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Network marketing in Tanzania turns billionaire dreams into nightmares 

The city of Dar es Salaam is Tanzania's cultural and business capital, where big dreams can turn into nightmares with network marketing schemes. Free photo via NeedPix.

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 aTwitter 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 colorful, 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 percent 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.

6 comments

  • Yusuph Anthony

    The network marketing has caused many university students to drop school over the search for easy money in Tanzania
    I’ve had advance level classmates who had good studying ambitions and were very bright,
    But have been deceived by the online marketing promises for quik wealth, which led them to dropping school.

    Thanks global voices for publishing on this.

  • Gideon Bina

    Like you put it in the article, their products are overly expensive – yet these companies are targeting poor developing economies. Seemingly, these companies are not looking and targeting the ‘right market and customers’, but rather ignorant and desperate unemployed, quick-rich-motivated, youths and women.

    As the matter of fact, very few people at the top of the pyramid makes good money. The rest, further to the bottom, are just hawking and sweating to feed that top niche…especially the founders.

    Young people, in poor countries like Tanzania are easily trapped in these schemes because, at least, despite all It’s ugliness, network marketing is the only promising opportunity to make a living, after their college or school programs.

  • Enos Salema

    I normally ignore this kind of discussions, but this got my attention and I said let me share my views, When I was 24 years, on my final year at the University I was introduced to Network Marketing, Forever Living Products to be precise, I was inspired with the possibilities shown and testimonials. But I had many fears, will I also make it? Will I manage to get customers for these premium products?

    I then got capital assistance from my sister and got started. My hopes for quick success shuttered when most of my close friends discouraged me, some laughed at me… It was indeed painful. For reasons difficult to point at, I kept on.

    I finished my studies, joined Vodacom, but continued with my business part time. About two hours a day, then in about 9 months I resigned from Vodacom and went full time into the business.

    On my 13 years in the industry I have witnessed a lot of people joining and failing, I have also witnessed a lot joining and succeeding. The same way you can be upset by a story of someone who failed, equally you will be inspired by a story of someone who made it.

    Now where is the problem? This is an industry that takes on board people from all walks of life, zero experience required, no background check, as long as you can count money is enough of an education required, Its an industry thats takes people with zero business experience, TAKES ALL THOSE PEOPLE together and puts them through a COACHING program that gives them their very first steps into starting their own businesses. Imagine for a second building a successful business from such a diverse group. Almost every day in my office I am visited by young people, sometimes not young people who are unable to raise 100usd to start a business, and we show them how to be entrepreneurial and raise their capital.
    AT THIS POINT I WANT TO APPLAUD ALL THE NETWORK MARKETERS out there who are impacting one soul after another with skills that are life long.

    My advise; It’s unfortunate that for most people the equation of success through network marketing is wrong; HOW DO YOU EXPECT TO ACHIEVE MASSIVE FINANCIAL SUCCESS ON A BUSINESS THAT you do on your SPARE time? That is when you are free or feel like it. If your goal is to achieve massive success then give it time and give it time, meaning do it every day and do it for a long time. Have PATIENCE. If you are looking for a small extra income then you don’t need to be super serious but also don’t act like a small part timer with dreams of being a billionaire, that is not fair to you and the industry.

    I remember my Saturday schedule, while still at the University; I would wake up at 6am study until 9am, wash my clothes… then off to business until evening, a number of times when am back from my business I found my mates dead tired after watching movies the whole day… I can tell you for a fact I DID NOT enjoy that, I did not enjoy every lunch hour while working for Vodacom watching my colleagues going out to have lunch together while I go a separate way to meet a potential client…I owe it to the coaching for this self management.

    If am told to do it all over again knowing what is possible; I would do it.

    Why am I still in love with network marketing for all these years, with all the ups and downs, challenges and successes, tears and laughters… Am still in love with it cause its BETTER not PERFECT but BETTER. Its a buffet and one gets to decide what to get from it. If you are a network marketer or aspiring to be one, learn more about it, there are more books on MLM than probably any other industry.

    Let me finish with these questions;
    What is success to you?
    Who knows the steps to reaching their dreams?
    What are the reasons that you failed at something?
    What are the reasons that someone succeeded at what you failed at?

    Life is full of testimonials of success and failure… Some people’s lives will be an example to inspire and some people’s lives will be a warning, who/what decides you will be an example or a warning… remains a mystery

    If I have a young person at the University, I will tell him/her to join two things;
    1. AIESEC a global student run Organisation
    2. A GOOD network marketing company.

    Phew forgive my long comment I just couldn’t stand and watch good people with little knowledge of what we do hurt other good people who have opted for network marketing as their career. I know these kind of messages are sometimes enough to get someone to quit their business.

    • E_MONEY

      You have said it all
      Life is full of testimonials of success and failure… Some people’s lives will be an example to inspire and some people’s lives will be a warning, who/what decides you will be an example or a warning… remains a mystery

  • Nicolas Chakubuta

    If you want to get the truth, you’ve to know the difference between facts and opinions.
    You must know the numbers, they’ll tell you the facts. Financial survival depends upon facts, not some friends or advisor’s wordy opinions.

    Network marketing is not a get rich quick scheme!!!!
    Network marketing brings out the entrepreneur in you.
    There are a lot of haters out there who don’t really understand the industry, who think like OH ! It’s get rich quick scheme!! It’s a pyramid…!
    Network marketing is a structure that provides coaching, and that has revealed years ago there is no secret to success there is system to success, and no matter which organization you become part of, the system works if you work it. If you don’t work it won’t work. And that is one four letter word that most people don’t like!! They are not willing to work.‍♂️

    Therefore, those who are not willing to work are the people who tarnish the industry’s reputation after joining with too much expectations, thinking like it’s a get rich quick scheme, and when they discover that it’s real work, they quit and start speaking bad things about network marketing ‍♂️‼️

    I think people should be smart enough to discover when something is a fact, and when something is is an opinion, most people struggle financially because they spend their lives using opinions rather than facts when making financial decisions.

    Recommendation :
    I strongly recommend Network marketing and most specifically Alliance In Motion Global or AIM GLOBAL in short. This opportunity could be worth a fortune for you.

  • Yusuph Anthony

    Student should not be the target in this marketing, until when they are done with studies.
    20 years of investment in school does not have to be in vain, by interrupting studies for marketing,because its a fact that universities students are majorly targeted in Tanzania, without remembering that student had a dream . But money promises made by the companies agents,may shift attention from studies to marketing which must take alot of time for a person to thrive in it and ultimately doing poor in school.

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