Tracing Occupational Mobility/Immobility among Informal Transport Workers
Tracing Occupational Mobility/Immobility among Informal Transport Workers
Abstract and Keywords
Chapter 6 unpicks the long-term dynamics of occupational mobility or immobility of daladala workers. By drawing on the list of the 121 transport workers who were members of the association in 2002, and by tracking their occupational whereabouts in 2009 and again in 2014, the chapter asks to what extent work as a daladalaman, notwithstanding its hardship and insecurity, fuelled dynamics of micro-accumulation and upward mobility. Semi-structured interviews with twenty-five of these workers aim to elicit workers’ own views on their own occupational trajectory and on the strategies they have used and the constraints they have encountered when navigating the labour market. Such interviews inform the potted occupational histories of a dozen of workers presented in the chapter.
6.1 Hitting a Moving Target: Methodological Issues
What is the long-term impact of employment on daladala? What trajectories can one discern about the occupational mobility of its workforce over time? What lessons are there to be learned about upward mobility or immobility in the informal economy? Answering these questions is another important dimension in the search for human agency, often lacking attention in apocalyptic narratives on the African city. This chapter will set such agency against the backdrop of structural constraints with which it interacts and which are themselves seldom referred to in much of the ‘rosy’ writing on urban Africa.
Daladala workers engage with such questions through their own writing on buses, and these missives are therefore a useful starting point from which to begin thinking about the issues. For example, through the statements ‘Life is round’ and ‘Money is round’, two workers emphasize the unpredictability of life and of earnings. The possibility of making money is proudly boasted about by workers who write Onja mafanyikio (‘Taste achievement’) and ‘Hard work pays’. In a similar vein, workers who write Pesa Mbongo (‘Money if you are smart’) and Kuti Kavu kuanguka sio ajabu Trans1 (‘It is no surprise when the empty coconut falls down the tree, i.e. it is no surprise that the empty-headed person does not make it’) add to this a self-congratulatory ring, as they emphasize that cleverness or stupidity is what drives success or failure. A much gloomier message is put forward through statements such as ‘So many tears’, ‘So many rivers to cross’, ‘The hard time’, and ‘Tough life’. They emphasize instead the difficulty of work. Other workers underline the centrality of this work to their livelihoods: ‘Daily bread’ and Kitunze kidumu (‘Preserve (p.123) it so that it lasts’). The meagre nature of earnings from work and the mismatch between effort and rewards is another trope, evident in writings such as ‘Money torture’, Kiasi cha mboga (‘Enough to buy greens’, i.e. but not enough to buy protein), Posho nauli, kesho wahi (‘Your daily return today is worth a bus fare, tomorrow come earlier’), and Posho musiki, kesho wahi (‘Your daily return today is the music [that you listened to in the bus], tomorrow come earlier’). One worker is more cynical still about the prospect of making money honestly, writing Penye pesa hapakosi majungu (‘Where there is money there is no lack of dodgy deals’). Some workers seem to take the high ground, stating ‘Whatever the case’ and Yote maisha tu (‘It is life anyway’). What most workers agree upon, however, is the need for a daladala worker to be tough, for a number of writings on buses are about machismo and power, in different forms. One sees ‘Tuff boy’ (sic), ‘Bull Fighter’, ‘Fighter’, ‘Iron Man’, ‘Original gangsters’, ‘Power Viagra’, and a parade of world leaders who are considered symbols of power, such as ‘Polpoti’ (Pol Pot), ‘Arafati’ (Arafat), ‘Netanyahu’, ‘Osama wanted’, the Nigerians ‘Sani Abacha’ and ‘Mashood Abiola’. Notoriously tough areas, wars, and military weapons are another popular choice, seen on buses labelled ‘Soweto’, ‘Baghdad’, ‘Gulf War’, ‘Desert Storm’, ‘Scud’, ‘Patriot’. Confronting such machismo, one worker comments Nguvu ya mamba, nje ya maji (‘The strength of a crocodile, out of water’).2 Finally, illustrating the existence of different opinions on the issue among workers, while one suggests that there are rewards to be earned through the hardships, by saying Chungu lakini dawa (‘Bitter but at least medicine’), another worker cautiously warns Maomivu yakizidi mwone daktari (‘If the pain increases, see a doctor’).
These are insightful comments, and attempting to achieve some quantitative understanding of the prevalence of the different scenarios at which they hint, and some sense of the way in which employment on daladala impacts on its workers over time, albeit in different ways for different groups of workers, felt important. Such an analytical agenda, however, presents serious methodological challenges. The informal nature of employment in the sector implies that there is no existing list of workers from which to start to build a sample. Furthermore, the nature of employment causes a very rapid turnover of workers, as we have seen in Chapter 4. In light of these circumstances, the research on which this book is based drew on a sample which was built by using the roster of a daladala workers’ association as a starting point.3 This recorded the names of all members entitled to shifts to fill buses, and thus to earn money from them. The latter characteristic gives credibility to the list of (p.124) names that the roster contains, for no member of the association ever missed an income-generating shift. After all, Maji mengi, unga kidogo (‘Lots of water, little flour’), as one daladala driver reminds us, was their experience.
What was invaluable about this roster is that it allowed identification, out of the seemingly endless flux of workers that one could observe, of a number of people who worked on a particular daladala route in 2001. In a sense, it acted as a class photo. Drawing on the registers of shifts over four months, a list of 121 workers was generated.4 Against this list, I recorded their occupation twice, in 2009 and in 2014. In the first instance, this was done with the help of three workers—whose names also appeared on the list—who acted as informants.
