[March 21, 2020] Sabbatical update: For obvious reasons, I am home, and not in Africa. Thanks to my wife who booked my return journey from Windhoek to Boston. Stay tuned for a return to normalcy. Meanwhile, #QuarantineLife.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Poor development choices may bolster quality-of-life disparity on Tanzania's Msasani Peninsula

 Coco Beach, Msasani Peninsula, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. All photos RJ Peltz-Steele CC BY-SA 4.0.


The short length of Coco Beach is the touristic gem of Tanzania's largest city, Dar es Salaam, which, for all its rugged charms, is not rich with touristic gems. Coco Beach sits on the eastern, Indian Ocean, coast of the ritzy Msasani Peninsula, just a few kilometers northwest of the CBD.

Msasani says a lot about wealth stratification in Africa. The worsening wealth gap is an issue that vexes me in the United States. But we've got nothing on many an African country. Where subsistence living is the norm, and social safety nets are nearly non-existent, the disparity between haves and have-nots gets closer at each end to all and nothing. And as on Msasani, the extremes are often abruptly juxtaposed. The peninsula is home to subsistence fishermen, and the polluted beaches of the slipway, in the west, and the luxury condominiums of posh Oyster Bay, in the east.

Luxury condo building on the road from Oyster Bay to Sea Cliff Village
I walked the peninsula from west to east and saw, in the span of just a few kilometers, ramshackle wood dwellings on potholed dirt trails without plumbing, in the west and center, and gated condo complexes with marble-esque, statued facades, in the east. While the former teemed with human life, the latter were eerily vacant, deserted of all but the occasional maintenance worker. I assume the condos are mostly second-home getaways and vacation rentals for the well-to-do in high season and on weekends. (I was reminded of the dark-windowed high rises that loom over Central Park West, New York.)

Qatar's is the most modest of the beachfront embassies.
At that, the most striking residences of the eastern Msasani are not luxury homes, but foreign embassies, including those of Qatar, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia. (The U.S. embassy and others are in Oyster Bay, but in the interior.) They line the main coastal road that runs between Oyster Bay and Coco Beach, which runs on northward to swank Sea Cliff Village and the Yacht Club.

Present service structures on Coco Beach, astride road construction.
At present, it isn't easy to cross this road, because a massive construction project runs all along the length of Coco Beach. I had hoped that this construction would improve the beach for touristic use that might fuel economic development to benefit the peninsula's have-nots. What passes for services on the beachfront now are wood shacks of dubious hygiene, selling drinks and snacks that might prove hazardous to foreign GI tracts. One municipal toilet building has seen better days and is now inaccessible anyway because of the construction. Alas, no, a local on the beach informed me: The purpose of the construction is to convert the shoulderless, two-lane, asphalt coast road into a four-lane highway, because, he said, the embassies want better and more secure access.

Nearly completed end of beachfront highway entering the CBD.
Many an American city can today tell tales of costly woe for having built transportation and utility infrastructure along prime waterfront property. It's bad enough that embassies, with their high, secure walls, occupy this land on the peninsula to begin with. Their inefficient use of prime real estate, distant from the administrative offices of the CBD, and in the company of Tanzania's "one percent" and cloistered ex-pats, sounds an awakward echo of colonial elitism.  To boot, now, the embassies and luxury homes will soon be served by a four-lane road that will further limit public access from the peninsula to the already underdeveloped beachfront.

Tanzania in 1974 moved its capital de jure to central Dodoma, in an effort to broaden economic opportunity in the country beyond Dar es Salaam. Nevertheless, concentration of development in Dar is still a problem that plagues the country. A businessman in the northeastern town of Arusha told me there's mounting resentment there about rural taxes paying for big-city infrastructure. (Boston says hello, western Massachusetts.) Maybe foreign nations can help Tanzania take a step forward by transferring their embassies from walled beachfront luxury to central locations with better access to government, whether Dar or Dodoma, on condition that appropriate public development of the Msasani Peninsula be left in their wake.  After all, foreign diplomatic posting is supposed to be a hardship, and it's compensated accordingly.

The new highway runs in front of the historic Ocean Road Hospital, where a street sign bears a familiar name.

No comments:

Post a Comment