Doing business in rural Tanzania (6 useful tips)

Shockingly, I do have to clarify this often; Tanzania is in eastern Africa, just south of Kenya, and not near Australia (that would be Tasmania). Last month I was in the mountainous town of Lushoto, near the Kenyan border, to install a series of weather monitoring stations with the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture. This non-profit organization helps farmers to improve their yields by bringing farming knowledge from developed countries and advanced universities. I was up for an experience that would enrich my international business skills, and luckily there were many unexpected occurrences that we had to deal with on the go.

  1. Getting to my location: Finding your way to a village that is more than 500km away from the commercial capital of Dar es Salaam isn’t easy. The best thing to do is to hire a driver and a car, who will know the best shortcuts and, since there aren’t many great places to eat along the way, enable you to sit back and have your lunch while on the go. A final even more crucial point; the roads are extremely dangerous to the unfamiliar, the main highway through the country only has two lanes and you have to know how to deal with the situation when there are three buses on a two lane road coming towards you.
  2. Dealing with local authorities: Everyone knows that business involves money, especially the authorities in Tanzania. Firstly, in order to get a shipment of weather stations to Tanzania make sure to let a locally oriented company handle the import duties, as it can take weeks (and unnecessary cash) before you get it to you location when you are unfamiliar with the procedures. Secondly, only 100km out of the city you will find the first policemen stopping you because you drove faster than the speed limit of 50km/h on a segment of the road where they pulled the signs with the speed limit out of the ground so you wouldn’t know you would be stopped. We solved this issue by working with a local company that had a lot of experience in this.
  3. Asking for something: Even though you may expect a response the first time you ask for something, it is almost never the case. Whether you want to know the price for something, or simply need help plugging a cable into a socket, you always have to ask at least twice! Don’t worry about potentially being rude, because nobody here will judge you for it. Almost nothing is considered rude for the people outside of the high class, and something that shocks outsiders is the way people call waiters: by hissing as them.
  4. For young adults: If you are a young adult, they see you as a kid, but talk to you like an adult. They can be blunt and undermining at the same time, how confusing! A piece of advice here: call people before you meet with them in a business setting, they will have no idea about your age. If you can impress them on the phone and get them to commit to a meeting, they will treat you like more of an adult.
  5. Greeting before getting: Always greet in a friendly way, don’t just ask for something immediately. This will get you a lot further and will make you well liked. The greeting doesn’t have to be formal, a simple ‘mambo’ (the equivalent of ‘what’s up’) will suffice. I was asking someone for directions when I was with some friends, and when I didn’t greet the person before my question, everyone was quite shocked. Of course I tend to forget these things when I’m away from Tanzania for a while.
  6. Everything takes ages: A notorious local expression is; ‘haraka haraka, haina baraka’. This means ‘hurrying is not a blessing’ and people take it all too serious. If you want to meet someone at around noon (don’t expect an exact time), they understand it as between one and two in the afternoon. In Zanzibar they even have the concept of ‘Zanzibar Time’, an extremer version of the punctuality found on the mainland. No worries (Hakuna Matata) though – as long as everyone is late, nobody is.


But most of all; enjoy yourself if you are ever lucky enough to visit this country. There are many beautiful sites, so having to wait for something doesn’t seem so bad. Also, the weather is amazing every day, and the air conditioning in your home or workspace will keep you cool if you need to sit down and work.

Article by olliesmeenk

I was born in the Netherlands but raised in Tanzania. My primary interest is in modern business, with a tendency to prefer working on technical concepts. I launched a Kickstarter campaign for my product called SODAQ Moja in 2013, and now started my own enterprise which can be found on

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