Two of these informants provided information as a pair whilst one worked on his own. These particular workers were selected for two reasons: they were all ‘on the bench’ at the time, and they had all worked the route for over twenty years. As such, they had both time to go through the list and familiarity with the names of workers appearing on it. As anyone with experience of fieldwork can easily imagine, the exercise did not often proceed as schematically and tidily as suggested above. Other workers would help out, confirming and/or suggesting more up-to-date information on the whereabouts of individuals on the list. Also, this parallel process of tracking the occupation of workers did not always produce a consistent picture, as the two sets of informants suggested different occupational destinations for nine of the 121 workers. While the limited number of cases on which there was disagreement is reassuring, and revealing about the long-lasting nature of some degree of connection between these workers, choices had to be made on how to deal with these nine cases. In the first instance, I notified informants about the different occupations suggested by their colleagues. In five of these nine cases it appeared that one of the informants was more up to date with the destination of their colleague, who had recently moved to another job. In four cases, however, I was not able to reconcile the inconsistent suggestions. I therefore followed the information provided by the two sets of informants for two cases each. The low number of cases, four out of 121, does not affect the overall picture in a dramatic way. A further step in trimming the occupational list was that the occupational whereabouts of three of the 121 workers was unknown to my key informants, while two names from the roster did not resonate with them. The total number of traceable workers was therefore 116. Finally, eleven workers had died between 2001 and 2014, three of them before the 2009 (p.125) research spell. The total number of active workers for which information could be gathered therefore changed from 2009 to 2014. In 2009, the total was 113; in 2014, it fell to 105.
The aspirations of daladala workers for their own progression from employment on urban buses is best captured through the words of Dongo, a daladala veteran. As he explained, workers hope that employment on daladala is to act as a ‘passing-time job’. As Dongo further explained:
A big goal when you work on daladala is not to stick here, as if you made it. That is why you find that some people have moved on to other jobs. You work on daladala because you have no other job. To get enough to get by. If the opportunity to get a proper job comes up, with a wage at the end of the month [you would grasp at it]. (Interview with Dongo, 2014)
As his thoughts were shared by all workers with whom I discussed occupational mobility, this longitudinal tracking exercise aimed to track how many workers were able to fulfil this goal. This meant that there were four trajectories of employment mobility/immobility, corresponding to four groups of workers:
1. daladalamen ‘forever’ group, e.g. those who still worked on daladala in 2014;
2. daladalamen ‘no more’, e.g. those who by 2009 had changed occupation and who had not returned to work on daladala in 2014;
3. ‘out and back in’ daladalamen, e.g. those who by 2009 had changed occupation but had returned to work on daladala by 2014;
4. ‘slowly out’ daladalamen, e.g. those who were working on daladala in 2009 but were found to have changed occupation in 2014.
Following analysis of the list, I conducted semi-structured interviews with twenty-five of these workers. Their focus was on workers’ own individual occupational trajectories, on what workers achieved out of their work on daladala, but also on how their work on daladala compared to other occupations. Such discussions with individuals about their own individual trajectories often trespassed onto broader considerations about what the experience of being a daladala worker means in general. Interviewees often compared their own trajectory to that of former colleagues, in so doing putting forward their own understanding of agency, and of how individuals experienced and navigated in different ways the same structural pressures.
The selection of the twenty-five workers that I interviewed for the longitudinal component of this study was dictated by both analytical and logistical considerations. On the former, this component of the study did not take place in an analytical vacuum. Interviews with workers highlighted the importance of paying attention to the differences between workers if any understanding (p.126) of who daladala workers are was to be achieved. In the words of former daladalaman Tolu:
What type of driver? You must look at him from close and assess. Who do you live with? One lives at home with his parents. So he is only looking for money to eat. But the one who is looking for development, and has not started yet, and starts off as a conductor, he stands no chance. The man with a family has this pain: eh bwana, if I don’t make any money today at home what will they eat? A man with no family, what he is looking for is 2 or 3,000 shillings, he will eat chips in poor areas (uswahilini), and he will be on the road the day after. He is also not working in the same way. You wake up, maybe at 5 a.m., but you are not young, so at 8 p.m. you need to stop. The beauty of being young is that work never ends. If there are no more passengers in Mwenge, you go to Tegeta. From Tegeta, to another area. You have no family, nor a house. The girlfriend, you have sex with her the day in which the bus is serviced (sic). Those with children cannot work like this. (Interview with Tolu, 2010)
The choice of workers whom I aimed to interview thus reflected the variety of occupational trajectories and personal circumstances: workers of different ages, workers who had not moved on from daladala and workers who had, and workers with a variety of post-daladala occupations. Logistics also mattered, as the location of these workers (whether in Dar es Salaam or not, and where specifically in the city), their availability of time for an interview in their new job, and access to their mobile phone number to arrange an interview, were important factors in shaping up the final list of actual interviewees. Before presenting the substantive findings of this research effort, a note of caution is due on the limitations of these findings, which, it is important to recall, derive from simply tracking the occupational whereabouts of 113 workers out of an estimated total of 30,000, and from more in-depth interviewing of twenty-five from that list.
