Life, Africa

Tanzanian women small business entrepreneurs face challenges

Sub-Saharan Africa has world's highest entrepreneurship rate, with about 42% of non-agricultural labor force classified as self-employed

Kizito Makoye  | 06.08.2022 - Update : 06.08.2022
Tanzanian women small business entrepreneurs face challenges FILE PHOTO


For Zuwena Seif, transforming her shabby hair salon in the Tanzanian port city of Dar es Salaam into a larger main street enterprise was a challenging task.

“Without enough capital, this was my biggest challenge,” she told Anadolu Agency.

The 44-year-old mother of four repeatedly applied for a bank loan, but her applications were rejected as she lacked a fixed asset to serve as collateral.

Sub-Saharan Africa has one of the highest rates of entrepreneurship in the world, with approximately 42% of the non-agricultural labor force classified as self-employed or employers.

However, analysts say most entrepreneurs are unable to expand their businesses beyond small-scale subsistence operations, impeding their contribution to poverty reduction and shared prosperity.

Although Seif had already found a niche for her salon that helped her attract a loyal clientele, the lack of a strong business plan and preparation made her business venture less profitable.

“I couldn’t employ skilled hairdressers because I couldn't afford to pay them on a regular basis,” she explained.

After a long battle for a loan, Seif eventually gave up and shut the salon down.

She has since switched over to the consumer goods business, which she says is more profitable.

She is among many women entrepreneurs who are struggling to eke out a living in a low-profit sector.

While owning a business in the lucrative beauty industry is a pretty safe bet, many women entrepreneurs are unable to capitalize on the opportunity.

“Running a hair salon pays well depending on the location and the facilities you have to attract customers,” Seif said.

Hurdles to growth

Like elsewhere in Africa, Tanzania’s entrepreneurs often face barriers to accessing desperately needed funds or feeling respected as business owners with a strong support system.

“Working as an entrepreneur isn’t easy. Women particularly face many challenges, including cashflow problems and poor marketing skills,” said Jane Magigita, founder and executive director of Equality for Growth, a local charity that supports women in the informal sector.

Most women entrepreneurs face a serious lack of business knowledge, she told Anadolu Agency, adding that “starting your own business can be a hard process that requires patience and know-how.”

Apart from the typical entrepreneurial pitfalls, women who spoke with Anadolu Agency mentioned several challenges, including getting funding and the fear of failure.

Magdalena Kimboi, a market trader in the city, urged Tanzania’s government to create a conducive environment for small-scale traders. “My business can only grow if I get support from the government. They must empower women to be more independent,” she told Anadolu Agency.

Supplementing family income

In the smoldering heat of Tegeta, a bustling neighborhood in Dar es Salaam, Elizabeth Kasala is busy cooking maize meals, popularly known as ugali, plus fish stew and vegetables.

“Doing something is better than sitting idle because I get something to feed my children,” she told Anadolu Agency.

Kasala, engulfed in smoke, grabs a handful of maize flour from a bag and sprinkles it in boiling water to make a thick consistency. “I cook ugali because the flour is cheap. If I had more money, I would cook rice and meat too,” she said.

Kasala works seven hours a day and earns about 35,000 Tanzanian shillings (roughly $15) to supplement her family's income.

"When I told my husband about starting this business, he was skeptical, but now he’s very happy," she said.

However, unlike other licensed traders who display their wares in wooden stalls, Kasala cooks in the open air and says she is often harassed by the city municipality.

"We always play hide-and-seek with the city administration, who frequently seize our utensils," she complained.

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