New Internationalist

Country Profile

Issue 288

Country profile: Tanzania.

Where is Tanzania? Despite a wealth of wildlife and a swathe of gorgeous tropical coastline, tourists do not rush to visit Tanzania the way they do its northern cousin Kenya. With its lack of smart hotels, appalling roads and frequent power cuts, Tanzania is seen as just another poor African country.

Poor it certainly is. Malnutrition has doubled there during the last 25 years and under 30 per cent of people in rural areas have access to safe water. Yet Tanzania was once a beacon for the people the world over who wanted a fairer deal for the South. And Tanzanians remain proud of their country, of their history and of the real gains made since independence in 1961.

Much of the past international respect and present local pride can be attributed to the influence of Julius Nyerere (affectionately known to most Tanzanians as ‘Mwalimu’ or Teacher).

Nyerere was Tanzania’s prime minister, and subsequently president, from independence until 1985. His influence cannot be underestimated. His particular brand of African socialism aimed to deliver universal healthcare and education, and brought government policy to grassroots level through a system of local decision-making. The idea was for Tanzania to be self-reliant through the development of agriculture on the basis of communal land ownership. The system was known as ujamaa, which means ‘family’. For a while it looked as if these ideals could be achieved.

Nyerere successfully unified the 100 or so different peoples in Tanzania by making Swahili the national language and instilling a sense of solidarity and nationhood in the people – he took particular care of the union between Tanganyika and the island of Zanzibar which had created the new nation in 1964. Literacy rates increased dramatically. But social and economic development did not go hand-in-hand, and Tanzania today is cripplingly poor and reliant on foreign aid.

So what went wrong? Essentially the money ran out. Throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s Tanzania gave strong material and financial support  to independence movements abroad: to Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe and to the ANC in South Africa. But the cost of supporting freedom fighters was high, and an expensive war with Uganda, a series of droughts and plummeting prices on the world market for cash crops meant the mid-1980s saw Tanzania spiralling into economic crisis.

In 1986, once Nyerere had retired and been succeeded by Ali Hassan Mwinyi, the IMF and World Bank imposed a structural-adjustment program, telling Tanzania to forget its socialist principles, liberalize the economy and reduce public spending. The economic, trade and aid policies imposed on Tanzania have meant it has struggled to develop in recent years and is now largely dependent on aid and loans. Small consolation that it is now the World Bank’s favourite African ‘student’ after Ghana.

Although Nyerere’s African socialism may be said to have failed economically and politically, on a community level the spirit is still strong. Despite its own problems, Tanzania supported the influx of refugees during the Rwandan war in 1994 when other neighbouring countries closed their borders. Even in the poorest, remotest rural areas there is a positivity and a belief in self-help which is perhaps surprising in a country that has suffered so many setbacks. The idea of ujamaa has become part of Tanzania’s national psyche and it will take more than a free-market economy to destroy that.

Clare Harvey


LEADER: President Benjamin Mkapa

ECONOMY: GNP per capita $140 (UK $18,340)
Monetary unit: Tanzanian shilling
Main exports: coffee (32%), cotton (13%), minerals (6%), tea (5%)
Main imports: petroleum (13%), machinery and transport equipment.

PEOPLE: 29.7 million.

HEALTH: Infant mortality 100 per 1,000 live births (Sweden 4 per 1,000).

CULTURE: Diverse – there are about 120 different ethnic groups, including those of Arab, Asian and European origin as well the 100 African peoples.
Religion: Christian 40%, Muslim 35%, traditional 25%
Language: Swahili is the official language, although for most Tanzanians this will be their second tongue. English is taught in all schools and is also widely spoken.

Sources State of the World’s Children 1997, UNICEF; 1996 World Bank Atlas; EIU Country Report, 1996; The World – A Third World Guide 1997/98; Africa Review 1996.

Previously profiled November 1981


[image, unknown] INCOME DISTRIBUTION [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Economic ‘adjustment’ reforms are widening the gap.
1981 [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
[image, unknown] LITERACY [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
68%. A priority since independence but buckling now due to massive cuts in the education budget.     
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[image, unknown] SELF-RELIANCE [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
The depressing truth is that a country which once stressed self-reliance is still dependent on aid and loans.
1981 [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
[image, unknown] FREEDOM [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Generally good, although reported human-rights abuses in Zanzibar have caused some donor countries to cancel aid in protest.
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[image, unknown] POSITION OF WOMEN [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Equal before the law but participation in decision-making limited.
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[image, unknown] LIFE EXPECTANCY [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
52 years (Japan 80 years).
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[image, unknown] NI ASSESSMENT [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Tanzania’s first multi-party elections took place in 1995 – though they were won by the CCM party which has ruled for decades. President Mkapa’s current crackdown on corruption is unfortunately much needed. Even Nyerere now believes the CCM needs opposition parties to keep it in check.

NI star rating

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Issue 288 Contents
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©Copyright: New Internationalist 1997


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This article was originally published in issue 288

New Internationalist Magazine issue 288
Issue 288

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