The slum series – Welcome to Arusha

Railway from PPF To Unga

An old railway connecting P.P.F. to Unga Limited.

ARUSHA, Tanzania — Driving from Arusha’s Impala roundabout to the suburb of Njiro, a relic of a railway cuts across the road, almost acting as a demarcation line between extreme wealth and extreme poverty in this city.

On one side of the tracks is the P.P.F. housing estate, a gated community where many of Arusha’s wealthiest residents reside. While a little way down, across the tracks, is Unga Limited, the city’s largest slum and home to the poorest in Arusha living in makeshift shacks and mud huts.

P.P.F. stands for Parastatal Pensions Fund, one of Tanzania’s public and private sector pension schemes. Unga Limited is named after a flour company which closed down many years ago.

When visiting Arusha, former U.S. President Bill Clinton called it “the Geneva of Africa” due to it being home to almost as many international agencies as the Swiss city.

Arusha municipal councillor Nanyaro Ephata, 27, doesn’t like this moniker. He has a different perspective on his home town, saying the disparity between rich and poor has become too great. He goes on to compare Arusha’s growing slums to those of Mumbai, India and Nairobi, Kenya.

“I’ve visited the slums in both these cities and Arusha’s are just as bad,” he says.

PPF - no through road

P.P.F. is a gated community located in Arusha’s Olorien village.

A United Nations Human Settlements Programme, or UN-HABITAT, report states about 35 per cent of 45 million Tanzanians live in cities. It goes on to state the annual urban population growth rate is 4.9 per cent, making the country among one of the most rapidly urbanizing in the region.

“Due to our socialist past in Tanzania, we’re now paying the price, as more villagers move into the city,” Ephata says and admits Arusha council isn’t doing enough to help its poorest residents, who have relocated here to look for cheap land and work opportunities.

With the help of UN-HABITAT, Tanzania is studying the growth of slums along the coast, in Dar es Salaam, as well as Morogoro, but no study has yet begun in Arusha, even though it’s the country’s tourist hub, acting as a gateway to Northern Tanzania’s safari circuit and national parks.

Arusha is a historically important city in Tanzania, which has grown to become important politically for all of Africa. It’s home to the UN and its International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the African Union and its African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, as well as the East African Community, and the Arusha International Conference Center, which plays host to regular high-profile meetings and conferences.

“P.P.F is mainly home to people from abroad who come to Arusha to work at one of the many international organizations based here,” says 34-year-old Arusha resident Godfrey Ogutu. “While Unga Limited is home to many poor Tanzanians looking for any work they can find.”

Unga Limited factory and smoke

Unga Limited is Arusha’s largest slum.

If Arusha is, in fact, the fastest growing city in the region, as many say it is, then it still has a long way to go before achieving a population growth like that of Lagos, Nigeria, where hundreds of thousands pour into the city every year.

As for qualifying Arusha as a Geneva of Africa, the Arusha born-and-raised Ogutu says if you go to some places in town like Unga Limited, you may even cry after seeing the reality of life in this city.

“Some people here are living very good lives here, but the majority are living in miserable conditions,” he says.


Adam Bemma is a journalist, humanitarian, and media consultant based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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