Flag of Tanzania

Tanzania is home to the highest point  in Africa – snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, which can be climbed by walkers without mountaineering equipment – as well as to Olduvai Gorge, where some of the oldest human remains have been found. It also contains most of the Serengeti region, which hosts a dazzling array of animal, bird and plant life and sees the annual migration of 200,000 zebras and more than a million gnu and gazelles in search of water. Ever-increasing numbers of tourists are drawn to these attractions, as well as to the exotic Zanzibar and Pemba islands which lie off the eastern coast, with their exquisite beaches and blend of ancient Persian and African culture and architecture.

From the 16th century onwards, these islands changed hands between British and Portuguese colonialists and Arab kings. In 1964, following a rebellion by its African population against Arab rule, Zanzibar merged with the newly independent former British colony of Tanganyika to form the current United Republic of Tanzania, with Julius Nyerere as its first president.

Nyerere was among the most inspirational and respected of the first generation of African leaders. His 1967 Arusha Declaration was a ringing statement of an alternative path to development based on socialism and self-reliance. He introduced ujamaa – a form of collective farming based on African village traditions. While ujamaa largely failed, Nyerere’s emphasis on education transformed the country, boosting literacy rates from 15 per cent when the British left to an estimated 91 per cent by the time he stepped down as President in 1985. 

The Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) Party, which in 1972 emerged from the union of Nyerere’s Tanganyika African National Union and Zanzibar’s Afro-Shirazi Party, remains in power and is still the dominant player in politics. Under Nyerere it was the only political party allowed but multi-party elections have been permitted since a change in the constitution in 1992.

Nyerere was a strong opponent of the IMF and World Bank’s structural adjustment programmes, but these were embraced by his successors as President, Ali Hassan Mwinyi and Benjamin Mkapa. The Government has undertaken a privatization programme of major parastatals (state-owned corporations), although this is often criticized for being mired in corruption and hastily implemented.

Tanzania’s steady economic growth (averaging seven per cent a year between 2001 and 2007), market reforms and regular multi-party elections have since the early 1990s enabled it to access huge donor assistance, and to qualify for HIPC debt relief in 2000. Yet 57 per cent of Tanzanians live on less than a dollar a day. Public healthcare has been deprived of funds by the Government’s increasing privatization of health services; the poor still have to pay user fees for healthcare imposed in the 1990s as part of IMF/World Bank adjustment.

The President since 2005, Jakaya Kikwete, has maintained the neoliberal and pro-privatization policies of his predecessors. He served as foreign minister in past governments and is widely respected in Africa – Tanzania has long been an active mediator for peace in the region. But he has pussy-footed about the lingering issue of the relationship between mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar, which feels marginalized and wants greater autonomy – the rising friction between the two has become a threat to what has hitherto been among the most politically stable countries on the continent.

*Wairagala Wakabi*

Map of Tanzania