Porters or Slaves?
By VALENTINE MARC NKWAME
The Arusha Times (Issue 413, April 1-7, 2006)
Effective July 1, 2006, tour operators who take tourists for mountain climbing trips, will be required to pay luggage-shouldering porters their daily allowances, instead of leaving the laborers at the mercy of mountain guides who of late have been reported to treat porters like slaves.
However, members of the Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (TATO), who met in Moshi in March 2006 to address the issue, have opposed a recent directive from the Ministry of Tourism and Natural Resources, which had initially ordered the Tanzania National Parks Authority (TANAPA) to take the responsibility of paying mountain porters their allowances.
Porters operating around Mount Kilimanjaro have related their predicament to the ministry, emphasizing how they are being exploited as baggage carriers. Early this year, porters lodged complaints to the concerned ministry regarding what they described as poor treatment and low payment, which they are usually forced to endure during hiking trips, despite the hard and dangerous task of taking tourists up Africa's tallest mountain.
Fierce competition among local porters, who for years have been craving to be hired, make them vulnerable to unscrupulous guides. The porters' wages have thus remained under the whims of mountain guides who would take a particular team up the mountain and force the job-seeking porters to accept meager pay in order to be allowed to carry the tourist luggage during the hiking.
The Ministry of Tourism and Natural Resources and TATO reportedly agreed that daily allowances for each porter should be 6,000 Tanzania shillings (about $5 U.S.) for the Marangu route and Tsh. 8,000 ($7 U.S.) for other routes such as the Machame corridor and the unofficial Rombo route. These figures are to be multiplied by six climbing days at the end of which a porter is expected to pocket between Tsh. 36,000 ($32 U.S.) and Tsh. 48,000 ($42 U.S.).
Officially a single porter is required to carry a maximum of 25 kilograms (about 55 pounds); 20 kg (44 pounds) consisting of the tourist's baggage while the other 5 kg (11 pounds) being the porter's own luggage. This load is supposed to go lower after each stop over, because much of the contents are food which gets consumed at particular spots during the hiking expedition.
However, according to TATO, some unscrupulous operators and their guides sometimes forced a single porter to shoulder up to 50 kilos (110 pounds) during a particular hiking trip, a load which was supposed to be carried by two persons. They do so in order to save money .
It is reported that, in most cases the porters are not even provided with protective gear such as boots, warm clothing and more often they go without food as well. A tour operator stated during the meeting that porters were usually seen sleeping in shredded tents, begging for something to eat and staggering under heavy equipment.
TATO members accuse the mushrooming “unregistered” operators and fly catchers of running the “porters slave trade” at Africa's highest mountain.
Faced with poor pay and dire working conditions, some porters had reportedly resorted into various dubious schemes of extorting money from tourists either by force or witty rackets, begging for food, clothes and other items from the visitors during climbing trips.
The Executive Secretary of TATO, Mustapha Akonaay, said the ministry's directive, while well intended, would place a heavy burden on TANAPA by forcing the authority to start dealing with additional and unofficial work.
According to Akonaay, already TANAPA through the Kilimanjaro National Park Authority (KINAPA) had its hands full, dealing with other duties, such as collecting park fees, coordinating mountain hikes, assuring hikers safety and taking environmental care of the park among other tasks.
“Should the task of even paying the porters be given to TANAPA, the authority will be so overwhelmed such that the paying process itself may turn out to be long, tedious and cumbersome. This will further affect the entire climbing business,” said the TATO secretary, stressing that at the moment KINAPA only has its official receipts that need to be accounted for after every payment.
Akonaay also explained that since porters were not in the authority's mandate, it would be difficult for KINAPA to account payments made to them. “Mind you, most porters do not even work consistently, they may be around today and be gone tomorrow and the task of enrolling new porters each day may prove to be impractical.”
It was therefore agreed during the stakeholders meeting held at the Kilimanjaro Crane Hotel in Moshi on March 23, 2006, that each tour operator should now shoulder the burden of paying the porters who serve their clients after every climb. Officially, the move should take effect in the next financial year.
Local tour operators will also be required to provide their porters with food, clothing, climbing equipment and tents for shelter, during every scaling trip. In the past, most porters were usually left to take care of their own survival during mountain climbs.
Story reprinted by permission of The Arusha Times (www.arushatimes.co.tz). This story was edited by Climbing For Christ.