New Internationalist


October 2008

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

Tanzania Fact File
Leader President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete
Economy GNI per capita $350 (Kenya $580, UK $40,180)
Monetary unit Tanzanian shilling.
Main exports coffee, cashew nuts, cotton, manufactures and gold. Agriculture contributes about 30% of Tanzania’s gross domestic product. Mining is worth $850 million annually, and its minerals, including gold, diamonds and a gemstone unique to the country, tanzanite, have drawn big investors from the US, Europe, South Africa and Australia. Tourism is now worth $1,000 million a year. Exports of manufactured goods to Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda are rising.
People 39.5 million. Annual population growth rate 2.7%. People per square kilometre 42 (UK 246).
Health Infant mortality 74 per 1,000 live births (Kenya 79, UK 5). HIV prevalence rate 6.5%. User fees deter pregnant women and the rural poor from accessing primary healthcare facilities and essential medicines. Medicines are often in short supply at state-run hospitals and the number of hospital beds per capita has declined since 1990.
Environment Fish stocks in Lake Victoria are dwindling fast as a result of unsustainable fishing practices, and poachers operate in national parks, albeit on a small scale. Artisanal miners also threaten the environment.
Culture Most Tanzanians are of African (Bantu-speaking) descent though there are more than 120 ethnic groups. The mainland has Nilo-Hamitic groups in the west, while Zanzibar has a Shirazi minority of Persian origin. There are Arab, South Asian and European minorities in both parts.
Religion 35% of mainlanders and 99% of islanders practise Islam. About 30% of mainlanders identify themselves as Christian, while about 30% hold indigenous beliefs.
Language Kiswahili is Tanzania’s national language and is the main language of educational instruction. English is also an official language although it is not as widely spoken as in other English-speaking African states.
Human Development Index: 1990 0.421; 2005 0.467 (Kenya 0.521, UK 0.946).
Sources UNICEF, UNDP, World Bank, World Guide,
Last profiled link Last profiled March 1997
Tanzania ratings in detail
Income distribution
The legacy of Nyerere’s socialist emphasis remains to some extent: income inequalities are less pronounced than in neighbouring countries, though adjustment policies have undermined this.
*1997* ★★★
Life expectancy
52 years (Kenya 53, UK 79) – the same as in its first profile by the NI in 1981.
*1997* ★★
69% – well down on the peak of the Nyerere era. School fees introduced in the 1990s denied two million children education and illiteracy rose by 2 per cent a year. Fees for primary school were abolished in 2001.
*1997* ★★★
Position of women
Tanzania has relatively high numbers of women in cabinet and parliament, and has always promoted girls’ education. But the custom of paying bride price continues and polygamy is still common.
*1997* ★★★
Tanzania has a thriving and powerful media and civil society, and political parties operate fairly freely – though the opposition Civic United Front (supported most in Zanzibar) complains its members are harassed.
*1997* ★★★
Sexual minorities
Homosexuality is illegal. New laws have criminalized lesbianism and same-sex marriage is punishable by imprisonment for seven years.
NI Assessment (Politics)
Tanzania remains a politically stable country. Its multiparty system is also functional, although the CCM has a stronghold on power that seems unshakable. But its one-time reputation as a beacon for progressive social policy has been dented by its adherence to IMF/World Bank dictates that have undermined equality in health and education. The wrangles with Zanzibar are increasingly of concern and the Government has not acted firmly enough against a rising incidence of corruption among public officials.

This column was published in the October 2008 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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Country ratings (details)
Income distribution3
Life expectancy2
Position of women3
Sexual minorities1
NI Assessment (Politics)3

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