Dodoma

The city of Dodoma, set at an elevation of 1,135m on the arid, windswept plains that characterise the central Tanzanian plateau, is the mildly improbable designate capital of Tanzania. It was proposed for this role in 1959, during the transitional period leading up to independence, on the equitable basis that it is the country’s most centrally located large town. Nyerere formally earmarked Dodoma as national capital in 1974, and it was originally expected to be fully functional in this role before 1990. Lack of funding, an absence of decent roads in three directions – and quite possibly the sense of contrivance attached to the entire project – have conspired to ensure that this deadline was repeatedly set back. Parliament finally relocated to Dodoma in February 1996, but most government departments and embassies are still based out of Dar es Salaam, and this seems unlikely to change in the immediate future.

An important stopover on the 19th-century caravan route to Lake Tanganyika, Dodoma was made a regional administration centre after Germany built a railway station there in 1910, and was even mooted to replace Dar es Salaam as colonial capital prior to the intervention of World War I. The post-war British administration felt Dodoma had few advantages over Dar es Salaam, and was further dissuaded by the series of famines that afflicted the region between 1916 and 1920, cruelly capped by an influenza epidemic that claimed at least 30,000 lives. Nevertheless, Dodoma grew steadily between the wars, in large part due to its strategic location at the junction of the central railway and the trans-Tanzania road. Its strategic importance declined after an improved north–south road was constructed between Iringa and Morogoro, but Dodoma retained its role as the market centre for a vast but low-yielding agricultural region producing maize, beans, peanuts, grains and wine – as well as boasting several large cattle ranches.

As designate capital, Dodoma has experienced a high influx of people from surrounding rural areas and other parts of the country. The city’s population has risen from 45,000 in 1978, when it was the 13th largest urban centre in the country, to an estimated 150,000, placing it 8th on that list in 2002. But whatever its past and future claims to importance (and we are talking about a town that served as a staging post on the renowned Cape-to-Cairo flights of the 1930s), Dodoma remains unremittingly small-town in atmosphere and of limited interest to tourists. True, there must be some travellers out there who collect capital cities as others collect passport stamps, in which case a foray into Dodoma might well be the highlight of a visit to Tanzania. Wine enthusiasts, too, might be tempted to visit Dodoma to taste the product of Tanzania’s viniculture industry, founded by a priest in 1957, at source. The local wine and port can be tasted at the Tanganyika Vineyard Company on the outskirts of town, but it’s really nothing special, and is just as readily available in Arusha and other tourist centres. Otherwise, you’d be unlikely to visit Dodoma from choice, and if for some reason you do wash adrift there, then it probably won’t be long before you think about moving on.

GETTING THERE AND AWAY Most travellers who pass through Dodoma are on one of the trains crossing between Dar es Salaam and Kigoma (or assuming the line ever reopens, Mwanza). Coming from the west, should you want to take a proper look at Dodoma, there’s nothing stopping you from buying a ticket as far as Dodoma and spending a night there before bussing on to Dar es Salaam the next day. Coming in the opposite direction, it’s possible to buy a ticket out of Dodoma from the railway station in Dar es Salaam. Westbound trains pass through Dodoma between 08.00 and 10.00 the morning after they leave Dar es Salaam.

The 450km road between Dar es Salaam and Dodoma is surfaced in its entirety and shouldn’t take longer than five or six hours to cover in a private vehicle. A fairly steady stream of buses runs between the past and designated capitals, generally leaving before midday and taking around seven hours. You can pick up these buses at Morogoro.

Dodoma is strategically positioned in the centre of Tanzania. As a consequence, many travellers are tempted to cut between other parts of the country through Dodoma, based solely on the impressions of distance gained from a map. It’s emphatically worth stressing that most plans which hang on bussing through Dodoma as a ‘short cut’ should be nipped firmly in the bud, certainly if they involve using the direct road south to Iringa, north to Arusha or west to – well anywhere in the west really. Should you use one of these routes, buses generally leave in either direction in the early morning you’re advised to book a seat an afternoon in advance and to check the exact time of departure (bearing in mind you’ll almost certainly be quoted Swahili time). Most buses depart from the main bus stop just behind the Oilcom petrol station on Dar es Salaam Avenue.

Note that while it would be an act of masochism to bus along the 440km road between Dodoma and Arusha for the pleasure of it, there are a couple of spots along this road that really are worth making an effort to visit, as covered later in this chapter. A few days’ exploration of the region between Dodoma and Arusha would allow you to break the unsurfaced 330km south of the Tarangire National Park junction into three discrete chunks, an altogether more manageable prospect than covering the road in one go.

WHERE TO STAY

Upmarket

A New Dodoma Hotel [388 C6] (96 rooms)  Ø 026 232 1641; e http://www.newdodomahotel.com/. Formerly run by Tanzania Railways, this attractive building opposite the railway station has been extensively expanded & renovated since it was privatised, with the addition of facilities including gym, swimming pool, health club, internet café & hair salon. It’s one of the best places to eat in Dodoma, serving Indian, Chinese & continental meals.

