Tanzania’s ‘Garbage Day…’

… Scratching Surface of a Serious Problem.

President John Pombe Magufuli participates in the clean-up campaign December 9, 2015

President John Pombe Magufuli participates in the clean-up campaign December 9, 2015

By TZ Business News Staff.


Memories from  December 9, 2015 must still linger among Tanzanians because it was the first day in the country’s history a President collected garbage in the streets.

It [was] also a significant day to people on mainland Tanzania because  this is the day Tanganyika (present day mainland Tanzania) got independence from Britain.  To everyone’s surprise however,  in 2015,  the newly elected Tanzania President John Pombe Magufuli ordered the  day be marked by a nation-wide clean-up campaign—an order he personally joined to collect garbage from the streets near State House. Social media  called it ‘Magufuli Day’.

But December 9, 2015 was Tanganyika independence day.  President John Pombe Magufuli  was  born October 29, 1959, the same day he was declared winner in the closely contested  2015 battle for the Presidency.  He thus celebrated his  56th birthday the day of his victory against his closest contestant for  the presidency from the opposition Chama Cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (CHADEMA) party, Edward Ngoyai Lowasa.

One would think December 9 should have been given a different nickname—say  something like Tanzania garbage day.  But, admittedly, there was  a good reason for  all the excitement  and confusion between  Independence day  and the President’s name.

The newly elected Tanzania President changed the form of  Tanganyika independence day celebrations  in November, hardly three weeks after he was sworn in as president November 5.  He scrapped independence day celebrations traditionally marked by military parades,  air force bravado, land forces combat bravado  and the  monotonous show of military hardware everything from Chinese rocket launchers to amphibious tanks.  It is true a lot of money is wasted on those celebrations.

President Magufuli  ordered that the money set aside for the celebrations be  spent on a road construction in Dar es Salaam, and that the celebrations be turned into a nation-wide clean-up campaign;  Tanzanians got  ‘a kick’ out of this. So the excitement is understandable, although there were also some who were questioning  whether this was not linked to mechanics of political popularity  lacking sustainability.

“It is very shameful that we are spending huge amounts of money to celebrate 54 years of independence when our people are dying of cholera and other treatable diseases,” Magufuli said in a statement read on state television.

Apparently,  around  Tsh. 4.0 billion had been set aside for the celebrations in 2015.  So the nation was about to burn all that money to watch soldiers break bricks with bare fists as others dropped with parachutes from 500 miles above the sky? Soldiers have been dropped from that distance in the void of space in the past–maybe it was from 50 miles above, but we’ve seen it all before….

Or maybe they were dropped from  just  5 miles above the earth to avoid zero-gravity in the void of space;  but we’ve seen it all before.  So why burn  Tsh. 4 billion to see acrobatics when roads need the same money. Now you can see why Tanzanians got a kick out of it.

Magufuli was not  thinking about saving soldiers from breaking  bricks with bare fists  or accidents on zero-gravity.  To the delight of every Tanzanian, the President was thinking about saving money.  It turned out in just the first month of his time in State House, the new President saved enough money to build a road which was waiting for donor funds, he furnished a hospital with new beds and sheets, he  introduced a wave of austerity cuts and crackdowns on public corruption, the world was appalled.

He suspended unnecessary foreign travel for government officials,  he ordered allowances for seminars and meetings as well as lavish cocktails and dinners by public institutions scrapped.  “The money should instead go to delivery of social services,” Magufuli  said.  Change  of  form  to celebrate  Tanganyika independence was therefore part of these  austerity measures.  It was all well received. But the big question has  still remained is all this sustainable?

He announced   reduction of  government ministries by nearly  half  of the number of ministries available during the  Jakaya Kikwete Administration.  The Tanzania Government will now be run through 18 Ministries containing 34 Ministers.

Tanzanians are ecstatic about all this as you might see!  The saved money will be spent to  widen the road stretching from Morocco to Mwenge area in Dar Dar es Salaam, an areas prone to traffic jams virtually every morning and afternoon.  Construction of this 4.3 km  road section  was supposed to have been implemented during the  2014/2015 financial year using donor funds from Japan. This didn’t happen because donors freeze funding  to punish the Government for reported corruption.

