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:
Network marketing takes off in Tanzania
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.
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.