If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a painting is worth much more. In a busy and crowded Dar es Salaam neighbourhood, poverty has got men and women on autopilot. The physical, mental and sometimes social labour in the city slum of Jangwani, is intense. The clutter, the noise and the press of daily living makes one imagine that the only pictures that residents here can see clearly are those they have in their minds. And one artist now wants to shape that picture.
“When this painting finally goes to a wall in Jangwani, it will make the people dream and believe again; that it is possible for them to live in a clean and safe environment in which their lives are lived smoothly.” Said Isaac Amini, artist and student of architecture at the University of Dar es Salaam. His painting was one of ten on display at the Understanding Risk in Tanzania – URTZ – conference 2018 (30 -31 August), being finalists in the Dar Mural Challenge – a project of the Tanzania Urban Resilience Programme.
Flooding kills people and destroys property perennially in Dar es Salaam. Jangwani, a slum neighbourhood in the Msimbazi valley is usually the worst affected by the floods. Understandably so, it is a neighbourhood right on the banks of the River Msimbazi that flows through the city on its way to the Indian Ocean. Settlement has interfered with the natural flow of the water, there are no adequate drainage tunnels and waste disposal is poor; clogging up the river and the few drainage trenches available when it rains and water level rises, almost the entire neighbourhood is inundated cutting off roads to the city centre while also causing flooding in other parts of the city.
But things are changing through a multi stakeholder initiative that seeks to transform Jangwani into a recreational park with safe spaces for housing and business and to make Dar es Salaam city, resilient to the effects of climate change including floods.
As a way to deepen public engagement, the Tanzania Urban Resilience Programme of the World Bank challenged the local arts community to make visible in artistic form what a resilient city can look like and how communities can help to make this happen. For Isaac, this was more than a competition, it was personal.
“I have friends and family who live in Jangwani, and so the place means so much to me. The last time we experienced flooding my friend and coursemate Saada became homeless. I have never seen him so distraught. You see it is not just a case of not having a place to sleep; he lost his books, his clothes, everything! – He literally had to start afresh.”
Isaac’s painting is a neighbourhood with a number of raised bridges, recreational parks, wide reinforced drainage channels, waste collection points and housing units. At the bottom of it a tagline reads: Through designed infrastructure and natural environment, it is possible to have a resilient city.
Exhibiting next to Isaac was 18 year old Nickson Jeremiah, a designer who only recently left school. His is a picture of a woman carrying the city of her dreams in her hands. Although Nickson lives hundreds of kilometres away from Dar es Salaam, in Arusha, his best friend lost a mother in the Dar flooding two years ago.
“Mothers, because of how much they love and want to take care of their families, end up in problems during such situations. They are not as strong physically, as men, but will not want to save themselves before all family members are safe; that is how my friend lost his mother” he narrated, explaining his choice of a woman as the dream bearer in his piece whose title is ‘The City of My dreams.’
Like Isaac, Nickson highlights sufficient drainage channels and protection of natural environment as critical to making Dar es Salaam resilient. He believes that opinions and needs of the most vulnerable people in society in the face of disasters, like women; children; the elderly and disabled, should be given top priority in plans and programmes to make cities resilient. His tagline reads: If we can dream of it, we can make a better city together.
Dar es Salaam born Gloria Mmbaga went for a more straight forward approach, “…there’s something majestic in simplicity” she told me while explaining the idea behind the art. Her piece ‘Go clean; Go safe’ is a city landscape with blue cloud horizon at the background, flowers sprouting from the sides into the air, much like some fresh breeze circling the city. A bin is in the foreground in which a hand is dropping garbage.
“Among the major problems in our city is poor waste disposal hence leading to blockage of main way channelling water to the ocean due to emerged unplanned human settlement. More people are settling here but without any new proper waste disposal, hence excessive waste along drainage systems and surroundings leading to unclean and unsafe environment. You clear that and we are safe.” she said.
The murals challenge received over 60 entries; the 10 finalists will see their pieces put on a bill board at the project area of Msimbazi valley. This is expected to ignite public debate and engagement and something more: a new picture in the minds of a long troubled people.