June 29, 2011

The Cost of Doing Business.

Did I mention in yesterday's post that the Dar es Salaam port system is horrifically slow?! Just as Tony Wheeler of Unlikely Destinations describes the need for freight agents (well, at least its a luxury for those that can afford such a service anyway...), I believe here in Dar es Salaam a whole spring up industry has been created on the heels of Dar's notoriously inefficient speed to get container ships into the port system, unload them, and move goods further afield.

Frankly, on a personal level, the inefficient port system of Dar es Salaam affects us most on a day-to-day basis with respect to being able to find a decent and worthy bottle of wine. Most of the wines that can be found around Tanzania are of South African origin and the majority of them have spent several months awaiting arrival into Tanzania's port system on the high seas - where they have reached boiling temperatures and have become something totally unrecognizable from their original form.

But aside from this rather petty gripe (all things considered, hey?), the consequences of inadequate infrastructure to support an efficient transfer of goods can be a lot more damaging. We have a friend here who is in the computer purchasing and distribution business. And you may be surprised to learn that most computers do not originate from Tanzania and therefore must be imported into the country (riiiight?). His job (and therefore livelihood) is pretty much wholly dependent on Dar es Salaam's port system. His stories are colorful, at times hilarious, shocking, but usually just down right depressing. Much as Tony Wheeler describes in his book, throughout history clever approaches and tricks have been employed to jump to the front of the queue, but here in Tanzania, bribery appears to be the name of the game. For private sector business, some of these "informal payments" go down in the books as just the cost of doing business, however this of course becomes a tricky paradigm. When the bribe prices become too volatile (aka unpredictable) or steep, private sector industry must at some point battle with the decision to just close their doors to doing business here altogether.

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