By Samantha van den Bos
On-demand apps around the world: Uber just launched one month before my workholiday in Dar es Salaam. It's 475th city who offers the service to its citizens, and of course travelers and the expat community. I saw a promotion code at one of my favorite restaurants which ironically is Ethiopian, called Addis in Dar. With the promocode for a free ride, displayed on a flyer in the 'washrooms', I had to try it! Being a sharing economy (-and on-demand) experience expert this is thrilling news: a Silicon Valley on-demand service here in Dar Es Salaam, where informal and unregulated business practices are still the local standard. Especially looking at the taxi business, where it's not uncommon that drivers quadruple the price for wazungus (foreigners), unless you have some great negotiation skills or you know some Swahili to impress them. On the other hand, ride-hailing and carsharing is much more part of the system in place, so it's actually pretty much tapping into something existing, which could make it easier. I say could because I do think there are still some hickups to conquer. Interesting was that the week before I was in New York and Boston driving around with Uber; quite opposite local contexts...
My findings are as follows:
1. It didn't take the driver 5 minutes as the app indicated, but 15 or more, since there are no street signs and most taxi drivers don't read maps. So it took him a long time to find the actual pick-up location: 'Wonderworkshop'. It's a social project started by a British social entrepreneur many years ago, and a well-known location among expats, tourists and even celebrities (as I noticed the pictures on display with Bush and prince Charles). However the locals weren't as familiar with this location. If I would have been able to communicate with the driver and tell him the name of the local diner on the corner, maybe he would have known? I wonder..
2. As we drove off we entered one of the two busy main roads that lead into the city centre. Both are always heavily congested. While driving bumper to bumper, the driver decided to stop in the middle of the road, to grab the attention of a passing street vendor selling electronics, weaving his way through the flow of traffic in between the cars. Our driver apparently was in dire need of a USB cable. While negotiating the price with the vendor, a nearby police officer impeccably dressed in a white uniform, walked up to our car and pulled us over to the side of the road. He pulled out a pen and booklet, getting ready to give our driver a ticket. Since Tanzanians love their share of storytelling, this took us quite some time and a lot of hand gestures of both the driver and the police officer. In the end he didn't pay anything, but just talked his way out of it.
3. The police officer had noticed us wazungus in the car. So the officer urged the driver to ask us for money. The driver did so, referring to the ticket he didn't have to pay. He asked for 5000Tsh which is about 2,2 euro. Admittedly not a lot, just a small tip. I refused, the driver told the officer the wazungu didn't want to pay anything, and he reluctantly permitted us to continue our ride. No harm done, just an interesting experience.
4. At the end of the ride when he dropped us off at the National Museum in the city centre, the driver asked me to pay him cash. I explained him how the payment is conducted digitally through the Uber app. He asked me again. I told him again. And he left it at that and drove off slightly annoyed.
The local context is so different from the one in the US - and Europe too for that matter - that I think there is still a lot to overcome. Trust issues, corruption, digital know-how, safety.. But a lot is changing and happening and a lot of initiatives are focussing on spreading the knowledge about digital innovation and how to use the internet, which is necessary 'cause there is a huge gap in a country such as Tanzania between the educational level and the tech savvyness of the people with a lower income and those with a high income. This gap is so much bigger than what we know here.
The future really lies with the youth, 'cause they are a lot more tech savvy. They will make a big leap and will have to bridge that gap in the coming years. It could lead to a true social digital crisis: the gap for example between farmers, who represent a large part of the population, and the urban educated person; while at the same time the whole country depends on agriculture for food supply and export products. The farmers sometimes even don't understand text messaging, let alone using apps and so on. They are losing so many opportunities and they lose so much of their harvest due to bad practices and habits. They're not able to plan accordingly to the changing weather conditions. They still rely on old weather patterns, and the right information could help them to be more resilient, yet they don't seem to get access to the right information, or know how to interpret the info they do receive into actions. Except for a loss in economical opportunities with the export of their local products, a lot of farmers can't provide their families with food anymore.
Bridging the gap in digital know-how is therefore a mayor issue to resolve! This means the youngsters in this country have a huge challenge to overcome and create a better future for themselves: which is also where a big opportunity lies for the collaborative economy.