In Kariakoo, Dar es Salaam’s largest and busiest market, all possible spaces are used for vending. Nearly anything can be purchased here from electronics to ceramic ware, work boots to jewellery. Vending of the market’s wide offerings happens at multiple levels of Kariakoo’s buildings and streets. The area was planned by German authorities in the late 1910s. Although the original mangrove pole and palm frond structures that lined the streets have been replaced by multi-storey buildings over the decades the German grid plan remains. The buildings that now line this grid cascade with vendors’ merchandise displayed from second and third story balconies down to the highly stacked shelves of ground level shops. Even the streets are used as vending spaces and small-scale vendors position themselves between parked vehicles hawking groundnuts (peanuts), produce, and other small sundries from plastic tarps. Also on the streets are mitumba– vendors of used clothes shipped from the Global North.
On a recent Saturday I was in the garment area of Kariakoo when a scratchy announcement rang out loudly through the market streets propelled by a megaphone from a truck full of mgambo police. The officials announced that the streets were to be cleared for a routine cleaning day. Mitumba and other street level vendors deftly packed their goods – which only seconds before had been spread on the streets – into tarps, flung them over their shoulders and slipped into nearby alleys and crevices. Shopkeepers and customers in the ground level shops watched the scramble while continuing their negotiations. The police truck slowly cruised down the street before turning on to another part of the grid. Within 10 minutes many mitumba sellers had returned, gradually followed by small-scale produce vendors. Together they laid out their wares again, this time with the improvised handles of their tarps ready for the next sweep.