The shift of independence  day  celebrations funds into  this road construction apparently marked the beginning of  Tanzania’s  true self-reliance. The country may not need donor funds for much of what it wants to do in the near future, whispers say.

Was December 9, 2015 Tanzania’s independence day?  Yes and no!  Was it Magufuli day? Definitely not! But it was certainly clean-up day. Tanzanians turned out in  droves  to clean up cities and villages all over the country. It looked like their unique way to tell the President, ‘we love you!’

The president himself  walked out of Statehouse to clean his neighborhood–the often stinky fish market hardly a mile away.   The Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa Kassim was accompanied by the Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner, Meck Sadiki  to  spend time cleaning-up  parts of  Kariakoo market in the city.


The renowned Tanzanian photo journalist Mwanzo Milinga  gave  his camera to somebody else  to take his picture participating in the clean-up campaign. He then  posted  his picture on his Facebook page with weeds in his hands;  weeds  in the middle of the city?  Yes indeed—weeds were discovered in the middle of city?   So what were these weeds doing  in the middle of the city before December 9?.  Questions begin to  surface concerning the country’s culture of cleanliness.

‘Magufuli  day’ caused lots of discoveries in the city looks like,  with the worst discovery probably being  that of urine and faeces  in plastic bottles and bags posted on social media after being discovered  hidden in corners of the city during the clean-up.  Apparently there are people who sleep in  shops which have no  toilets.  When the need to relieve themselves at night arises, these people use  plastic bottles and plastic bags because they can’t go out  at night,  and then  they hide  the packages where nobody may see until Magufuli  orders a clean-up.  There might be a cultural problem here, too.

Did the Prime Minister actually clean-up Kariakoo? Social media displayed masses taking selfies with him instead of all that valuable time being used to shovel rubbish into garbage trucks.  Well…that should be understandable, though. Those tomato vendors  and red pepper retailers may never get another chance to meet the Prime Minister. The Deputy  President Samia Suluh Hassan was in Oysterbay, Dar es Salaam,  sweeping  Karume Raod.  An interesting day indeed!

Zanzibar  was not left behind.  Zanzibar President Dr. Ali Mohamed Shein participated in the clean-up campaign at Malindi area in Zanzibar. Pictures  from the Zanzibar State House show him wearing clean brown shoes as he shovels  garbage  onto a wheelbarrow. And what does the caption say? “The Zanzibar President has participated in the clean-up campaign to mark the Zanzibar-Tanganyika Union!”

This  was not Magufuli Day apparently, but  a clean-up day to celebrate Union Day?  Whatever it was misunderstood or confused to be, December 9, 2015 was definitely clean-up  day in Tanzania, and,  arguably  a significant  gesture to scratch  surface of a serious problem.  Tanzania has begun, under a new leadership, to clean-up both the country’s moral fabric in government, but also an effort to clean up the streets.

Will this clean-up  result in anything substantial?  Maybe!   Dar es Salaam is estimated to generate 3,100 Tonnes of garbage per day while the amount being properly collected and disposed off is 1,200 Tonnes per day (39%).  Dar es Salaam has close to 5 million inhabitants. Experts say in the meantime that  the Tanzania rural –urban migration is on the rise in both Dar es Salaam and other cities,  and the garbage generation capacity  increases as the populations increases.

Calgary, Canada is the world’s cleanest city. It has only  2.3 million people and the local  government there  is reported  keen to clean the environment by restricting residents from such activities which may harm or pollute the region in any manner.  The people in this city are born and raised to value cleanliness as a cultural heritage.

Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, is considered “Africa’s cleanest city”. The country’s ban on non-biodegradable plastic is often mentioned as a reason for this cleanliness,  with other reasons being  that on the last Saturday of every month, people across the country commit time to projects aimed at improving the country’s public spaces, in a mandatory clean-up  practice called Umuganda.

Facts available indicate Tanzania’s 2015 clean-up day may in fact just be political fanfare, the mechanics of political popularity, which should need follow up to create meaning.