Dazzling and palm-fringed beaches, an infinite coastline, and a dynamic spice market. Such a description fits most of the destinations in developing countries with tourism as one of their main sources of income. However, that is only part of the puzzle. Zanzibar is known across the globe as one of the most ideal places to escape the daily madness, and for many others, a perfect honeymoon spot. For me, it was the former. I was hoping to spend endless hours on the white sand after spending a number of weeks in the mainland, Tanzania – story for another day.
There are a number of ways through which one may access Zanzibar including jetting in from whatever destination or taking a ferry boat from Tanzania. The boat ride takes around 1.5 hours, and the views of both Dare salaam and the port of Zanzibar are incredible. Again, story for another day.
Being in Zanzibar opened my eyes to a sad reality; poverty and tourism. Do these two go hand in hand? What happens to the thousands of dollars that stream in from the numerous visitors who throng into some of these destinations? What I saw in Zanzibar shocked me. Most citizens live in utter poverty. The way to our hotel was lined with what could otherwise be mistaken for make-shift accommodation. Maybe my hopes were a bit high given the manner in which the archipelago is portrayed. Either way, things could be different.
While this is not a political post, there is a need for anyone who loves traveling to think about some of these issues. How is it that your taxi driver has been doing the same thing for 20 years and still struggles to educate his children? The fishermen are at it every day, without any notable change in their livelihoods. Tanzania, for me, is a different destination to say the least. One has to pay an entrance fee to almost every place they visit – even waterfalls! I have not seen this anywhere else.
However, it would probably be less notable if the roads were in perfect condition, education was accessible, and the streets were not lined with beggars. It might be tempting to speak about Tanzania and Zanzibar as 2 different countries but they are not. Everyone I asked about their system said that the Tanzanian government takes a huge chunk of all the money from the island’s tourism. Again, that would be a great thing if the lives of the citizens on the island improved each time a tourist checked in into the country.
This is not a secluded case. Now that I think about it, most areas with a hyped tourism industry barely have any progress to show for it. About half of Zanzibar’s population lives below the poverty line. Malnutrition, scarce drinking water, and poor housing and sanitation are some of the issues that the residents have to contend with even after thousands of tourists flock there on a yearly basis.
The underlying factor is obviously poor governance. However, we need to discuss issues like poor education systems. One of the main ways through which a society may break away from the shackles of poverty is through education – regardless of how basic it is. Identifying the root cause of poverty will facilitate faster progress. You may feel philanthropic and decide to give some pennies to beggars, but the culture will persist unless we find a way to get them out of the streets for good. If you are keen, beggars are mostly prevalent in areas considered to be hotbeds of tourism. Humans are greatly attracted to temporary solutions and we have no problem hiding in the cocoons of momentary peace.
It is time for stakeholders in the tourism sector to determine where they are going wrong. It is necessary to identify ways through which the local community will benefit directly. It would also be worthwhile for the locals to find other means of income because as it is, tourism is really not working.
Cheers to empathy!