Network marketing in Tanzania turns billionaire dreams into night­mares · Global Voices

This story by GV Sub-Saharan Africa originally appeared on Global Voices on Jun 28, 2020 – see­tanzania-turns-billionaire-dreams-into-nightmares/

Everyone desires financial stability, but young people often want to quicken their path to a successful life — and this is exactly what network marketing companies promise.

Over the last five years in Tanzania, network marketing companies, also known as multi-level marketing, have mushroomed in the East African nation. These companies lure young people with “get-rich-quick” dreams that depend on person-to-person sales of products purchased upfront by the seller. Many schemes also rely on the seller’s aggressive recruitment of other independent sales associates.

While technically legal, their interactions with potential customers raise concerns about how these companies prey on vulnerable youth and their billionaire dreams.

“I can assure you, the products are very expensive, which do not reflect the lives of third-world communities,” Traves Msangule, a former network marketer in Dar es Salaam, told Global Voices by phone.

Msangule was a university student in 2013 when a close friend convinced him to join Forever Living Products, a health and wellness company, to help him make some extra money to pay for his studies. Msangule did not have a government loan to cover his school fees, so he agreed to join.

To get started, Msangule had to buy a package of products worth about $320 United States dollars that he then had to re-sell in the hopes of doubling his profit.

The gospel of network marketing schemes is that recruiting new customers will increase earnings — but this is no easy task.

“Take an example: If a toothpaste from the package is sold at $12 USD, while [in reality] there is a toothpaste sold at $1.20 USD, who is going to buy yours? Though the products are of high quality, it’s very difficult to compete,” Msangule said.

Network marketers promote smart, fake lifestyles to persuade people of their success, while in reality, very few people are “eating the cake” of network marketing.

Msangule explained his stressful ordeal in a Twitter thread: “So, when I climbed to that rank, I had to complete points (product sales) for myself and the team. There we were put on a mindset to “push up” in every way until it was understood not to give up. So, I had to start calling to borrow money that night. The deadline was midnight.”

Msangule told Global Voices: “These guys, first of all, are trained to discourage formal employment and small business [self-employment]. They will keep [asking] you: When will you get enough money? The only alternative is this part-time job, which deals with chatting with people, and you can earn millions in just a few weeks and you will be financially stable.”

Unfortunately, in 2017, Msangule had to postpone his studies for a year because this “chatting with people” business consumed his time. With over $750 invested in these products, he had to make sure to earn his profit. When he realized this was not going to happen, he quit.

Network marketing takes off in Tanzania
Network marketing companies that thrive in Tanzania, such as AIM Global, Forever Living Products, Oriflame, QNet, Avon and Edmark, are part of a $200 billion USD global industry as of 2015.

In 2017, QNet, one of the largest direct-selling companies in the world based in Hong Kong, expanded its operations in East Africa, with an agency office in Dar es Salaam, the cultural capital of Tanzania. Thousands of Tanzanian citizens “have registered to market and promote QNet online products…” according to BusinessForHome, an industry website.
AIM Global, based in the Philippines, took hold in Tanzania in 2019 and just celebrated its one-year anniversary with over 4,000 independent distributors.

Many of the companies say they offer extensive professional training, coaching and education to ensure success, including conferences and reward point systems for top sellers.

Top-selling products in Tanzania include health and wellness products, household goods and luxury products.

Naivety, greed, peer pressure
On June 21, the famous actor and comedian, Idriss Sultan, took to Twitter with a video explaining the ills of network marketing in Tanzania, detailing how these companies exploit young people toiling hard with “sweat and blood” to improve their lives.

He opens with the phrase, “Good morning future billionaire, good morning business partner!” a famous network marketing line:

“This video I’ve done in one [single] take and I haven’t cut any part out. It will educate everyone and to those who may get offended by it, fine then, I have no issue, but to say: ‘Let the citizens who earn their money by their sweat benefit from the fruits of their money and not you and your children.’”

Without naming a specific company, Sultan says the mushrooming of the network marketing model in Tanzania – with their various colourful, flashy names – is a threat to young peoples’ lives.

Youth often fail to resist these ploys because they have respect for those who pressure them to join. These companies also use famous people to promote their brands who wield a lot of influence and power.

