Development Initiatives will not stop people from moving to the city. Mwanza Municipal [Photograph: Oluwabusayo Sotunde/]

Why Development Initiatives Cannot Curb Rural-Urban Migration in Tanzania


MWANZA – When Kepher Nyamzi got a government appointment to work as a Laboratory Technician at Bwisya Health Centre, the only hospital in Ukara, he was distressed.

“At first, I wasn’t happy with my posting to this community because I found it difficult to live and work where there is no electricity. At a point, I wanted to request a transfer out of the community to the district hospital at Ukerewe,” he told Rural Reporters during an interview at his office in Ukara.

But Kepher has put his plan to move on hold as a result of the newly installed solar power in Ukara.

Last year, about 250 customers in Ukara were connected to a hybrid power station consisting of a 60-kilowatt peak (kWp) solar PV system, a 33 kVA diesel generator, and a 240 kilowatt hours (kWh) battery bank. This is part of the government’s partnership with Jumeme, the largest mini-grid operator in Tanzania, to set up 300 systems that would serve at least one million people in rural areas across Tanzania by 2022.

“Because of the solar power, I now have another source of income and my will to stay in Ukara is strong,” he said. Aside its domestic use, Kepher also use the solar power to keep the chicken in his poultry warm.

But despite the new initiative, he doesn’t plan to stay long.

“I plan to move out of Ukara in the nearest future because this is a health center. My dream is to work in a big hospital where I can do things I studied when I was [in] college. There is a limit to what I can do here if I stay behind.”

Limited opportunities fuel rural-urban migration. Many have left but few are coming back. [Photograph: Oluwabusayo Sotunde/]

Left Behind

Ukara, a remote rural island located in the south-eastern region of Lake Victoria in Mwanza, consists of eight villages  – Bwisya, Bukungu, Bukiko, Chibasi, Chifule, Kome, Nyang’ombe and Nyamanga. Bwisya, where Kepher works, is the largest village and capital of Ukara.

Until recently, Ukara a community of about 34,181 people [according to the national census of 2012] had no electricity. There is no manufacturing industry to employ people. The educated population often move out of the Island to Mwanza municipal and beyond in search of a better life.

Kepher says when there is an extreme case of medical emergency; patients have to go out of the Island.

In severe medical cases, this may be dangerous because the ferry operation to and fro the island is unpredictable. In most cases, the ferry operates twice a day. From the municipal, it takes about two days to catch up with the boat that will take you to the Island. The first ferry takes you to Ukerewe Island, and then you wait until the next day to catch a ferry to Ukara Island.

With the provision of the solar power in Bwisya, the hospital is now able to use some of the medical machines that were abandoned before. Machines like the microscope for malaria test and the CD4 COUNT machine used for HIV/AIDS testing are now in use. The future plan is to build a big or medium operation theatre because people who need the medical operation in the community need to travel to the city to get it done.

The lives of many others have also been changed by the presence of the solar power. The solar electricity has been adopted by a carpentry workshop, a Miller, the hospital, a restaurant that uses it to power its microwave and rice cooker, a new hotel and few houses. But this development has not been able to draw people back to Ukara and convince intending migrants from moving away from the community.

Their economic activities seem not to be able to sustain them. Like Kepher, not many people want to stay behind in Ukara. The reason given is lack of viable opportunities.

For decades, many households in Ukara have been troubled with insufficient amounts of cultivable land, and out-migration has acted as a safety net in controlling population pressure on land. This has culminated in the voluntary and forced resettlements of local farmers to the mainland in 1974 as part of the Ujamaa villagization program by the socialist government.

For those who never left, the wide-scale adoption of tuber crops cassava and sweet potato, instead of the traditional cereals bulrush millet and sorghum, as well as the rapid development of the commercial fishery on Lake Victoria has served as a source of income for many local households.

Also, new economic opportunities are allowing many farming and fishing households to diversify their livelihood portfolios through many non-farm activities like driving boda-boda [commercial motorcycle], selling mitumba, owning restaurants and selling domestic items in kiosks.

At the shore of Bwisya, you can see some abandoned boats scattered around. While some continue to fish, the economic activity is done on a subsistence scale, and the business isn’t as lucrative as before because of climate change.

As a result, many of those who remain within Ukara have to do as many jobs as they can.

