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Why Dar es Salaam Policymakers Get the Machinga Problem Wrong

Written by Shukuru Amos

Tanzania's most followed marketer on LinkedIn. Content Alchemist; building and executing content strategies for B2B brands, Founders and Solopreneurs.

If the policy you make for others isn’t going to imminently impact you as well, you shouldn’t be making policies. Take the machinga problem in Dar es Salaam for example; the machinga understands something about people that policymakers either overlook or don’t understand.

They (machinga) understand that humans are irrational and you can predict their irrationality. Most people end up buying something they didn’t plan to buy. 

What a machinga does is interfere with people on their way to or from their daily routines. They position their products where there’s high foot traffic and with some persuasion, you will find yourself buying something you didn’t plan to. 

Machinga are the equivalent of those annoying digital ads you come across while browsing the internet; from YouTube ads, to website display ads — they are all machinga interfering with your online experience. 

So when policymakers or city planners who are not machinga come up with a Machinga Complex project, a facility where all machinga should be allocated, they miss a big point. They assume that humans are rational creatures who will make a conscious decision to go and buy a collection of random nonessential things.

Organizing machinga that way so you can easily tax them sounds good. But doing so means killing their business. They will go to that place, which has no foot traffic, and spend the whole day without making a single sale. They will eventually abandon the building and you will find yourself with the same machinga problem and wasted money on a useless project. 

So what’s the solution 

City planners and policymakers have been thinking small about this. They usually have the wrong question when they ask “How do we solve the machinga  problem in Dar es Salaam?” 

They have been trying to solve a wrong problem, which is why all solutions never work and they resort to using police force to chase the machinga away. 

We never had a machinga problem in Dar es Salaam. We have a poverty problem. One sure sign of whether a country is poor is when throngs of petty traders suffocate its cities. This is a grim reality we have to grapple with. 

The right question for the authorities would be “How do we increase economic opportunities in rural areas so that young people won’t swarm the city in search of better economic options?”

You create the machinga problem in Dar es Salaam when you fail to subsidize smallholder farmers in rural areas. Or when you provide rural dwellers with mediocre infrastructure. Mind you, umeme “umepita” vijijini, wengi wanaona nguzo tu.

The reason I’m here in Dar is that, like thousands of other young people, I looked around my village and saw dark days ahead. It is not fun staring into the unknown next week not knowing how you will make aftatu. You will eventually conclude “Cha kufia nini, bora niende mjini”.

At least in the city, you can make a dollar per day engaging in petty trading. 

Dar es Salaam is projected to reach 10 million people by 2030. It will be a stampede trying to solve the machinga problem by then.

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