Sultan said in his video: “…Young people are working very hard, their money is a result of very, very hard work, so it is unacceptable to allow someone from nowhere to come with this system that exploits people.”

Other netizens wrote about their own experience with network marketing: “Certain women’s groups in Dar, — they were my friends — and they bothered me a lot to join these businesses, but I did not agree to join quickly, meaning, I was not able to understand what were they doing exactly? I was afraid to invest my money and also, I calculated what they really earned…”

A lack of information and a thirst for shortcuts can be a dangerous mix for young people who hustle and work hard to improve their lives in Tanzania, where the average monthly income is about $150-$215 USD. A 2017 study by Theobald Francis Kipilimba on the effect of pyramid schemes on the economy in Tanzania revealed:

“…most Tanzanians are very naïve when it comes to pyramid schemes, with very scant knowledge about these schemes. Many do not know if they have participated in these schemes but in those instances that they had, they suffered huge financial losses. …”

“As to the reasons as to why they participated in these schemes in the first place range from pure naivety, personal greed and peer pressure.”
The Tanzanian government has allotted 10% of total revenue toward interest-free loans for youth, women and people with disabilities but these groups remain vulnerable to predatory promises posed by network marketing companies.


by Donovan McGrath

Meet the Chinese ‘tambi’ noodle-makers of Zanzibar
(Al Jazeera (Qatar) – online) The story behind a popular Ramadan dish of fried vermicelli noodles and dark raisins in sweet coconut milk. Extract continues: In Zanzibar, Ramadan is not complete without the sweet promise of tambi (noodles in Swahili) at iftar – the evening meal to break the daily fast… The noodles, made in small batches by Chinese-owned noodle factories on the sister islands of Unguja and Pemba, are a testament to Zanzibar’s long-standing history of trade with China dating back to 1000 AD. Amid the buzz and boil at the Kariakoo Noodles on Unguja, Howingkao explains: “I was born in Zanzibar … I started working at the noodle factory as a young man … Howingkao’s father, Hojofat Howai, was born in southern China in the Cantonese port city of Guangzhou. In the early 1930s, he travelled with his father (Howingkao’s grandfather) by sea to the island of Pemba, where the family found work trading cloves and sea cucumbers… With a grow­ing family of four sons, Hojofat Howai and his wife decided to stay and establish a noodle-making factory in Chake Chake, Pemba. When Zanzibar’s 1964 revolution triggered a mass exodus … [t]hey relocated to Unguja to open Kariakoo Noodles, which Howingkao and his older brother Hing manage today. Five different Chinese family-owned noo­dle factories with generational roots in Zanzibar currently operate on Unguja alone, with a few other noodle shops on Pemba. “The Chinese introduced tambi [noodles] to Zanzibar,” Howingkao explains, “but Zanzibaris made it their own.” … Mrs Chen, Howingkao’s cousin in her late 60s, believes it was her father, Chen Nang, also from Guangzhou, who first popularised the flour-based noodle in Zanzibar. In the 1920s, Chen Nang travelled by sea to Zanzibar to make a living in the sea cucumber export business. He moved around Unguja a lot and noticed Swahili villagers labouring to make small batches of rice flour noodles by hand… In the 1930s, Chen Nang returned to Guangzhou, got mar­ried and returned to Unguja with his wife and a hand-cranked noodle machine… “Everyone started asking for this tambi. And the rest is his­tory!” says Mrs Chen… (12 June 2018)

The crop that put women on top in Zanzibar

Seaweed farmers in Paje (BBC online)

