Driving the News in
East Africa

Dar-es-Salaam, February 2011

Dala Dala in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. Photo: Ruben Pater.

Collective taxis are an indispensable means of transportation in many places around the world. For many it is the only way to get around the city. Their names are different per country: Bush Taxi, Collectivo, Dolmuş, Marshrutka, Jeepney, Dala Dala, Matatu, and many more. In Tanzania, a Dutch entrepeneur had the idea to make a talkshow inside a minibus, and I was involved in the identity design.

Minibus Taxi Park, Kampala, Uganda. Image: www.roseandfitzgerald.com

Shared taxis are a form of regulated informal transport, fulfilling the needs in countries that lack a state funded public transport system. In East Africa the routes are based on commuter routes, and it is highly efficient. There are set routes, but stops are flexible. Taking minibuses can be frustrating since they leave only when the bus is full, which can take a long time if you’re unlucky.

Minibuzz identity. Ruben Pater, Lava design.

Dala Dala

In June 2010 the television talkshow ‘Dala Dala’ was launched in Tanzania. Every weekday the show is recorded inside a minibus during the morning rush hour in the capital Dar-Es-Salaam. Passengers get on the minibus and are invited on camera to discuss timely topics like corruption, elections, sexual health, and gender equality. Minibuses (called Dala Dala in Tanzania) are primarily used by the middle- and lower classes, which allows them to share their opinions on television, a medium which is in Tanzania is dominated by wealthy males. The program is a success, and it is viewed by 3.5 million viewers every day.

Vinyl sticker application for Kenya design. Photo: Made in Africa.

Bright Lights, Big City

In 2011 I arrived in the capital of Tanzania, Dar-Es-Salaam, the fastest growing city in Africa. I went to work in the office of Dala Dala on the new identity for the programme. In my trips around this huge city of 4 million people I saw many Dala Dala driving around, all painted in bright colors, often with depictions of religion or rockstars. Many Dala Dala operators try to attract customers by playing loud music, adding fluorescent lights, and paint elaborate artworks on the sides. Since our minibus also had to stand out in a bustling rush hour traffic with thousands of brightly colored others, we decided to go for a very simple and minimal design.

Dazzle Branding

In each country in East Africa, the minibus has a different name. Matatu in Kenya, Dala Dala in Tanzania, and Taxi in Uganda. We decided to use these names in combination with each nation’s flag colors to create a dizzying pattern on the bus, much like television glitches. A typographic design to stand out amongst the usual minibus traffic on the streets of Nairobi and Dar-Es-Salaam. Also the design could be easily and cheaply adapted for any country and any name, and still keep a sense of recognizability in each country.

Minibuzz in Uganda. Photo: Minibuzz Facebook.

Modernist Hubris

Almost a year after the design was implemented, we received news that the design was not popular both in Tanzania and Uganda. The modernist typographic design was seen as strange, ugly and uninviting. The design was never tested with the audience before implementing it. The bus was painted over a year later with another design, depicting people sitting in the bus. The name was changed from different local names to a global brand called ‘Minibuzz’.

Looking back I was more focused on creating an original design that ‘stood out’ in a street environment, than making something that was socially aware. In retrospect a classic case of modernist design hubris, stemming from a Dutch design tradition, creating designs that might be conceptually strong, but sometimes neglect local and social contexts.

Minibuzz in Uganda. Photo: Minibuzz Facebook.

Made at Lava design.
More information on Made in Africa TV here.

Bibliography

Neuwirth, Robert. ‘Stealth of Nations: The Global Rise of the Informal Economy’, October 2012.
Packer, George. ‘The Megacity Decoding the chaos of Lagos’, The New Yorker, November 13, 2006.
Kassa, Ferdaku. ‘Informal transport and its effects in the developing world - a case study of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’ Journal of Transport Literature, April 2014.