Tanzania: Unplanned settlements challenge to post code system



The Tanzanian Post and other government agencies’ reactions to the fact that thousands of people live in “unofficial settlements” are typical of embedded self-interested government systems.  Supposedly the post codes will be allocated to all residences, but not “unofficial settlements”.  Even the Director of Postal Affairs, who is responsible for the post code roll-out, says they will ignore those living in illegal/informal settlements.  Quite frankly, the reason is chilling: people living in prohibited areas will be denied the post codes because they are supposed to vacate the areas as they are prone to floods.

These are people with nowhere else to go. And from our experience at the Universal Postal Union, if you ask a post where it delivers to fulfill its universal service obligation, they will say, “Wherever the addressee is.”   No exceptions.  It is not for the post to determine if a building is illegal, or “prone to flooding”.  Its job is to deliver, not make land use judgments.  If the post has been given such authority, then this is deeply saddening. The post should not be the enforcer of land use laws.

But, sad and disappointed as this would make us,  let us give Director Makuburi the benefit of the doubt and assume that legislation in effect regarding the post’s ability to allocate postal codes, or to deliver, is limited by duly-adopted laws.  In fact she said during the implementation a number of challenges raised including poor city planning, lack of cooperation from the residents and people residing in hazardous areas who thought the government wanted to evict them. And, indeed, the government does want to evict these people.  

This points to a deeper problem.  When the post participates in alienating customers and potential customers, and enforcing land use laws which alienate citizens, it loses its credibility and reputation as a trustworthy institution.  It’s just another cog in the machine that the “have’s” employ to keep down the “have-nots”.  Of course these people did not co-operate with government officials; the officials weren’t approaching them to help them, but to shuffle them out of the only shelter they had been able to find.

Moreover, regarding those laws, this reminds us of other  ill-considered or out-of-date laws that anchor a society in the 19th century, like requiring schoolchildren to wear expensive school uniforms, which makes the local shop-keeper rich and deprives the poorest of an education.  Or requiring the presentation of a birth certificate for a child in order to register for school.  Since the wealth of a country depends on the education of successive generations of the young, why would a government intentionally create exclusionary barriers to development? Since a nation’s liberties and wealth depend on an informed and participative citizenry, why would it intentionally exclude them from a system it knows needs them involved?  “Because we’ve always done it that way.” 

The government’s failure to give these people post codes and addresses is, in our view, a violation of their human rights.  They have a right to an address, even if their dwelling is unauthorized.  They have a right to receive the benefits of government, and an address is critical to assure this benefit. An address is not a “reward”.  In today’s world, an address is as fundamental to one’s existence as their name.  To deny one an address is to announce they are not entitled to participate fully in the society. In fact, this article closes with the Minister for Education, Science and Technology reciting a very comprehensive list of the myriad uses to which the address is put to deliver benefits to citizens.  Make it happen, Mr. Minister.  Your comments show you understand.  If you can’t fit them into your address system, maybe you can give them geocode addresses, as is happening in the slums of Kolkata thanks to GoCode of Ireland.


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