(BBC World Service (UK) -online) Seaweed has been hailed as the new superfood, and it’s also found in toothpaste, medicine and shampoo. In Zanzibar, it’s become big business – and as it has been farmed prin­cipally by women, it has altered the sexual balance of power. Extract continues: When seaweed farming was first introduced in the early 1990s, men thought it wasn’t worth their while. They preferred fishing or jobs in tourism. But some didn’t want their wives to farm either. Mohamed Mzale, a community leader in the east coast village of Paje puts it bluntly: “I thought this seaweed business was a kind of family planning because after hours on the beach and work in the house our women were very tired – they had no time – you know… to make babies.” Mohamed initially refused to let his wife go with the others… Seaweed farming has proved a liberating force on the overwhelmingly Muslim island. Until recently most women in the villages only left their houses to go to a funeral, a wedding or to visit a sick relative. Their isolation was even reflected in the architecture – many houses have stone benches along the outside wall to allow men to receive visitors at home without compromising the privacy of their women indoors. “At the beginning some husbands threatened divorce if their wives went out to farm seaweed,” says marine biologist Flower Msuya. “But when they saw the money women were making, they slowly began to accept it.” … Safia Mohamed, a seaweed farmer from the village of Bweleo on the south-west coast, has done exceptionally well for herself. She has a shop where she sells seaweed soap, jam and chutney. With the proceeds she bought her sons a fishing boat, a scooter and built a big family house… [However the] women have … [a] problem to deal with – climate change… [I]n Paje seaweed stopped growing for three years from 2011. It gradually returned, but only the low-value spinosum vari­ety which contains less of the substance – carrageenan – which is used as a thickening agent in foods, cosmetics and medicines. As a result, the business is less lucrative. To make matters worse, for a while the warmer sea temperatures encouraged a form of blue-green algae that gave the women painful rashes and blisters. Many in Paje gave up the business – out of 450 seaweed farmers working in the town 20 years ago, only 150 are left… [W]omen who used to farm seaweed on the beach are now making [fried samosas and] handicrafts which they sell to sunbath­ing tourists. Still, the fact that they are at work outside the house is one of seaweed’s legacies… (3 July 2018)

Karate biker nun takes the fight to HIV

Sister Kate Costigan with Maasai pillion passenger – Telegraph online

(The Guardian Weekly -UK) New campaign of mass checks aims to tackle disease in Tanzania. Extract continues: … [I]n a field in Tanzania, a meeting about HIV has turned into an impromptu karate lesson. Families laugh as people take turns to practice with Sister Kate. This is not how most nuns do community outreach. It’s more than 30 years since Kate Costigan—a motorbike-riding, karate black belt—left her home in Tipperary, Ireland. At 19 she entered the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Apostles, travelling first to Nigeria and later Tanzania… Today, Costigan is at the forefront of an HIV campaign that could be a template for other low-income countries. The programme—run jointly by pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences and the Vatican—is pro­moting mass checks, with treatment offered to anyone who tests posi­tive, regardless of their clinical stage. The World Health Organisation believes this approach, offered alongside other prevention methods, could prevent 21 million deaths globally … Costigan rides a motorbike to deliver HIV care to local villages quickly, while churches invite health experts to give seminars on getting tested… In Tanzania, two-thirds of the population are Christian, and the church has the power to shape attitudes. Thirty years ago, in the Mwanza region in the north­west, Pope John Paul II gave a speech that made the Vatican’s fierce and controversial opposition to condom use clear. Since then, its stance on prevention has been widely criticised by HIV experts, including the WHO. On the ground in Tanzania, people take a pragmatic approach. Costigan follows church teachings but says: “We don’t give out con­doms but they know where they can get them and they’re always given proper information.” … Elsewhere others are more outspoken. “Even the priest himself advised I use condoms,” says one woman, who is now an HIV counsellor and advises everyone to use protection. Across Tanzania, there are still more than 30,000 Aids-related deaths a year… (27 July 2018)—Thanks to Roger Bowen for this item—Editor

Twitter now speaks Swahili. Poa sana!
(CNN (USA) – online) Extract: After years of hashtags and outcries, Twitter now recognizes Swahili, one of East Africa’s most common languages. And that’s poa sana – or as Twitter would tell you, pretty awesome. The social media platform now offers translation for the language spoken by tens of millions in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and some parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It’s unclear when Twitter started recognizing Swahili. Before that, it described Swahili tweets as Indonesian and translated them into a mumbo jumbo of inco­herent words… The recognition comes after a campaign by Kenyans on social media, who regularly used hashtags #SwahiliIsNotIndonesia and #TwitterRecognizesSwahili on the social media platform to demand recognition… (15 May 2018)

