Jul 26, 2021

Mawazo Writing Africa

Writing about the main

Not even a fire can erase history of the iconic Kariakoo hub

In June, I spent half a day at the iconic Kariakoo market in Dar es Salaam chatting with traders, food vendors, and visitors, feeling like a tourist in my own home city.

It is a must-visit for those who want a real feel of the city’s downtown commercial district. I was there just days after President Samia Hassan made a surprise tour, and admonished the market’s top management and sacked them.

Little did I know that the famous commercial centre would go up in flames just a few weeks later on July 10, costing traders billions of shillings worth of goods in a six-hour blaze.

Kariakoo is the nerve centre of all manner of commerce in Dar es Salaam. Under the concrete roof of the edifice are sellers of farming equipment and seeds; fresh meat and fish; home appliances; cereals and fresh farm produce from all corners of Tanzania.

It was therefore depressing when it went up in flames on the night of July 10, According to Dar es Salaam’s regional commissioner Amos Makalla, 224 of the 397 registered traders have been affected by the blaze. Worst hit, according to an official of the Vendors Association of Tanzania Stephen Lusinde, are 1,662 vendors who lost everything.

The chairman of Kariakoo Main Market Traders John Shao, said the losses incurred run into billions of Tanzanian shillings. Most established traders he said, have been operating at the market for decades, buying and selling from across East, Central, and southern Africa.

The market serves more than 200,000 people daily, going by Kariakoo Market Corporation (KMC) data.

The biggest attraction of the market and general shopping area is the affordability of products here ranging from clothes to foodstuff.

Kariakoo is a magnet for both shoppers and browsers, and a melting pot of travellers, suppliers, tourists looking for mementos, local shoppers buying groceries. It’s a hustle and bustle of commerce all year round.

The market is on the city’s guided tour list, and tourists can shop for souvenirs, fresh fruit and practice their Kiswahili.

The Carrier Corps

The market derived its name from the African porters and casual labourers, the Carrier Corps, of the First World War when the British Army chose the area as their camping site.

They had two other such sites in Kenya, in Nairobi and in Voi, that are also today called Kariakor, a bastardised version of the English name.

In Nairobi, the Kariakor market is known for its fresh meat and fish. In Voi, the Kariakoo market was moved and today the sub-County offices stand in its place but the area still proudly bears the ages-old name.

Constructed in 1974, the Kariakoo market in Dar es Salaam was officially opened in December 1975 by Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s founding father.

Around the market, the shops offer latest fashion in clothes, jewellery, perfumes and cosmetics, attracting crowds of female shoppers.

The market’s basement floor is where all produce is first delivered in cargo lorries from all regions of Tanzania. The ground floor has sellers of agricultural inputs. Artefacts and curios can be found on the market’s upper walls. The floor has murals showing the city’s early life then heavily populated by Indians and Europeans.

My guide tells me that the murals were done by the late Prof Sam Ntiro of the University of Dar es Salaam in 1974.

Africans, too, are shown in the Kariakoo area where the market stands today, although their access to other parts of Dar es Salaam was restricted then.