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3 thoughts on “What is a Slum in Tanzania?”

  1. “People just don’t seem to care about dust- and rubbish-free surroundings unless it is their cars or inside their homes which are cleaned frequently”- Great article, and I agree with you for the most part- but- I would say the government doesn’t seem to care about placing/providing for dust free/rubbish free surroundings, there is only so much people as a whole to ensure the cleanliness of their surroundings- its not just a simple clean up method- the infrastructure simply isn’t there

    Liked by 1 person

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