Joseph Mbilinyi takes Tanzania to court over rap song ban
(BBC (UK) – online) Tanzanian MP Joseph Mbilinyi says he will sue the government for banning his rap song about state prisons. Extract contin­ues: Basata, the country’s arts council, banned the song for using words that “incite public violence.” The song was leaked after the opposition MP, popularly known as MC Sugu, was jailed for allegedly defaming President John Magufuli. The ban comes amid complaints about restric­tions to freedom of expression. Basata said in a press statement that the song, which it dubbed #219, had generated numerous complaints from the public and “brings into jeopardy the reputation of the arts industry in composing songs”… The opposition Chadema party MP has asked lawyers to begin the process of taking Basata to court “to ensure that the agency desists from interfering, censuring and destroying the works of artists,” Mr Mbilinyi said. Tanzanian authorities banned 13 local songs deemed obscene in March after receiving a list from Basata… (22 June 2018)

Kenya, Tanzania mark 20 years since US embassy bombings
(AP (USA) – online) Extract: Kenyans and Tanzanians … marked the 20th anniversary of the al-Qaida bombings of the U.S. embassies in their countries that killed more than 250 people, with hundreds of local sur­vivors calling on the U.S. government for compensation. The explosions on Aug. 7, 1998, were the first major al-Qaida attack on U.S. targets… “There immediate purpose was to kill and destroy, but they had more in mind. They sought to divide us, to divide friends … to undermine the values we hold dear, to destroy civilization itself and replace it with a nightmare of oppression,” [U.S. ambassador Robert] Godec said… The embassy bombings brought al-Qaida to the attention of the U.S. public and the world three years before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington that killed nearly 3,000. (7 August 2018)

Tanzania Wants to Build Pipeline to Pump Gas to Uganda
(Reuters (UK) – online) Extract: … State-run Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation (TPDC) said … that the pipeline would start from its capital Dar es Salaam, then pass through Tanga port on the Indian Ocean and to Mwanza, a port on Lake Victoria before crossing the border to Uganda… Tanzania boasts estimated recoverable natural gas reserves of over 57 trillion cubic feet (tcf), mostly in offshore fields in the south of the country… (6 August 2018)

Prisons crackdown launched
(The Guardian Weekly – UK) Extract: The Tanzanian president John Magufuli, has ordered that prisoners be made to work “day and night”, that conjugal visits be ended, and that lazy inmates should be “kicked”. The leader, who has come under fire from human rights groups over his authoritarian leadership style and a crackdown on freedoms, was speaking at the inauguration of the new prisons chief, Faustine Martin Kasike. He said underemployment of prisoners encouraged drug use and homosexuality in prisons… (27 July 2018)—Thanks to Roger Bowen for this item—Editor

George Jonas: Tanzanian who contributed in producing Air Tanzania’s Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner
(BBC Swahili (UK) – online) When the new ACTL corporation Boeing 787-8 plane landed at Julius Nyerere airport … few people would have thought that a Tanzanian is among those who manufactured the plane. Extract continues: Even so, the fact is George Jonas, who comes from the Mbeya region, is among the technical officials involved in the pro­duction of the 262-seater aircraft named Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner. The aircraft’s engines have been built by special methods in order to reduce the sound inside and outside the plane by 60 per cent while its windows are 30 per cent larger than those on other aircraft of the same size. Jonas, whose father was a Tanzanian soldier, told The Citizen in Tanzania that he has been involved in the construction of the plane since 2015 as a worker for the American Boeing company, which constructs, manu­factures and sells aircraft, rockets, Satelites and missiles… [At] Ilboru secondary school in Arusha … “I studied science and participated in the studies of Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics”, said [Jonas]. He was chosen by a group of American citizens who were looking for a young Tanzanian who had credentials in order to work in Amercia for three months. “I felt fortunate. I didn’t know anyone at this time, and my parents didn’t have the money to send me to study overseas.”, said Jonas … In America, he sent out applications to study at univer­sity and was successful in being enrolled at the University of Wichita where he studied for a degree in electrical installations engineering along with mathematics. These studies were expected to send him on to the Bombardier firm, a Canadian aircraft transportation company in Montreal, Quebec. He did his training at the Bombardier Wichita branch in 2005 while involved in the manufacture of private and mili­tary aircraft. He worked in the company for four years before joining Boeing in 2011 as an aircraft electronic installations engineer. He was involved in all the systems of flying this plane. At one time when he was on the internet, he came across a Boeing advert and decided to send an application. “One day, when I was at work, I received a phone call from Boeing telling me that I was among 50 people who were listed for a job interview. They sent me the plane fare. I went to the interview without worry because I had been employed by Bombardier”, he said. Later, he received the good news that he got the job and that it would be good for him to move to Seatle state to work at Boeing. (11 July 2018) – This item was published in Swahili, which I have rendered into English. Any errors in the translation are entirely my own – Donovan McGrath