Back on the streets, then, what was the occupational mobility of these 113 workers, over a period of eight to thirteen years? In 2009, seventy-two workers, or 64 per cent of the sample, still worked on daladala. Forty-one workers, or 36 per cent of the sample, had moved on.5 In 2014, the number of workers still working on daladala had dropped to fifty out of 105, or 48 per cent of the sample. Such an aggregate figure conceals important nuances in the dynamism of the labour market, whereby the total of fifty workers is an amalgamation of the eight workers who rejoined work on daladala after 2009, in addition to the forty-two workers who never ceased to work on buses. In 2014, twenty-two workers of the seventy-two who were recorded to be (p.127) working on daladala in 2009 had switched to other types of employment. They followed the earlier move by thirty-three workers, who had switched to other jobs in 2009. Thus in 2014, thirteen years after the initial list was generated, fifty-five workers, or 52 per cent of the sample, had changed employment.
Analysis of these numbers immediately calls into question the mainstream narrative that sees work in the informal economy, notwithstanding its hardship, as leading to steady occupational mobility and career progression, so that informal employment acts like a training centre where entrepreneurs earn the skills on which to draw in later jobs. My research suggests that the opportunity to move on does not easily materialize, and that the occupational immobility of daladala workers is significant. In the period from 2001 to 2009, an average of only 5.1 people a year, out of 113, left such employment. For the period from 2001 to 2014, the average further declines to 4.2 people per year. If one were to metaphorically split these 113 workers into four classrooms of twenty-eight, only one classmate a year moves to another job. Nearly half of the workers (48 per cent) from the initial 2001 list were still working on daladala thirteen years on. To the extent that workers move out of employment on daladala, they do so at a very slow pace. This is in contrast to the aspirations of daladala workers for their own progression from employment on urban buses, which, as we have already seen in Dongo’s quote, is aligned to the mainstream fantasy of upward mobility.
For the majority of workers, the aspiration for better jobs remains a dream. In the current climate in the Tanzanian economy, the shortage of alternative employment turns work on daladala, a ‘job to pass the time’ by workers’ accounts, into a lifelong occupation, and one for which people need to face stiff competition from other job seekers. Once more, kazi mbaya, ukiwa nayo (‘Bad job, if you have one’). Tragically, then, while siku zinakwenda (‘Days go by’) and hela ya kula (‘Enough money to eat’) (interview with Rama, 2014; interview with Muhidini, 2014) are the two expressions that workers most often use to characterize returns from work on daladala and the standards of living they enable, for the majority of this sample thirteen years (in some cases even longer) have become the sum of the ‘days that go by’.
So why is work on daladala so bad? The reader will be aware by now that earnings for workers in the sector are low and erratic, as they are squeezed by bus owners. But there is more to it. As Dotto, a former worker, explains, the modalities of payment are also significant:
Money from daladala doesn’t come at the end of the month, so that you can say, with this wage, I will do this. With daladala you cannot set goals, today you get money, for three days you don’t. (Interview with Dotto, 2014)
…work on daladala, its money is like from hell, if you have 50,000 shillings, the day after it has disappeared.6 The work I do now [driver of a school bus], I get the money all together, differently from daladala. If you get money every day, it is not easy to put savings aside. Even if you save money, you might get stopped by traffic police, and you end up eating up your savings. It is a problem, you get money to eat only. The only exception is to get an employer who understands how hard it is, who expects a small sum of money each day [hesabu], and who would be prepared to pay for small problems himself. (Interview with Thomas, 2014)
As I have shown, however, such employers are not easily found. Instead, the vast majority of employers take advantage of the oversupply of labour by squeezing workers with, as we have seen, a resulting negative impact on working conditions and returns from work. Working conditions are unsustainable on two further counts. First, as Rajabu, now a taxi driver, put it, ‘there is no respect in daladala work. Everyone deprecates you, and everyone thinks of daladala as their field to go and harvest from’ (interview with Rajabu, 2014). As Rama, another former worker and now a lorry driver, expands: ‘That job is hard, here you can relax. In daladala […] the owner wants his money, traffic police want their money, the petrol station wants its money, the driver wants his money, and the conductor wants his money. Where is all this money going to come from? There is money but there are too many groups to share it amongst’ (interview with Rama, 2014).
In addition to the unsustainable stress levels, the health implications caused by working on buses are an important negative aspect of the job. In the words of Abasi, who became a private chauffeur in 2004 after eleven years of working on daladala: ‘My body today is very different from those days. You are exhausted on daladala. There are days you think, “Shall I get up or not? But there is no one else, so you need to go”’ (interview with Abasi, 2014). In sum, work on these buses is characterized by a low and unpredictable income and high stress levels, with negative effects on health.
So what kind of workers stay in this sector and why? What is there in it for them? The analysis now reviews the potted occupational histories of some men who have remained in the sector in search of clues to an answer. Before proceeding, a note is needed about the importance of handling with care the insights of workers reflecting upon different occupational trajectories, in a context of stiff competition for work and daily hardship. Most notably, the comments by those who moved on from daladala at times reproduced, with a self-flattering spin, the message underpinning writings such as ‘hard work (p.129) pays’ and there is ‘money if you are smart’. Thus, while all the information gathered was revealing, a large part of the task was to sift through interviews in order to ascertain when particular comments were more an expression of bitterness for not having been one of the lucky ones, or of disdain for those ‘stuck’ working with daladala.
