The Majengo district of Arusha looks nothing like the postcard images of Tanzania – no golden savannah, no elephants or lions, no Kilimanjaro, no lush Zanzibar beaches. The streets here are ankle-deep in mud, and the cinder-block houses are small, dark and drafty, their floors wet with recent rain. A visit to Majengo is a reminder of incontrovertible numbers: 540, the nation’s annual per capita income in US dollars; and 68, the percentage of Tanzanians living below the international poverty line of $1.25 per day.
Majengo is also, conversely, a reminder of innovation and tenacity. This is where Selemani Mohamed, aged 75, father of 18, makes his home and his living. A producer of snack foods, Mohamed is one of four entrepreneurs who approached Accion partner Akiba Commercial Bank as a ‘solidarity group’ to borrow collectively for their individual businesses. In line with the charming custom of naming the group itself, Mohamed and his colleagues call theirs ‘Tu Pendane’ – roughly translated as ‘Lovely Sharer.’
Of the 1.4m Tanzanian shillings ($870) that the group has borrowed for its third loan, Mohamed’s share is TZS 600,000 ($375), which he is using to buy ingredients in bulk. His snack specialties include ubuyu – baobab seeds dipped in a bright red, sweet-but-spicy coating that you suck – carefully, spitting out the seed – and cashata, crunchy clusters of peanuts, honey, sesame seeds and more that would give CrackerJax a good run for its money.
Packaged in small cellophane bags, the snacks wholesale for TZS 500, or about 30 cents, and retail for twice that. When demand runs high, Mohamed and his team of five full-time staff – all pounding, grinding, cutting, wrapping, gabbing and laughing in the tiny rooms that make up this home – can sell up to TZS 200,000-worth a day, which he does directly to supermarkets in and around Arusha. That equates to $125, over the 10 years since he started the business – two more incontrovertible numbers.