Dar es Salaam is the largest city in Tanzania, one of the most populous in East Africa, and is projected to
reach a population of 75M by the end of the century.
At the centre of Dar es Salaam is the Kariakoo ward, which transformed itself from a segregated African settlement during the colonial period called the “Carrier Corps”, to a commercial, political and cultural powerhouse.
FROM SEGREGATED AFRICAN SETTLEMENT TO A POLITICAL, COMMERCIAL AND CULTURAL POWERHOUSE
Kariakoo was first conceived in 1905 by the German colonial administration, which had established the colony of German East Africa in 1885. The site that they chose for developing this neighbourhood had formerly been a farm belonging to the Sultan of Zanzibar.
As part of a wider strategy to racially segregate the town, Kariakoo was a neighbourhood intended for ‘native’ or ‘African’ residents of the city and was separated from the European and Asian residential areas by a cordon sanitaire or “neutral zone.”
These plans were further developed by the British colonial administration when German East Africa, following the end of the First World War in 1918, became mandated to Britain and given the name ‘Tanganyika’.
During the First World War, Tanganyikan men who were conscripted to the British Carrier Corps were stationed at a large military hangar in the neighbourhood. It is because of this that Kariakoo acquired its name (carrier corps, karia-koo).
In an attempt by the British colonial administration to regulate market trade in Dar es Salaam and isolate it in the “native” quarters, the hangar was converted into the town's central market hall in the early 1920s. From this point onwards, Kariakoo would be a mixed-use district, combining both commercial and residential functions.
In the following decades, Kariakoo became the beating heart of Dar es Salaam's lively cultural scene. Popular dance associations sprung up across the neighbourhood, as did sports clubs. Tanzania's two biggest football teams, New Young Africans Sports Club and Simba Sports Club, were both established in Kariakoo at this time.
The district would also be the birthplace of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) which was established in 1954. Kariakoo was home to many political figures who were at the forefront of the struggle for independence, including Dossa Aziz, Clement Mtamila, John Rupia, Abdulwahid Sykes, and Suleiman Takadir. These figures assembled in semi-formal associations called Maskani, or Baraza, and this tradition of public discourse on Kariakoo’s street corners continues to this day.
A TRANSFORMING BUILT ENVIRONMENT
The built environment of Kariakoo starting changing in the 1950s as Kariakoo began to transform from a residential neighbourhood into a market district. As Kariakoo became more commercially important, its residential units were increasingly converted into shops. Along the major axes of the neighbourhood, families
of Indian descent started to build three- and four-storey concrete buildings.
Two aspects of Kariakoo's built environment have not changed over time. The first of these is its grid street layout, which can be found in many other African capitals such as Ouagadougou and Freetown. The European planners favoured the grid-iron model because it made urban space easier for colonial administrators to police and govern inhabitants. Today the wide streets host all kinds of activities, with pedestrians, street
vendors, stalls, carts, vehicles, and other kinds of objects jostling for space.
The second aspect of the built environment that remains unchanged is B. J. Amuli's great market building
which replaced the old military hangar in 1974, and which remains an overlooked icon of modernist architecture. Though it now sits in the shadows of the high-rises, the market building embodies the bold
political vision of the early independence era.
Today, Kariakoo is a hub for both global businesses and individual entrepreneurs from across the continent looking to get their start. Every morning, market traders from across the city gather in the concrete depths of the market building and spill out into the streets. Through their movements, these traders reenact the history
of Kariakoo; the story of its transformation from a residential neighbourhood with a market at its centre to a market neighbourhood.
Although business is what gives the area its pulse, Kariakoo has a retained a culture of public debate, visible through its Maskani - semi formal coffee associations where news, politics and sports are discussed. Another tradition that has endured is Utani - a form of permitted roasting between rivals that evolved from the need to diffuse tribal tensions, and which today serves . Above all the area is highly dynamic, allowing its residents and users to negotiate spaces for stillness and worship, entertainment and celebration, and civic discourse.
The emerging opportunities, challenges and transformations taking place in Dar es Salaam may be more similar to those in our own cities than we think. With an additional 6 billion city dwellers projected by 2100 globally, cities around the world are grappling with how to make urban growth inclusive and sustainable. Kariakoo offers inspiration for how we might re-imagine what sustainability and development can look like
in a post-colonial context, and recognize flexible urban spaces, and the connected communities they form.