6.2 Histories of Occupational Immobility
6.2.1 Juma Masuka
Juma Masuka is the first man whose career I briefly review.7 The first thing that his trajectory highlights is that the category ‘those who remained on daladala’ needs further unpacking. For while this is an accurate description of Juma’s employment history, it conceals his progression from conductor, a job which he started as a teenager in the late 1990s, to driver, not forgetting a considerable length of time spent ‘on the bench’. A failed street vendor, Juma came to work on daladala through a friend who was a conductor, and whom he worked with on a bus on another route. His connection to the route under analysis (route X hereafter) came from another friend, who was a daladala driver and who asked Juma to work as his conductor on a bus called ‘Masuka Trans’, from which he took his name. Having lost that job, Juma decided to stay at route X, and after some time on the bench, he became the conductor for another driver from route X, Mr Monde, whom he had got to know while at work and ‘on the bench’. Mr Monde was the one who taught him to drive. As Juma recalls, ‘he would tell me to start the bus, to wait for passengers, to drive up to point Y [a bus stop about 500 metres away from the end of the route], to then park again, until I learnt to drive’ (interview with Masuka, 2014). Work as a conductor, with all its hardship, still allowed him to save enough money to obtain his driving licence in 2003, and to support his parents a little, with whom he was still living. With his newly acquired licence, Juma began looking for day waka shifts as a driver. First, he worked for a driver of route X, known by the enlightening name of Zee la kuwawa (Mister Bankrupt). The relationship with this driver was helpful, on the one hand, but also highly exploitative on the other. ‘They were long shifts, from 10 a.m. until the end of work, and then I was being paid less than half of the income, and even being asked to come earlier the day after. He was squeezing me too much’, prompting Juma to look and find another driver that would give him day waka. After months of this life, relying on a few hours of work on an irregular basis, he obtained his first bus as a driver ‘with a livelihood’ (p.130) (maisha) in late 2003. This opportunity came through another driver, whom he had worked with as a conductor earlier on in his career. His colleague’s employer had bought an additional bus, and was looking for another driver. Juma worked on this bus for about a year until, on 14 October 2004, he was involved in a bad traffic accident. The bus overturned and Juma seriously injured his arm. As the vehicle was repaired before he had recovered, he lost his job.
Upon his return to his kijiwe (‘pavement’), Juma struggled for over a year to obtain sufficient day waka shifts, or to find another bus to work ‘with a livelihood’. As the situation was unsustainable, in 2006 he decided to change his ‘pavement’, which became a stop between Morogoro and Morocco Road. Juma was totally new to that spot, and had no contacts there. It was a stop that he chose for geographical convenience, as it was located at a walking distance from the place Juma rents. As people ‘became used to [him]’, Juma began to be offered some day waka shifts until a ‘proper job’ became available. A woman from that area, who had a daladala and was looking for a driver, gave him his first full-time job at his new stop. She had a contract with a school which hired her vehicle as a school bus, which Juma and his colleague operated for no remuneration. In the evening Juma and his conductor, at their own risk, would then use the vehicle as a pirate daladala to earn their daily income as well as the money for petrol. When the contract with the school ended, his employer switched to using the bus as a daladala. In 2010, having failed to make enough money to repay the loan with which she had bought the bus, she decided to sell the vehicle. From that day, until the time of fieldwork in 2014, Juma sat on the bench and relied on day waka shifts.
This is Juma’s trajectory over nearly twenty years of employment in daladala: first as a conductor and then as a driver, on and off, incorporating an accident with a major injury, several job losses, a change of ‘workplace’, and considerable time spent on the bench. It has allowed Juma to save enough money to get married, to rent a place where he now lives with his wife (who cooks and sells cassava, samosa, and doughnuts from home) and his son, who is currently at primary school. To get married and to father a son are important steps in his life, but Juma feels that between him and a better and more secure future stands the problem that ‘there is no other employment, more than this on daladala. If I can get something other this, I would do it, but as for now I have no job, I do two/three trips, I get some money, and days go by’.
Having similarly come to work on daladala from a failed attempt at small-scale newspaper selling, Uwazi was a conductor who spent his time as a (p.131) daladalaman on and off the bench.8 During long periods on the bench, he supplemented his income from day waka with other ways of making a living. During my fieldwork spell in 2011, the availability of day waka shifts was particularly erratic. In response, taking advantage of his lodging being located in Vingunguti (the area of the city in which slaughterhouses were located), Uwazi would wake up in the early hours of the morning, buy the heads of slaughtered goats, and sell them to the women who cook goat soup. By 2014 Uwazi had come off the bench, and was sharing in equal parts a job with a colleague, so that they worked as daladalamen ‘with a livelihood’ for half a day each. Whilst his income only enabled him to rent a room in a very poor neighbourhood, his wife and two children, who in 2009 were living in the village from where they hail, had now moved to join him in Dar es Salaam.
6.2.3 Kajembe and Ngaika
Kajembe and Ngaika were both older men, in their sixties in 2014, and veterans of work in the sector on which they relied for more than twenty years.9 Their situation underlines the importance of age and ageing in work on daladala. Kajembe explained how having worked on several routes meant ‘some owners became used to me, they know me’ (interview with Kajembe, 2014). But in 2014 he had been relying on day waka for some time, and was likely to continue to do so, as employers preferred younger drivers, as they were able to sustain the very tough working conditions better. Ageing seemed to push workers inexorably towards the margin of the daladala labour market. Similarly, Rashidi Ngaika (with Kajembe, one of the three workers who acted as key informants in tracking the occupational whereabouts of workers) was on the bench both in 2009 and 2014 (and in between the two visits), and explained how he was increasingly sidelined to the bench by employers who preferred younger drivers to him: ‘I can be here for even a week without getting day waka’ (interview with Ngaika, 2009). At least both these men lived with their families, unlike Sulemani, to whom we now turn.
