The creative spaces

Not just there for the free wifi

I’d had the same idea, but someone else got to it first – writing about Dar es Salaam’s emerging tech/innovation sector.

“With Kenya’s ‘Silicon Savannah’ booming to the north, and money being ploughed into Rwanda’s ICT dreamland to the west, Tanzania seems to have been left in the dust”, writes the journalist.  That’s starting to change though, thanks to Dar’s two new tech/innovation hubs. I’ve been to one of them a few times: TANZICT hosts unusual, and actually quite useful networking/learning meet-ups, in a free, open public space with wireless internet and electricity – not to be sniffed at in this city. Their ‘Girls’ Night Out’ series of events – women-only sessions for learning, practising or sharing new tools and technologies – are a brilliant idea.

Dar is still a long way off Nairobi though.  “If there is one truthful stereotype of Tanzania, it is that the country can be painstakingly slow”, continues the article. “’Pole pole’ (slowly slowly), the catchphrase Tanzanians so often revert to with warm broad smiles, makes a terrible mantra for startups.” He’s not wrong. When my sister visited, one of her observations was how slowly people moved, talked, did things. “Even your mosquitoes are slow”, she remarked, as I killed off another one with one hand. The more I realise how difficult it is to get things done here, the more I admire the trailblazers who manage to do things.

And while we’re on the subject of urban public spaces, the expats of Dar – and the locals employed there – are gutted to hear that a recent favourite, Makutano House, is being closed down. The café/bar/garden/cultural centre was, as one friend told me, one of only two places she could take her young child to play safely on grass. The organisers put on music, films, markets, art classes – and all that will end because someone wants to build a high-rise property there instead.

But there are other great spaces in Dar, I’m discovering. Like Nafasi Art Space, a sort of warehouse in a field that hosts artists in residence and puts on exhibitions and performances once in a while. Best of all, most stuff is free, so you get that mish-mash of culture-hungry expats, Tanzanian students, and dreadlocked/camp/crazy creatives.

Living in a big city, even a dirty dangerous African one, is still irresistible.

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