Funeral of an Employee in Tanzania

There has been a recent accumulation of obituaries in FINCAs email flow. Apparently every death of someone who is an employee or direct relative is acknowledged so co-workers can offer their condolences.

It appears that there is a specific way of dealing with death in Tanzania. There is substantial risk of losing face for the representatives of the company, especially if it is a foreign company. Let me tell you a little story.

In a company a long-term employee died all of a sudden. Not only came the event totally unexpected but also was this man a key resource for the company.

In a European company HR would have ordered a wreath with some nice words from the company and close colleagues would have attended the funeral to show support to the widow and the family. Thereafter a widow rent would have kicked in and people would have resumed their daily routines.

Muslim graveyard near Msasani Beach in Dar es Salaam

In Tanzania much more financial burden is put on the company. The General Manager (who told me this story) paid TZS 100,000 (USD 50) to the family for immediate needs and a further TZS 700,000 (USD 350) were collected by all employees as a sign of support.

The widow claimed TZS 4m (USD 1850) from her husband’s employer to cover the funeral costs. She also wished that five company representatives attend the funeral of her late husband. Although the General Manager is fluent in Swaheli, she is white (Mzungu) and asked her Tanzanian assistant B. to deal with the situation. B. went to talk to the family, which took a whole day. She understood the family was raising TZS 2m. She learned that the funeral was going to have a master of ceremony (400k), flower arrangements (700k), buses from various places of Tanzania to Kilimanjaro (2m), food and lodging cost. Although she did not agree with some seemingly lavish details, the negotiations revealed a funding gap of TZS 1.2m (USD 600) which the expat owner of the company (a British Indian) eventually paid.

In the end the funeral was attended by a man and a woman from the company for just one day with orders from General Manager to return to Dar es Salaam the same day.

Recent Muslim grave. Notice how both the death and burial date are mentioned on the stone.

Doing all of this helped her keep the face of the company. What’s more: she paid the sum in two installments, one to be an official contribution of the company to the funeral and one to be paid to the widow privately to help her get by until the widow pension kicks in.

So far so good. Now let’s give this topic another twist. A newly-wed wife died before the man had paid the dowry to her family.  A very tense moment when the widower met the brothers of the deceased, who menacingly stood in front of the funeral bus. He hid inside, very afraid for his life. He had just lost the love of his life, was incurring huge funeral costs and was now faced with paying another huge sum, as the dowry was substantial. It took more than one tense moment until the head of the family, an old woman, raised her voice and decreed that the husband did not have any benefit from his wife as she died too soon. Hence he should not pay any dowry. The difficult situation was thus resolved and the dead body could be laid to rest along with any animosities.

How does all this relate to Microfinance? FINCA customers are insured against death by default. This insurance is free and comes automatically with every loan. In case of death of a borrower the insurance pays back the loan to FINCA and a funeral benefit of TZS 1 mio is paid to the family of the deceased borrower. Wife and children are also covered, so if they die the insurance pays some funeral benefits.

(photo by Ashley Van Haeften on flickr)


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