Sulemani was amongst the oldest of the daladala workers in town, as he had been working in the sector since the early 1980s, ‘when the fare was 5 shillings’. He had been on the bench since 2002, relying on day waka:
(p.132) We sit here, we talk, a life of trouble, deep trouble, you sit with hunger, as you see me today, I haven’t got any bus or anything else…These days to work on daladala you need someone to take you to the employer, in the old days you went and offered yourself. These days you need someone to hold your hand, ‘bwana this is my relative, I know him’, and the boss needs to know him, so that if you disappear, if you do a mistake, it will be easy to get you. (Interview with Sulemani, 2009)
Sulemani seemed stuck in Dar es Salaam, while his wife and two children were in Tanga, from where he originated:
I can go and visit when things are going well. How can I go when I haven’t got even the money for breakfast? I will have to go and see them with enough money, not with 10,000 shillings. So you need a job, 100,000 shillings at least, to go there. The money for the bus ticket to and from Tanga, clothes for my parents and family, and enough money to use while I am there. How can you get this money with day waka…We live like birds. Actually a bird is better off as he knows that he will eat. There is no way out. (Interview with Sulemani, 2009)
Sulemani, in a common escapist move, laid to sleep what seemed like unbearable thoughts about existential failure by heavy drinking, which further deepened his problems.10
6.3 Histories of Occupational Mobility
What about those who moved on to other jobs? Of the fifty-five workers who did so, the vast majority, forty-two, worked in transport. More specifically: thirteen were hired by companies as drivers of vans or office cars, eleven were lorry drivers, eight were chauffeurs, eight were taxi drivers, and two worked as labour overseers of individuals who owned fleets of daladala. The above were individuals who built on the skills acquired and/or honed through daladala work and who subsequently applied them to other driving jobs. The remaining thirteen workers undertook a range of jobs/activities, such as farmer (three), change seller (two), mechanic, casual worker in a car wash, security guard, unloader in a supermarket, shoe shiner, witch doctor, waiter in a small restaurant, and carpenter. The potted occupational biographies of some of these workers help to capture the motivations and circumstances that allowed some to move on from employment on daladala to other jobs and their reflections on how their new occupation compares to the previous one.
Rajabu was 38 in 2014.11A chauffeur who lost his job in 1998, he found employment as a daladala driver through his uncle, who connected him to a bus owner whose bus was operating on route X. After four or five months, that job came to an end, as his employer was unable to pay for the maintenance and repairs of the bus, which he sold. By then Rajabu had developed some track record of work on daladala. ‘I had already done this job, and people knew that’ (interview with Rajabu, 2014). One of his neighbours became his next employer: ‘I have a bus, interested?’ In taking on the job, Rajabu also convinced the owner to shift the route on which his bus operated to route X. After five or six months, a better opportunity presented itself, in the shape of an employer who not only intended to buy a brand new and therefore more reliable bus, but also offered Rajabu a wage at the end of each month, on top of the daily return that could be earned after delivering the employer’s daily sum. Luckily for Rajabu, the daily sum that this employer demanded was at the market rate and not significantly above it, as was more common in situations in which a monthly wage was paid. It must be noted that such employers are not the norm in the daladala sector. When the bus registration was completed, Rajabu started work, having ‘handed over’ the job on his old bus to a driver who was an old friend of his and on the bench at that time. ‘I knew he would do a good job, I trusted him.’ Rajabu worked with this new bus until the bus ‘became tired’ and was sold. Rajabu was back on the bench, relying on day waka for two months, until the next twist in his career when he became a taxi driver in 2003. His shift to taxi driving came about because of his good relations with his previous employer. When the latter reinvested part of the profits from the sale of a daladala in a taxi, he chose Rajabu as the driver. Having worked on that taxi for a year, until it was sold, he found a new employer and many others after that. Reflecting on how working on a daladala compares to working in a taxi, Rajabu’s first point was about the lack of respect that daladala workers command: ‘Everyone deprecates you, and everyone thinks of daladala as their field to go and harvest from. So I prefer working in a taxi.’ But it was also a type of work that suited him at a time in which he had no wife or dependants, and from which he was able to move on to better things.
I could earn money to eat and a bit of savings. With taxis, my economic conditions have improved a bit, I achieved things, I got married, and I built my own place. But I cannot say I will not go back to daladala. The prisoner doesn’t choose his prison. I have a network in daladala, I have my friends, day waka in Y, in Z, they know me. It is a challenge, it is a step of life, I had enough of that experience. It taught me to be sharp, the head hurts, I did it, I have seen it. (Interview with Rajabu, 2014)
Others are not prepared to work on daladala again, pointing, above all, to the unsustainability of its working conditions. Take Abasi, 38 years old in 2014, who started off as a conductor at the age of 17, in 1993, and then became a driver in 2001. Since 2004, he has worked as a chauffeur. As he put it: ‘I won’t be able to work again on daladala as a driver, it is very hard, and it tires you badly. I started work at 4, back home, if early, at 9 or 10, to sleep at 12. It is not good for your health’ (interview with Abasi, 2014).
