Earning a Living from Mountain-Climbing Tourists a Grave Affair

By Adam Ihucha
Published January 1,2018

She shoulders a 20-kg knapsack laden with valuables of tourists and climbs Mount Kilimanjaro along with them, tour guides, rangers, and other porters to earn a decent income.Waiting for her turn to check in at Mweka Gate, Suzie is the only female amid a dozen of male porters, who scale up Mount Kilimanjaro for a wage.

Suzie appears lonely and frustrated, as she reflects on the six-day deadly trek to the world’s highest freestanding mountain peak with a tourist’s 20-kg luggage on her shoulders.

Suddenly the horror into which she bumps into time and time again on her way to the roof of Africa is written all over her face.

Sadly, no one is interested in listening to her silent cries, let alone relieving her of both mental and physical agony that she often comes across in closed doors of tents.

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And poverty leaves her with limited options. Suzie must fend for her destitute parents. She shoulders a 20-kg knapsack laden with valuables of tourists and climbs Mount Kilimanjaro along with them, tour guides, rangers, and other porters to earn a decent income.

“My first trek to the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro with a 20-kg knapsack on my shoulders was burdensome,” recalls Suzie, as she recounts the plight of few female porters engaged in the tedious task.

Many tour companies pay porters below the set minimum wage of US$10 per day.Porters walk five-to-six hours every day with heavy baggage on their shoulders, as they contend with extreme weather and altitude sickness.

But Suzie has, in addition, to cope with the lust of sexual predators along the route, each competing for a night in bed with her.

“The first intruder was a tour guide, my immediate boss. Then came a ranger, and finally a male porter,” Suzie recalls the day.

To turn down both offers of sleeping with her boss or the ranger, she opts to share a tent with more than 14 male porters, including the one who has tried to seduce her.

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Suzie is but only one of nearly 100 young women–out of about 3000 porters operating around Mount Kilimanjaro at the moment–who risk their lives in their desperate attempts to earn a living from tourists climbing Mount Kilimanjaro.

Ruthless tour guides, rangers, and fellow porters consider them their rightful prey, forcing them into “sexual slavery.”

“The mountain hike is a very risky task to us female porters; the environment is harsh. We often run into physical and sexual abuse, but life has no mercy,” Suzie explains.

Female porters climbing Mount Kilimanjaro have to share bathrooms, toilets, and other basic facilities with their male counterparts, denying them their privacy.

Victor Manyanga, a seasoned tour guide, says climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Meru is no laughing matter.

Porters are often at greater risk than tourists because they normally shoulder heavy luggage with no proper equipment and clothing; they wear only trousers, sneakers, T-shirts and a light sweater or jacket.“This work is extremely tough. Females find themselves in sexual traps from tour guides, rangers, and their male counterparts.”

“Sexual harassment against female porters is real. We’re struggling to advocate for their rights,” says Loishiye Lenoy Mollel, Chief Executive Officer of Tanzania Porters Organisation (TPO).

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TPO urges tour operators to pay porters their due daily allowances instead of leaving the hiking labourers at the mercy of mountain tour guides who have turned porters into modern hiking slaves.

A significant number of tour companies offer their porters a single meal a day, to the astonishment of many, says a report of the commission of inquiry into the welfare of porters formed several years ago by the Kilimanjaro regional secretariat.

The report also indicates that many tour companies pay porters below the set minimum wage of US$10 per day.

The Tanzania Government Notice No. 228 dated June 29, 2009, dictates that porters should pocket US$10 per day, but eight years down the line, the majority of tour operators still pay them as low as US$6.25.

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Tour operators are also required to provide porters with food, clothing, climbing gear, and shelter each time they scale up the mountain.

It is, however, reported that, in most cases, porters are not equipped with protective gear such as boots and warm clothing, and that more often they go without food as well. Many tour firms do not cover porters with health insurance according to the inquiry that found that ‘Nearly 53.2 percent of porters questioned said they have been footing medical costs themselves.’

Willbard Chambulo, Chairman of Tanzania Associations of Tour Operators (TATO), maintains that a majority of members of the outfit pay porters beyond the state’s laid-down minimum wage.

“We ask porters to reveal tour operators underpaying them for us to squarely deal with them for violating the law of the land,” Chambulo says.

Porters also complain of working under an extreme environment without binding contracts with tour firms.

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Female porters climbing Mount Kilimanjaro have to share bathrooms, toilets, and other basic facilities with their male counterparts, denying them their privacy.Although Mount Kilimanjaro has been taken for granted as an ‘easy’ peak to conquer, unofficial estimate shows about 10 people die on the mountain every year.

Porters are often at greater risk than tourists because they normally shoulder heavy luggage with no proper equipment and clothing; they wear only trousers, sneakers, T-shirts and a light sweater or jacket.

Mount Kilimanjaro, with its three volcanic cones – Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira – is a dormant volcano whose height is 5,895 metres above sea level.

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The mountain tops the bill in generating income among the country’s numerous tourist attractions.

The roof of Africa fetches US$50 Million-plus annually, ahead of Ngorongoro Crater, which generates US$33 million, and Serengeti National Park which garners nearly US$30 million.

An eTurboNews article