A typical example is Deus Malima Majinde, a member of Ukara village committee, who has not known any home besides Ukara.

Deus like many people in Bwisya engages in multiple jobs to survive. To make ends meet, Deus works as a boda-boda driver [commercial motor cyclist], a farmer, a fisherman and an advocate of clean energy for Jumeme, convincing his fellow villagers to subscribe to the use of solar energy to improve their social and economic status.

“I have never left Ukara to live elsewhere. I was born here, and I don’t think I will be moving out of this community anytime soon because there are no job opportunities even outside Ukara. If I move, what will I do there?”

Just as in Ukara, there are only a few job opportunities around the lake zone in Mwanza. The situation is more severe in Island communities and rural areas. Many of those who remain in rural communities around the lake region either rare animals, fish, farm or engage in small scale business.  The alternative jobs available for people in Mwanza range from driving boda-boda or working in hotels. But most hotels now require a level of professionalism from new hires instead of someone who has never attended any hotel management training.

Deus Majinde has never left Ukara. He has to do multiple jobs to survive [Photograph: Oluwabusayo Sotunde/]

When people move out Mwanza, they sometimes move to Dar es Salam where there are more alternative jobs.     Mwanza is the second largest city after Dar es Salam, so the alternative place is to go to Dar es Salam, which so far is full. But so many people are also suffering from unemployment in Dar es Salam. So sometimes, many people consider it best to stay in their district and look for an alternative means of satisfying their wants.

Rashidi Cheka has never moved beyond Mwanza. After leaving his job as a Mechanic to become a driver for a car-hire company in Tanzania 25 years ago, the father of five says he is not interested in moving unless there is a ‘very big offer he can’t resist.’

“I have never moved beyond Mwanza because there is not much opportunity for me beyond this place. Through this diving job, I have been able to build my house and my plan is to have a small shop I can retire to.”


In pursuit of Happiness   

Historically, Ukara’s most famous ‘export product’ has been its youthful labourers. Migration, especially seasonal and circular labour migration by young men and women, can be seen as an invaluable part of the livelihoods of many local households.

Originally from Ukara, 32 year old Rock Mlangwa, work as a senior front desk officer in a leading resort in Mwanza municipal. Although his early years were spent in Ukara, after he migrated with his father when he was a boy, he has built his life in the municipal and has no plan to move back to Ukara in the future.

Now that his father has retired from the civil service, Rock says even his father won’t be going back to Ukara. “My father married 11 wives and has 27 kids. If ever my father moved back to Ukara, he will not be able to control his life or provide for his family. He cannot go back because other people have taken his land.”

Rock’s father moved to Kome Island in Segelema where he got a land to farm after retirement.

“I think my father also realised that there is nothing left for him at Ukara. That is why he didn’t move back to Ukara permanently.”


The Thirst for More

According to Edwin Soko, a human right activist and public administrator, weak local institutions and administration setup are to blame for the push and pull factor of rural migration to urban areas. Also, “most of NGO activities are centered on people living in the rural areas but hardly will you find one established within the rural community. This is favoritism of the town to the village and rural areas are left behind regarding development”.

In Ukerewe, a neighbouring Island to Ukara, 23 years old Samson Magesa works as a boda-boda driver. He has never moved out of Ukerewe but he is earnestly looking for ‘a better job opportunity’ outside the Island. His biggest prospect is to move to the municipal.

“Although I am riding boda-boda, I am not entirely happy with it. I am doing this job because there are no employment opportunities apart from this.”

In Ukerewe, there used to be two manufacturing industry –a textile and soap industry. The economy collapse and massive importation of foreign goods killed the local manufacturing industry. The formal industry in Ukerewe is dead.

At Mwanza municipal where Samson longs to go, there used to be a thriving fishing, textile, leather, and ginneries industry that employ thousands of people. Lots of people used to migrate from different parts of Tanzania to work in these sectors. But with the collapse of the industrial and manufacturing sector ten years ago, there is no functioning textile, and leather industries in Mwanza and the fishing industries aren’t doing well or employing people as much as before. The four big fishing industries in Mwanza are longer in operation.

As a result, many people flock to the main cities and towns like Dar es Salaam and Mwanza municipal [for those who didn’t migrate out of the lake zone] in search of greener pastures.