Moderate

A Cana Lodge [388 A4] Ø 026 232 1199. This well-maintained modern lodge, located on 9th St 5 blocks west of Kuu St, has spic-&-span en-suite dbls with fans, TV & telephone. There is a good restaurant & bar, & an internet café next door.

A National Vocational Training Centre [388 D5]  (40 rooms)Ø 026 232 2181. About 2km from the town centre along the Morogoro Rd, this hotel training centre is good value, serves decent food & has a lively bar.

 

Budget

A Holy Trinity Rest House [388 A5] (5 rooms)
Ø 026 232 1190. Run by the Lutheran Church, this homely B&B, opposite the CCT Hostel, has clean no-frills en-suite rooms with net & fan. Meals can be arranged.

A Christian Council of Tanzania (CCT) Hostel
[388 A5] Ø 026 232 1682. This long-serving hostel, 300m from the railway station next to the domed Anglican church, is probably the best budget option in the town centre. Food is available, but alcoholic drinks are banned.

Shoestring There are at least ten basic resthouses clustered around the market and bus station. It’s difficult to make any specific recommendations for starters, half of them are likely to be full on any given day but you should have no problem finding a room for around Tsh6,000. Most places have nets and common showers, so pass over a room that doesn’t.

WHERE TO EAT The Ndigwa Restaurant at the New Dodoma Hotel [388 C6] serves decent Indian and continental cuisine, while the same hotel’s China Garden is one of the best Chinese restaurants in Tanzania, with dishes in the Tsh5,000–10,000 range. Closer into the centre, the long-standing Swahili Restaurant [388 B4] serves good local and Arabic food from around Tsh1,500.

Behind the Mwalimu JK Nyerere Park, Aladdin’s Cave [388 B4] is a great spot for ice cream, yoghurt, juices and inexpensive snacks. Located nearby, Donchoice Afrikano Restaurant [388 B4] serves good and filling local dishes such as fried chicken, chips and ugali for around Tsh2,000–4,000. The Climax Club [388 A6], 2km west of the city centre, is a good place to meet expatriates, down a cold beer, eat, or swim in the pool. The indomitable DK Disco [388 B5], housed in a one-time cinema on Dar es Salaam Avenue, hosts regular discos and the odd live music show.

OTHER PRACTICALITIES

Foreign exchange The central National Bank of Commerce on Kuu Street [388 B1] has the best rates. Local currency can be drawn, against Visa cards only, at the ATM outside here, or at the CRDB Bank [388 A3].

Internet There are internet cafés at the New Dodoma Hotel [388 C6] and Cana Lodge [388 A4]. Less expensive and more central is RAL Internet [388 A4]  (ø 08.00–20.00 daily; Tsh1,000/hr), north of the main roundabout.

Swimming The Climax Club [388 A6] charges a fee to use its small pool, as does the New Dodoma [388 C6].

(c) Philip Briggs 2012

One thought on “Dodoma

  1. philipbriggs says:

    The Gogo of Dodoma

    Dodoma is the principal town of the Gogo (referred to in Swahili as Wagogo) people, and its name – probably in use before any major settlement existed at the site – is derived from the local word idodomya, which means ‘place of sinking’. The most widely accepted explanation for this name is that it was coined by a group of villagers who came down to a stream to collect water, to find an elephant stuck irretrievably in the muddy bank. Another version of events is that a local clan stole some cattle from a neighbouring settlement, slaughtered and ate the stolen beasts, then placed their dismembered tails in a patch of swamp. When a search party arrived, the thieves claimed that the lost animals had sunk in the mud (whether or not anybody actually believed this unlikely story goes unrecorded!).

    One of the most populous of Tanzania’s ethno-linguistic groups, the Gogo people are semi-pastoral Bantu-speakers, noted within Tanzania for their exceptional musicianship and basketwork. Their homeland around Dodoma is characterised by a low annual rainfall figure, and historically it has proved to be unusually prone to drought and crop failure. Gogo oral tradition recalls more than half a dozen serious famines in the 19th century. The first of these, and according to tradition the most severe, is remembered by the name Mpingama (‘Hindrance’). The famine of 1870, referred to in the writings of Henry Stanley, is remembered as Mamudemu (‘Burst Intestine’). A famine in 1881 is known as Kubwa-Kidogo (Big-Small), presumably because it was initiated by a plague of quelea – a sparrow-sized bird that sometimes flock in their tens of thousands to descend locust-like on grain fields.

    The threat of famine has played a significant role in moulding the lifestyle and society of the Gogo, who traditionally live in small permanent villages of wood-and-clay huts, around which they practise low-yield subsistence agriculture. Herders would, however, move long distances to find grazing and water for their cattle, relying – particularly in years of low rainfall – on a co-operative social structure that allowed for the communal use of water sources and grazing within extended clans. The construction of several large dams within a 100km radius of Dodoma region notwithstanding, recurrent drought remains a feature of the region to this day. One of the most severe famines in living memory occurred in the early 1960s, when at least 600,000 people received emergency food rations.

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