Dispatches from Dar, RCA In-House, Series

Dispatches from Dar: The City

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By Mpuga Rukidi, Uganda:

The city of Dar es Salaam carries on its wide back a huge amount of history. Formerly known as Mzizima, another town close to it was then constructed by the Sultan of Zanzibar. He named it Dar es Salaam, Arabic for Abode or House of Peace. The city hugs the Indian Ocean. When the German East African Company, one of the many European companies established to plunder beautiful Africa, set up base there, Dar es Salaam was sure to become an important player in the future political and commercial affairs of what was to become Tanganyika and later the United Republic of Tanzania, following the Articles of the Union, which united, politically, the mainland with the islands of Pemba and Unguja, collectively referred to as Zanzibar.

The fortunes of the Germans fell with their collapse in World War II and with that came the loss of their overseas territories, Tanganyika being one. Dar continued to dominate trade, politics and commerce.

Dar es Salaam is not different from your average African city. Separate European and African residential places were created. Oyster Bay, for example, with surrounding areas such as Masaki, was reserved for the Europeans and Africans occupied Kariakoo and the surrounding areas, which is sort of down town. It is here that the 'hustlers' come to earn a living. Oyster Bay is exclusive; it is the Kololo or Muthaiga of Kampala and Nairobi respectively.

Coastal trees dominate the landscape and the narrow roads have been replaced by more wide roads. The Arab and African heritage in Dar is reflected through its most famous export to the world – Kiswahili. A mixture of Bantu languages and Arabic, this language has attained the stature of being the language of the East African Community and being one of the most widely spoken languages in Africa, with speakers in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique and Malawi, among other countries. Of course whether or not what is spoken in Uganda is Kiswahili or a language remotely resembling it, is another matter.

Today, Dar is an inspiration to many aspects of East African pop culture, such as Bongo Flavour, an arm of rap in Kiwsahili, which has propelled the likes of Diamond Platinamz to the status of being one of Africa's most attractive singing sensations. It looks like every youth in the huge city can rap in Kiswahili. I attended an event where a teenager, who does not consider singing as a career, gave a freestyle rap for about 30 minutes.

But Dar is also a city like any other and has the usual suspects – an active night life and an ambitious fashion industry, certainly going by what I have seen so far. I forgot to mention that the infrastructure is rich and takes you through the entire history of this huge city, chronicling the slave past and Arab influences. Today, skyscrapers are steadily eating away the old structures of the Central Business District.

I will be talking about Kiswahili and the fact that even if you speak a bit of it, if you are here, you have to pay extra attention when someone, especially, a young person, speaks. Here, it seems, no one speaks, everyone seems to rap.

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