By comparison, his new job has the advantages of allowing him time to rest at the weekend, and a formal contract with social security attached. What is interesting about Abasi’s occupational trajectory is not only what it reveals about its direction, but also the sobering reminder it gives about how careful one needs to be when handling informants’ insights as ‘evidence’. Abasi’s story throws new light on Kajembe’s one, presented earlier in this chapter, through details that did not emerge in discussions with Kajembe himself. Abasi was working as conductor with Kajembe, on route X.
Kajembe had the habit of lying to the owner, to tell him that his bus had broken down. But once he was found out. Kajembe took the bus to a garage to fix the door, but unfortunately for him it was a garage where a relative of the owner worked. So when the owner asked him how much did it cost to fix the door, and Kajembe told the figure of 15,000 shillings, when it actually cost 6,000 shillings, he lost his job.
Kajembe’s fall was Abasi’s fortune as it opened the door of driving for him. At that time, Abasi had a class B licence. While this did not legally allow him to drive daladala, the owner of the bus turned a blind eye. Such a choice, Abasi suggests, came from the owner being impressed by Abasi’s hard work ethic as, whenever he checked on his daladala, he found Abasi working on it as a conductor (as opposed to taking time off by letting a colleague from the bench take over for part of the day). Abasi worked as a daladala driver for five years, a profession which he found unsustainable but, unlike most of his colleagues, rewarding. ‘There is money in daladala. It is up to you how you use it. If you go and use it [with the presumption that] “tomorrow I’ll get it again”, but that might not be the case.’ Abasi mentions the fundamental role that his partner, and now wife, played in looking forward and in managing earnings from his work. ‘If you have a woman who is very wise at building life “20,000 shillings, let’s put them aside, 5,000 shillings for food”. My wife helped us a lot because when I came back from work I just handed her my daily earning. I had breakfast at work, lunch at work, only for supper I ate at home.’ It is from work on daladala that Abasi found the resources to get married and buy a plot of land on which he is slowly building a house.
Such work was, however, physically unsustainable and high risk. The opportunity to move on from it first came from his wife’s connections. She (p.135) was a teacher at a school, and Abasi became a driver of one of the school buses. The new job was an improvement above all because of its working hours and conditions, ‘with time to rest’. As such, it was sustainable, and furthermore it came with access to social security ‘which will help me later, if I am ill, and my children, when I die. In daladala, you are on your own’. The opportunity to move to an even better job came from a very good old friend from his days on daladala, Frenky Nyanda (whose name also appears on the workers’ list), who in 2014 worked as a taxi driver. Having heard that the wife of the Education Minister, Kawamba, was looking for a driver, Frenky forwarded this information to Abasi, who put himself forward and subsequently began work for her, a job which he still undertook in 2016.
I don’t work on daladala any longer. These days it is too hard, it doesn’t make any sense. It doesn’t pay. Work on daladala depends on how the owner is. With a big hesabu you can’t. With a smaller hesabu it is better. For workers to share what is left, may be 20,000 shillings, you woke the car up at 4, until 9 p.m., what is this about? It is therefore better to look for employment with someone, maybe 200,000 shilling per month, but from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. only (sic). And when I finish work I get time to rest, I get holidays, unpaid, but I rest. Resting the body, with daladala there is no day off. Good jobs in daladala is for very few, good employers are rare. (Interview with Dotto, 2014)
Dotto has a long history with daladala. He started as a mpiga debe, the job of those who fill buses with passengers, back in 1993. Over time, Dotto established himself, together with Asenga (who will feature in section 6.3.4) as mkuu wa reli (‘the head of the ‘“railway line”’), as one of the leaders of the route. I have already discussed the dangers and low status associated with work as wapiga debe.12 Dotto himself was the informant who stated:
Any man with a sound brain knows that shouting a destination and pulling people into the bus all day is not a job. We do it because we are in trouble. But it is not a job…The heart hurts when you think about life, because it is not life to be here at the station. You can’t bring your family [and say] ‘Come to the office’…This is a pavement and as it is a pavement it is not an office. (Interview with Dotto, 2014)
As one of the heads of the ‘railway line’, Dotto played a major role in determining who was entitled to its income-generating work shifts, as well as in ensuring that those who were entitled actually had access to them. Given the severe need for cash among its members, being the head of the ‘railway line’ required, in the words of Dongo, a former daladala worker colleague, ‘being (p.136) tough, fair, being able to talk and listen, and being able to handle problems when they come’ (interview with Dongo, 2010). Through this work, occasional shifts as day waka, and becoming one of the leaders of ‘the railway line’, he earned enough money to get a driving licence and become a driver. Tired of daladala work, for the reasons outlined above, through a friend he signed up with a labour agency that took him as a driver for a year, to then supply his services to offices that required drivers. His new job paid 250,000 shillings a month, fed him breakfast and lunch, and had better working hours, from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. But Dotto still faced a very uncertain future as his one-year contract was about to expire at the time of my fieldwork in 2014.
Reflecting on his career, and where it has taken him over twenty years, Dotto’s words should be heard by all those writers who unduly celebrate the inventiveness and agency of the urban poor:
Cleverness without results is pointless. If I was hired by a company, I would turn things around. If I were paid 500,000 shillings, I could save 100,000 shillings each month. In ten months, I would have 1 million, with one million a bodaboda, and with earning from it you would find that in one year you get a plot. (Interview with Dotto, 2014)
Instead, Dotto lived with his wife and three children in rented accommodation. He bitterly complained that ‘you can’t live life without savings. A funeral, my father is ill, you can’t live life without savings. I am 15,000 short, I call Asenga. He is not there, or he is there but he has no money.’ One thing Dotto was grateful for, however, was that he could support his children through education, past primary level. ‘I believe that even if my life has been bad, for the fact that I made them study it can be better for them.’