Tanzania Plans to Suspend Naspers’ Multichoice Telecoms License
(Reuters (UK) – online) Extract: Tanzania’s telecommunications regulator intends to suspend the license of Multichoice, owned by South Africa’s Naspers, for continuing to carry free-to-air channels. A notice issued by Tanzania’s Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA) said Multichoice had been instructed in June not to carry the channels on its platform, but the de facto Africa pay-TV monopoly had persisted in doing so. It did not say when it would suspend Multichoice’s license. The authority also issued an intention to suspend notice to Simbanet Tanzania Limited, another pay-TV channel, Philip Filikunjombe, TCRA’s acting Head of Enforcement and Compliance Affairs, told Reuters … The announcement follows the suspension of Chinese multinational media company StarTimes’ subsidiary in Tanzania which the regulator said had not met its license obligation to provide access to free to air content services (8 August 2018)


I am writing to correct and clarify some points in John Arnold’s review of Ralph Ibbott’s book published in the last issue of Tanzanian Affairs (issue 110, Jan to April 2015).

Firstly, the correct title of the book is: Ujamaa – The hidden story of Tanzanian’s socialist villages (and not, Ujamaa – The hidden story of Tanzania’s economic development from the grassroots).

Secondly, the reviewer uses the words co-operative and collective interchangeably, which confuses the history. The Ruvuma Development Association was a self-governing collective. It was not and never called itself a co-operative, a completely different set up in the Tanzanian context. Co-operatives introduced by the State were operating at the same time as the RDA was thriving, and were limited largely to marketing the produce of peasant farmers. They were often corrupt and not under the control of growers who were found to be very discontented (Cranford Pratt, 1976).

In contrast, in the RDA villages every member had an equal right to participate regularly in decision-making. Further, everyone – women, men, sick and elderly – received an equal share of the food produced and of any income raised. All able-bodied adults worked on the communal farms, where necessary after fulfilling other responsibilities, as collectively agreed.

Solveig Francis (on behalf of the Ujamaa Working Group, Crossroads Books)

The editors would like to encourage readers to send their responses to any of our articles. Letters can be sent by email to ben.d.taylorgmailcom.


I am very happy to announce that Tanzanian Affairs now has two coeditors. Seven BTS members responded to the advertisement I placed in the BTS Newsletter some months ago asking for a volunteer deputy editor. I would like to apologise to the other BTS members who offered to help in various ways and have not yet heard from me. It has taken several months to decide what to do in view of the wealth of experience which you all offered. I am very grateful and would like to keep your names on file so that we can perhaps call on you again at some future date. Both of the new co-editors speak Swahili fluently and visit the country frequently.

Donovan Mc Grath is a full-time lecturer in Media and Communications and a part-time lecturer in Swahili. He is an Alumnus of the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) where he gained a BA Honours degree in African Language and Culture. He also studied Swahili Poetry, the Swahili Novel and Advanced Swahili Usage at the University of Dar es Salaam. Later on, at Middlesex University, he achieved a Master of Arts degree in Film and Visual Cultures. He is co-author of Colloquial Swahili, published by Routledge in 2003. He has also written extensively on the subject of film and theatre for Live magazine here in the UK and book reviews (in Swahili) for Femina magazine in Tanzania. As his first contribution Donovan has written the largest part of our feature ‘Tanzania in the International Media’ in this issue. The other co-editor is Jacob Knight, an engineer stationed in Botswana who keeps in close touch with what is happening in Tanzania. He has been playing a vital role in the production of TA for some time as typesetter and graphic designer and also now produces Tanzanian Affairs on line at which is attracting a growing readership.
Number of hits each month on the website

Jacob is hoping to upload more back issues of Tanzanian Affairs onto the website to make a searchable archive dating back to the first issue in 1975. While much of the process is automated, human input is required in tidying up the text files and correcting the mistakes made by the computer when “reading” the printed copies – any volunteers to assist with this would be appreciated (email
David Brewin, Editor.