Samson says a large number of people have moved out of Ukerewe without coming back. “They don’t come back here. Not even to invest. None of those who have economic activity outside Ukerewe send money home to build houses,” he said. “The people from here don’t usually build their house here, but those who come here to do business or work with the government are those who are building their homes here.”

Even Deus who has never moved from Ukara says he is ready to move if he finds better opportunity outside the Island.

Samson Magesa says a large number of people have also moved out of Ukerewe without coming back. [Photograph: Oluwabusayo Sotunde/]

Moving Back   

Will he ever go back home? Rock doesn’t think so.

“What am I going to do? ”  he asked.

Like Rock, many of those who have moved hardly come back to live or invest in their community.

The people of Kara solely depend on fishing and agriculture as a primary economic activity. As per social amenities, the entire Island has at least one primary school in each of the eight villages, two secondary schools, one health center and a police station. There are limited opportunities for people left in the community.

“Life is difficult there. Even when I go back, I have to prepare myself because I have to part with some money. I have to help them when I go there. ”

Rock says he only visits Ukara once in a year or once in two years to visit his relatives or when there is a family emergency.

Speaking with Rural Reporters in front of a mechanic shop at Ukara, Deus confirmed that many Ukara indigenes have moved away, “but they hardly come back.” “Migrating back into the community is a 50-50 chance. When the educated ones move out of Ukara, they do not come back to invest here.”

“However, some youths from here have come back to invest. Most times, the investment involves having a kiosk, buying boda-boda [commercial motorcycle] for their colleague here to do business while others are building houses.”

The same goes for other parts of Mwanza. Rahidi who has spent all his life around Mwanza, particularly in Illemela, says most of his relatives who have moved beyond Mwanza don’t come back home to invest.

“All their investments are in Dar es Salaam. Most of them never come back home, and as a result of this, when they die, it is somehow difficult for them to be buried in their father’s land because they have never invested at home.”

A ferry leaves the port in Mwanza to one of the rural island communities [Photograph: Oluwabusayo Sotunde/]

In justification, Rock says it is hard to invest in rural communities like Ukara because there is little or no Return on Investment. “When people invest, they invest on where can pay them back, not otherwise. Besides, you won’t get the necessary support from people in the community. The lands are occupied, and there is no room for much investment. So your coming back is like trying to shorten their ration.”

According to Rock, “People who invest there are not originally from Ukara. And when they do, they seek investment in fishing. The significant investment is usually at the side of the lake and not inside the community because there is no land. You can’t find 1 hectare of land to farm there. It has been taken over by those who permanently live there –those who depend on land [agriculture] and fishing to survive. You can’t build a school because people don’t support education. So when we [migrant-indigenes] invest, we build on our parent’s land to show that we have a root here. That is what most people do.”

A generous number of those who have migrated from Ukara also complained that they find it hard to move back to their hometown because the people of Kara don’t like migrants coming back for fear of competition for land, social differentiation and the erosion of traditional community values.

In Rocks words, “People run away because of fetish traditional, local belief [sorcery and witchcraft]. You have to match their life with theirs. If you try to refuse, they challenge you, abuse you and will not support you. Even the few times I am there, they want me to initiate my kids into local traditional beliefs.”

Edwin Soko, a public administrator, says more development priority should be placed on rural areas. “More hospitals, schools, and industries should also be built in the rural areas and not in the urban area where people are made to follow the services. That way, there will be an equal distribution of wealth between the rural and urban centers and mass migration from rural to urban will lessen.”

“The government is in the process of shifting the capital city from Dar es Salaam to Dodoma. And now, there are big schools, water services and headquarter in Dodoma. This same theory can be adopted within each region,” he said.

Regardless of what people like Rock may believe, Deus is convinced that the installation of the solar plant will encourage people to stay back in Ukara. “With the emergence of this solar power in our community, I believe the development of this place, will go too fast [grow in leaps and bound].”


This story was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation’s African Great Lakes Initiative.

Busayo Sotunde is a prolific writer with special focus on Business, Entrepreneurship, Reproductive Health and other development issues in Africa. Her articles have been published by different outlets including Investing Port and She has a penchant for reading and sustainable development. Follow Busayo on Twitter @BusayomiSotunde

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