In Tanzania, more than eighty artisans recently displayed their handicrafts in an annual public display that attracted more than 3500 people. The event, Tanz Hands, was organized by the Canadian High Commissioner, Andrew McAlistar, and was held at his residence in the Tanzanian capital. Among the dignitaries on hand were First Lady Mama Salma Kikwete, former first lady Mama Anna Mkapa, and American Ambassador to Tanzania Michael Retzer.
The fair was a celebration of hand-made goods constructed from wood, leather and sisal. Needlework, batik and tie-dyed or woven cloths, jewelry, toys, and ceramics were also on display. The event was organized to help craftsmen sell their products to the public.
It was a way of bringing Tanzania’s artisans from different parts of the country to meet and share ideas on how to effectively conduct their trade.
Bente McAlister is the wife of the current Canadian high commissioner, Andrew McAlister, and one of the organizers of the gathering:
“This is the 8th year, and it was originally done by a Canadian ambassador’s wife who is herself an artist. we started with ten vendors and now we have them from all over Tanzania. When people hear about Trans Hands, their eyes light up, we have learnt that it is really by word of mouth, because people know when they come here the quality is high and they know that there is always new product. There will always be something they have never seen before.”
More than 10% of women living in Tanzania depend on the revenue from handicrafts for a living. It’s estimated that at the Tanz Hands celebration, most exhibitors earned about $1,500, with some taking in nearly five times as much.
Khadija Mohamed was among the women selling their goods and talked about her experience selling goods at the craft fair:
“I work with many other women who live in villages in creating handicrafts. Our group is called MOTO, which stands for “fire.” We have been attending this event for four years now, and it has helped us to promote our handicrafts market and also get to learn from our fellow exhibitors, who are from different parts of Tanzania, on how to improve the making of our sisal bags, mats and stone jewelries and also how to interact with my customers who are different every year.”
Tanz Hands not only allowed Tanzanian craftsmen the chance to sell their products to people living in the capital, but to business people from other countries that might consider marketing the goods abroad. Among the crowd were African, Asians, North Americans and Europeans.
The American Ambassador to Tanzania Michael Retzer was present at the fair and bought a wooden item.
“This is my first visit to Tanz Hands. It’s wonderful and it’s a festival day; almost everybody is happy and buying and it’s for a good cause. But the handicrafts are quite wonderful because the Canadians have done such a great job of picking vendors that you normally don’t see here in Dar es Salaam. The prices are very fair, and the competition for these crafts is very strong, the merchants really want to be here, because you see everyone around here buying and that’s great economic activity. ”
Tanzania is one of 37 countries allowed to export goods duty free to the United States under the auspices of the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). The purpose of the law is to expand trade with countries who have a record of good governance and a commitment to free market reforms.
The Artisan Development Agency of Tanzania is encouraging artisans to export their products to the USA and beyond on the condition that the products be of good quality.
Tanzania’s First Lady Mama Salma Kikwete reiterated this point.
“First of all, I would like to say a word of thanks to the Canadian Ambassador and his wife for a great job they have done, and by knowing that there are people like craftspeople who need to be helped in promoting their products to be in the market. For that reason I would like to tell all craft people to continue making these handicrafts more qualitative, so that when they get anywhere in the world they are recognized by their qualities.”
The organizers of Tanz Hands worked with the Canadian High Commission, the Board of External Trade and a newly formed group, TanCrafts, to make the event successful. A number of sponsors, including Barrick Gold, and moving companies Frassers and AGS Transportation helped bring the craftsmen from around Tanzania to the celebration.
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