1985 and 1986 Issues now online

We have started uploading some of the back issues of Tanzanian Affairs with the aim of providing a record of Tanzanian Affairs dating back to the first issue in the late 1970’s. Unfortunately this is a rather time consuming operation – any volunteers willing to help tidy up the text files which are generated by the optical character recognition please get in touch (no special software required) editor AT tzaffairs DOT org

Issue 25 (Sept 1986) can be found here
Issue 21 (July 1985) can be found here


This site was one of thousands of wordpress sites attacked by hackers who used a security flaw in a previous version of WordPress to corrupt two articles by altering some of the links to point to their own sites. That casued Google to label the site as “suspect”. I believe I have now removed the hackers code and the site is back to normal, and has been cleared by Google.

Apologies if anyone was affected by this, and I will increase security on the server to try to prevent it happening again.




Tanzanian Affairs is a magazine with news and current affairs issued by the Britain-Tanzania Society. It is published three times a year. The views expressed or reported are those of the person concerned and do not necessarily represent the views of the Britain-Tanzania Society. All the information is copyright – please refer here for more details.


Many thanks for the great response to the questionnaires sent out with our last issue of TA. Readers were asked to express their interest in or lack of interest in the various sections of ‘Tanzanian Affairs ‘. Well over 100 readers responded and almost all the comments were flattering. Political news came out as easily the most interesting part of the journal. 99% of readers found this section ‘very interesting’ and no one found it ‘uninteresting’. The section on ‘Readers letters’ came second – I hope we shall be receiving many more of these now that we know that 98% of our readers will read other reader’s letters! The next most popular group of subjects included economic news, book and other reviews, and ‘Tanzania in the Media’. Other subjects which came slightly lower in popularity included stories of personal experiences in Tanzania, news about Zanzibar, obituaries, ‘Business News’ and ’50 Years Ago’ (12% of readers were not at all interested in this section). There were fewer readers interested in the arts (21% said they were not interested) and music, especially modern Tanzanian music, was even less popular. 28% of readers described news about sport as ‘not of interest to me’. Perhaps if Tanzania had qualified for the World Cup finals! The percentages reflect a very high rate of interest in virtually every aspect of Tanzanian life. Many readers said that they read TA from cover to cover and passed it on to others to read.

Readers were invited to comment and many did. One suggested a clearer layout. Others wanted weather reports, more on trends in Swahili, an annual accumulative index (any volunteers to compile up to 27 of these? – I can supply a complete set of back issues); stock market reports; more on community/school links (please see the Britain-Tanzania Society’s Newsletter for these), more on the living standards of ordinary people under the ‘reforms’, and a new section on public transport. Other readers said ‘Do not drop any of the present sections’ (we agree), ‘provide more photographs’ (this may be possible but space is a problem), ‘an environment slot please, especially on Tanzania’s exceptional biology’, ‘please ask advertisers to give some idea of prices’, ‘more on literature’, ‘more articles from Tanzanians’, ‘more about small scale development projects’, ‘more on problems and events in other African countries’ (must say no to this one – there is never enough space to cover Tanzania!), ‘a little more background e.g the make-up of the National Assembly (see TA No. 53), ‘more on local government’, ‘a travel up-date section please ‘. Finally, one reader asked for a statement of purpose. This is easy. It is to keep people informed about what is happening in the country. That is all.

Some readers broadened the scope of the debate. One commented that many Tanzanians have strong opinions about expatriate ‘aid’ and how it is exploited by sections of their communities; another said that the length of TA can be off putting initially (do not fear – it will not get any longer!); another congratulated us on leaving political correctness behind and being neutral to the IMF.

Many thanks again. All comments have been noted but please remember that we have only 48 pages three times a year and an awful lot happens in Tanzania all the time! – Editor.