Daladalas go on strike – Jamie takes pikipiki

8 July 2012

When I first got here, I thought that daladalas, the private minibuses used for public transport, were governed by some mysterious informal network of drivers, conductors, and cranky-looking guys with clipboards. How wrong I was! Due to the current daladala strike, I now know better.

On Friday, I needed to go to town for a meeting and for groceries, preceded by lunch with a friend. I went to the road and waited. And waited.  I knew the daladalas were striking because the previous day there was chaos at the central bus station in town – it appeared that no one was leaving, and the buses were all just stuck inside the station – and when I finally was able to get home and ask Mama Dora (whose husband is a driver) about it, she explained that the price of oil, insurance and registration have gone up, but because the government won’t let the drivers raise fares, their profits are falling. In this article, it describes the problem as being the parking fees buses pay, which would explain the issue at the station two days ago.

But on Friday, I thought maybe someone would give me a lift to town; this is a normal thing here. Now, I know my mom reads this, and I seriously debated providing the following information, but in the interest of painting the full picture of the transportation situation I will divulge. Mom, please stay calm. After waiting for an hour (yay, my patience is becoming more Tanzanian!), I finally gave in and took a motorcycle, called a pikipiki here. One of the drivers approached me and gave me a price that was so surprisingly reasonable that I said, ok. I asked him if he had a helmet; he said yes. And I told him to be safe and go slowly, not fast. We crossed the street to his bike, where he put on the aforementioned helmet (yeah – bit of a misunderstanding there…). And we proceeded to town.

The main bus station in town was completely empty aside from, ominously, two large police vehicles. The stall where drivers pay their parking fee was on its side. Unused daladalas lines the streets. Crowds of people waited at all the bus stops, and many more people than usual were just walking.

As I sat down with my friend, cold and wild-haired but alive, the owner of the coffee shop came over to greet us. My friend mentioned the daladala strike, and told the owner that I had come into town on a pikipiki. And the owner gave me a free coffee for putting all that effort and risk into coming to his restaurant!

Daladalas seem to us Westerners to be very informal, what with the fact that most of them are barely running and that the conductors regularly fit up to twenty-six passengers into a minibus with seventeen seats. But I’ve slowly gotten the picture that they are much more organized than you would think. They all have set routes; deviation from the route requires special permission (from whom? I have no idea). Down the road from my village is a guy who sits there all day with a list and a clipboard looking cranky, and sometimes the daladala stops to give him a few thousand shillings. And now, it turns out that the government has the power to prevent them from raising fares! Who knew?

Apparently they’re back up and running today. And so ends the great daladala strike of July 2012. I hope…

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