Dalanomics : The adventure of boarding a dala dala in Daressalaam

Gari bado nyeupe…’the car is still white’!

Dear Reader,

Before you get started please familiarise yourself with the following terms:

Dala Dala – Swahili slang for mini buses used as a form of public transport.

Dalanomics – a word I invented to mean the economics of the dala dala business

‘Gari bado nyeupe’ –  a Swahili word that you shouldn’t attempt to google translate because it doesn’t really mean ‘the car is still white’ (LOL). There is no direct translation but it is a language used by daladala conductors to indicate that there are still empty seats.

Going back home from work I observe two adults over the age of forty wrestling to board the dala-dala.  The first man grabs hold of the open dala-dala window closest to the door. He puts one foot on the dala-dala’s step while the other is being dragged along the road  as he escorts it to the bus stop. Mean while the second man is closely behind him trying to overtake him by grabbing onto the dala-dala’s door while sustaining punches from the conductor. As the mini bus gets closer to a halt a strong energetic crowd fuming with hunter like spirit begins to form at its side. When the daladala finally brakes, the first man tries to lift his foot from the road hoisting himself into the dala-dala, blocking the entrance while wrestling anyone who tries to overtake him. The first man on the door some how makes it into the bus and the baton is passed to the next in line.

Inside the daladala a different struggle is taking place as the passengers getting off try to squeeze out through any available opening between the door and the human barricade being careful not to sustain any bodily or property damage. When they are finally out and free they breath-out in relief. That is your ideal situation. A different scenario would see others blocking the door while the younger crowd entered the bus through the windows. The fight is so severe that no one cares who they are up against; pregnant, child, elderly it’s got a kill or be killed kind of attitude to it.

I travel in a dala dala everyday. It’s not the most sophisticated means of transportation but by jives it’s a beautiful method for a bit of character building. ‘Then I better organize a daladala tour for you’ i reply enthusiastically whenever my friends say that they will be coming to visit me here from Europe. Having a business academic background I always have that nagging urge to analyse everything in a business context. For the past few weeks I have been looking at how the Dalanomics work.  Here is one lesson I have learnt:

Daladalas operate a monopoly type of business in the transportation industry not in the sense that there is just one company but considering all daladalas as one huge organization. Okay I know that there  are some very technical economists out there that would argue that it really is not a monopoly because there is competition from other transportations the bajaji (motor rickshaw), bodaboda (motorbike) etc. I am not interested about the kind of person who can actually afford an alternative.

Looking at the low-end consumer, for this citizen on a low-income the luxury of choice is never there. Customers are not given first priority when it comes to daladalas. A good example is the queuing systems where the bus at the top of the queue is the only one allowed to load passengers until there is no leg room left i.e. people are hanging outside the door before the next in queue can have a turn. They keep throwing in phrases like ‘Gari bado nyeupe (the car is still empty)’ ‘ya kukaa (there are seats)’ ‘ingia ukaae (get in and sit)’ when there’s clearly nowhere to sit. Now whether you like it or not they don’t give, you’ll have to wait, if you are in a hurry then that’s your problem.

If you hop in a daladala I can not promise you a fun ride, far from it! You’ll be stepped on, hear swear words you’ve never known, probably lose a few favourite items, get a few body sores and if you are very pessimistic it will be the ride to hell. One thing I can promise for the optimist is that you’ll have an extraordinary experience.

Did you know?

‘Dala dala are minibus share taxis in Tanzania. Before minibuses became widely used, the typical dala dala was a pick-up-truck with benches placed in the truck bed.

These often-crowded minibuses are usually operated by both a driver and a conductor Called a mpigadebe, the name for dala dala conductors literally means “a person who hits a debe” (a 4 gallon tin container used for transporting gasoline or water) in reference to the fact that conductors are often hitting the roof and side of the van to attract customers and notify the driver when to leave the station.

While dala dala may run fixed routes picking up passengers at central locations , they will also stop anywhere along their route to drop someone off or allow a prospective passenger to board.

In contrast to most of these minibuses, in Dar some dala dala are publicly operated as of 2008′ Wikipedia

Question Time

How can we solve the daladala troubles?

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