I recently spent seven days climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro ,Tanzania which is the highest mountain in Africa. I reached the peak which is 5,895 metres above sea level and I must say it was the most challenging expedition I have ever done.
For the seven days I was amazed at how the guides, porters and cooks found it easy in the high altitude, I found the weather conditions severely harsh, but then, for hours and hours I was hiking. Needless to say, I was mostly dumfounded by the porters who were in charge of carrying our heavy luggage. These lads carry all your mountain gear (excluding your day pack) and all the equipment you need on your climb (tents, cooking equipment, food, water etc.). Each porter carries up to 20kg on their back or head and in addition to 5kg of their own gear. Remember Porters race ahead of you and your guide to make sure they get to camp sites before you and set up everything before you arrival. It is unbelievable when you see what they do. I had a conversation with my porter and found out that the porters are paid between Tshs. 15,000-Tshs.20, 000 per day which translates to $7.5-$10. Some porters are paid even less than that and that is of course peanuts compared to the work they do so they rely on tips from tourists to survive. Guides and cooks also rely on tips to make their ends meet as the pay is generally low.
At the end of the expedition we agreed as a group to contribute some money as a tip so that we could say ‘thank you’ for the support this men had given all of us for all the seven days and nights. We called the support group and gave them our words of gratitude and informed them of our ‘little gift’ which was to be shared equally. Little did we know that we had opened the Pandora’s box. One porter raised his voice in protest. He protested against the lead guide being in charge of distribution of the tip as so many times in the past most porters either get less of the share or get nothing at all. As the other porters murmured in agreement one of the guides interjected with anger. He made it clear that that the tip could not be shared equally for reasons that they have their own internal rules and regulations and it is upon the guides to decide who gets what percentage of the tip. This, he added was because some porters did more work than others and it would be unfair to tip everyone equally. There was a debate for some time but we all gladly came to a settlement.
Morality of tipping
This debate on tipping raised questions on the law and morality of tipping in the labour market especially in Africa. Proponents of tipping claim that it is a good moral and compensates the employees that are paid below the minimum wage. Critiques claim that the origins are noblesse oblige. The origin was that you tip an inferior. When tipping for example came to the United States, it discouraged whites from actually paying former slaves. In the modern era tipping is promoted at the expense of paying employees fair wages. Anti-tipping movements are against this and are saying that workers are professionals and should not rely on tips for a living. They also claim that a tip-based system promotes racism, sexual harassment towards women and unequal pay.
Law on tipping
In Kenya and Tanzania there is no tipping policy or law but it is now a common practice to tip after being served in coffee shops ,restaurant and in this case after climbing the highest mountain in Africa. The US has a Tipped minimum wage law; The American federal government requires a wage of at least $2.13 per hour be paid to employees that receive at least $30 per month in tips. If wages and tips do not equal the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour during any pay period, the employer is required to increase cash wages to compensate. Some countries like France have a compulsory 15% service charge that is added to your bill by law while countries like Japan do not encourage tipping at all.
Back to the mountain, I would prefer a minimum wage law that would guarantee that guides, porters and cooks are paid according to their work and in addition a service charge be billed by the operators as part of the hiking charges. As to tipping, I would recommend anyone that hikes Kilimanjaro to pay tips individually in separate envelopes at the end of the hike.
BY FELIX OMBURA
This article appears in our digital magazine, The Deuteronomy, Vol 7, Issue 1 of October 7th, 2016.
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