In 2014, Asenga was a 44-year-old man from Rombo in North-Western Tanzania, married with two children. A failed small-scale trader in second-hand clothes, Asenga became a daladala conductor in 1990, invited by a friend of his who was a driver.
However, a bad crash while at work prompted Asenga to return to trade in second-hand clothes, which he did from 1993 to 1997. As, again, it did not go well, he went back to being a conductor on daladala, this time with a friend on route X. In 2002, health problems forced him to step down from work on daladala. Once he recovered, he decided not to return to work as a conductor, and instead he focused on kupiga debe—that is, the job of filling buses with passengers. Over time, Asenga established himself, with Dotto, as one of the leaders of route X ‘railway line’. Through this, within about one-and-a-half years, Asenga was able to save enough money to start a small kiosk at the station (see Figure 6.1). There he sold newspapers and a few stationery items. (p.137) (p.138) As business at the kiosk proved sustainable, he called his cousin from Rombo to man the kiosk, while he continued to be the boss of the station and one of its main wapiga debe. Through this double source of income, over time Asenga was able to expand the range of goods in which he traded, including juice, water, and biscuits, and increase the size of the kiosk, adding one more table. Such trade in drinks and biscuits proved short-lived, as the increase in the size of his stock of goods made him more vulnerable to the threats of confiscation or bribery attempts by City Council attendants. Instead, as mobile phones and mobile banking spread in Tanzania, Asenga became an Mpesa agent, a seller of mobile phone vouchers as well as providing a station where people could recharge their phones. Furthermore, every day, as rush hour neared, Asenga would take out two very large plastic bags from which he lined up several piles, each worth 1,000 shillings, of 100 or 200 shillings coins. This was because Asenga also sold change to daladalamen, who could not afford to slow down their operations in the search for change, and therefore bought 900 shillings worth of coins in exchange for a 1,000 shilling note. From where did Asenga get all these coins? The beggars were his suppliers. One of them, Adamu, lost his legs in a horrific accident in an upcountry bus in which many people lost their lives. Invalided since then, he made a living by begging at daladala station Y. As Adamu explained, ‘I have been bringing my coins to Asenga for 12 years’ (interview with Adamu, 2014). He gave the coins he earned every day to Asenga, who did not make a profit on this exchange, but instead gave Adamu the same value of money back in notes—13,000 shillings on the day I Interviewed him. Why did Adamu bring his coins to Asenga? ‘Because the day I don’t get anything he looks after us’. It is through this relentless trade with very small margins of profit, six days out seven, sixteen hours a day, that Asenga was able to sustain his family, and to buy a plot of land, on which he had begun to build slowly, and where, if ‘the area develops nicely’, he planned to move one day.
6.3.5 Mudi and Kulwa
It would be misleading and simplistic to read any transition away from daladala to other jobs as a success story. Although this did seem to be the aspiration of workers upon entering the sector, and one that was fulfilled by some, as I have shown, another modality of exit could be observed. It had more to do with distress and with being squeezed out of the system. As work in the daladala industry had a tendency to increase the number of workers temporarily out of work and ‘on the bench’ exponentially, the competition between them for fragments of work from overemployed workers ‘with a livelihood’ was severe. There were only so many people whom the bench could accommodate. Some ultimately faced marginalization from the dearth of day work that was (p.139) available. Take Mudi Abasi, the brother of Abasi, whom we encountered earlier (in section 6.3.2). Mudi joined his brother, working as his conductor on route X in 2004, as his small-scale business as a carpenter did not pay off. The brothers’ work partnership was not long-lasting: shortly after it began, Abasi moved on and became a chauffeur, leaving Mudi behind. Mudi kept one eye open for work as a carpenter, and occasionally his carpentry teacher hired him as a daily labourer. The other eye was trained on getting some day waka from the bench. But he was not doing well on either front. ‘I look at earnings, carpenter or daladala, which one is better. As I am in trouble, as I am here in town to look for money, I try every possibility. Those in trouble have to struggle. In daladala I have no bus ‘with a livelihood’. On the side of carpentry there is no work. I am just surviving, I have no certainty’ (interview with Mudi Abasi, 2009). Mudi was no longer on the bench during fieldwork spells from 2011 onwards.
For some workers the fact that workers like Mudi were brought into daladala work by family members, and were then left struggling to find sufficient work, was no coincidence. As Tolu put it, ‘a person who has been brought here by someone relies on that person. “Bwana I know Matteo, take him, give him work”…The person that came here on his own, with the bus of his employer, he came on his own.’ True as it might be that workers brought to work on the route by relatives depended on them, it is important to note that Tolu was one of those who ‘came on his own’, and there is therefore the possibility that his was, above all, a derogatory remark against those he saw as getting a foot into daladala work. Furthermore, those who were brought to work on buses by relatives or friends were not the only ones who struggled. Take Kulwa, an old timer of route X, who came to the route as a driver ‘on his own’ and who, having lost employment on his bus ‘for a livelihood’, subsequently relied on day waka. Similar to Tolu, in 2009 Kulwa boasted proudly about how well-established he was on the route: ‘I am an old timer here. I will not miss out on day waka. If I move I will get less day waka’ (interview with Kulwa, 2009). However, by 2014 Kulwa had moved to another route (Mwenge/Tegeta), where he could find more day waka than in Masaki.
6.4 Workers’ Trajectories: Predictable?
What have we learnt about occupational mobility and immobility by tracking the trajectories of 113 daladala workers over thirteen years and by interviewing some of these workers on their work histories? This study was animated by an interest in understanding whether and how individuals exert agency in negotiating the same occupation, and the same structural position in the labour market. Through pinning down and empirically documenting workers’ (p.140) occupational mobility/immobility I have also engaged with ‘all structure’ and ‘all agency’ narratives on the African city and on economic informality. My findings suggest the urgent need to move beyond the undue optimism which infuses so much writing on African cities. Above all, evidence of the occupational trajectories of daladalamen exposes the fantasy of conceptualizing work in the informal economy, notwithstanding its hardship, as an entry point into other, and better, jobs. In 2009, eight years after the first observation, 64 per cent of workers still worked on daladala. In 2014, thirteen years on, just under half of workers, at 48 per cent, were still working on daladala. Over the thirteen-year period, an average of 4 per cent of these workers left employment on daladala every year. Thus, for far too many workers the ambition to work on daladala as a ‘passing-the-time’ job remained a dream.
Fluidity, unpredictability, and any other word that suggests uncertainty are helpful to describe the circumstances faced by these workers, but it would be highly misleading to read agency of the working poor into these trajectories without attention to structural forces. There are some predictable problems that workers face because of them, such as not knowing whether tomorrow they will be in the bus all day or on a bench. Such uncertainty comes about, first and foremost, because of a structural problem of lack of jobs in the Tanzanian economy, and because of employers’ strategy of dumping most of the business risks on the workforce, a strategy which they can promote due to the oversupply of job seekers vis-à-vis demand. Kazi mbaya, ukiwa nayo (‘Bad job, if you have one’).
Attention has been paid to disaggregating across and within the four occupational trajectories. Among those workers that did not move to other jobs by 2014, the single most important marker of difference within this group was age. Older workers experienced a lack of competitive edge compared to younger and more energetic workers whom employers preferred. Squeezed like lemons after years of gruelling work on daladala, with family burdens that tend to be more significant, such workers were unable to match the energy levels and endurance of younger colleagues and increasingly spent time on the bench. I have also noted that the vast majority of workers made a transition from conductors to drivers.13
Understanding the significance of the trajectories of those who did move on to other jobs must also start from disaggregating the group, as this, together with workers’ own perceptions, reveals that it would be simplistic to read ‘exit’ as ‘success’. In some cases, those who left did so because of having become (p.141) marginalized, as the intense competition over fragments of work confined some, inexorably, to far too much time on the bench, and ultimately forced them to move on. Some workers within this group genuinely did move to better jobs, in terms of higher remuneration, better working conditions, and lower stress levels. They tended to transfer driving and transport skills to other subsectors, such as taxi (Rajabu) or lorry driving. Noting the slow speed at which such transitions took place, and that stories of this kind were frequent but not the norm, the only other insight one can gather is that personal connections—and circumstances that are not easily replicable—proved crucial in allowing some workers to move to other jobs. One worker found work as a driver at the school where his wife was a teacher (Abasi). Dotto and Asenga emerged as leaders of the ‘railway line’, out of over 100 other workers of the same route. This position, which was by its very nature unavailable to many, was used by Asenga as a springboard to small-scale trading and by Dotto to help him to become a driver. Another worker’s escape from daladala came from his working for a good employer, who gave him a wage and a brand new vehicle on which to work (Rajabu). When this employer then went on to invest his money from daladala in the taxi industry, he chose the worker as his driver. Attention has also been paid to examples of workers’ improvisation and survivalism, which led some to literally invent jobs where there were none (such as the job of filling buses), but as one of these very workers warned us, ‘cleverness without results is pointless’. Beyond these differentiating factors, it would be questionable to stress the significance of other alleged predictors of success and failure to move on to other jobs, such as work ethic, being streetwise, or years of experience. As has been shown, they proved to be more of an insight into the internal tensions that divide the workforce rather than useful entry points to understand its occupational trajectories.
For good or for bad, at the time this book went to press, employment on daladala was scheduled to shrink dramatically as the buses were to be relegated to the margins of the city of Dar es Salaam. A new idea, backed up by influential and well-resourced institutions, had been heavily promoted to build ‘a better city for better times’. Its genesis, its driving forces, and the twists and turns that it brought to the political economy of public transport in Dar es Salaam are the subject of Chapter 7.
(1) ‘Trans’ is often used in writings on daladala, buses, and lorries as the abbreviation of transport.
(2) The strength of crocodiles is almost uncontrollable in water but it is drastically reduced once out of it. The metaphor captures the contrast between the authority and power that daladala workers display on the buses, and their weakness once out of them.
(4) While 124 names actually appeared on the register over six months, three workers were double-counted as their nicknames, alongside their official name, were used on the rosters. There was no consensus about the occupational whereabouts of three of the workers, as further explained in this section.
(5) In 2009 the number of active workers was 113, as three workers had died.
(13) Attempting the transition from conductor to driver came with the risk of being caught in between the two professions. One could fail to establish oneself as a driver whilst no longer being ‘seen’ as a conductor by colleagues, with the resulting lack of opportunities to work in either position (interview with Kudo Boy, 2014).