Tanzania - language, government, economy, cities, history, tourism, people, education, religion

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Tanzania, republic in East Africa, on the Indian Ocean. A diverse country in which close to 100 different languages are spoken, Tanzania was formed by the federation of the nations of Tanganyika and Zanzibar in 1964. The country’s name is a combination of the first syllables of the component territories’ names.

Tanzania is bounded on the north by Kenya and Uganda; on the east by the Indian Ocean; on the south by Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia; and on the west by the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Burundi, and Rwanda. The country includes the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba, and other offshore islands in the Indian Ocean. The total area of Tanzania is 945,100 sq km (364,900 sq mi). Dar es Salaam is the largest city and former capital; the smaller city of Dodoma is now the official capital of the country.


The landscape of mainland Tanzania is generally flat and low along the coast, but a plateau at an average altitude of about 1,200 m (about 4,000 ft) constitutes the greater part of the country. Isolated mountain groups rise in the northeast and southwest. The volcanic Kilimanjaro (5,895 m/19,341 ft), the highest mountain in Africa, is located near the northeastern border. Three of the great lakes of Africa lie on the borders of the country and partially within it. Lake Tanganyika is located on the western border, Lake Victoria on the northwest, and Lake Malawi on the southwest. Lakes Malawi and Tanganyika lie in the Great Rift Valley, a tremendous geological fault system extending from the Middle East to Mozambique.

Zanzibar, separated from the coast of the mainland by a channel some 40 km (25 mi) wide, is about 90 km (about 55 mi) long and covers an area of 1,660 sq km (641 sq mi). It is the largest coral island off the coast of Africa. Pemba, some 40 km (some 25 mi) northwest of Zanzibar, is 68 km (42 mi) long and has an area of 982 sq km (379 sq mi). Both Zanzibar and Pemba are mostly low-lying.

Climate in Tanzania

Elevation and distance from the sea control the climate of Tanzania. On the mainland coastal strip along the Indian Ocean, the climate is warm and tropical, with temperatures averaging 27°C (80°F) and rainfall varying from 750 to 1,400 mm (30 to 55 in). The inland plateau is hot and dry, with annual rainfall averaging as little as 500 mm (20 in). The semitemperate highlands in the southwest are better watered.

The climate on the islands is generally tropical, but the heat is tempered by a sea breeze throughout the year. The annual mean temperature for the city of Zanzibar is 35°C (95°F) maximum, and 16°C (61°F) minimum; for Wete in Pemba, 34°C (93°F) maximum and 17°C (63°F) minimum. Most rain falls from December through May. Tanzania also can experience substantial fluctuations in rain amounts from one year to the next.

Plant and Animal Life in Tanzania

The mainland plateau is savanna land, with light vegetation varying from grass and thorny shrubs to open woodland. Evergreen forests cover some mountain areas and rain forests are found near Lake Victoria. Mangrove forests line the coastal river mouths. The vegetation of the islands is characterized by brush and savanna, with rain forests in the most humid areas.

Tanzania has an abundant wildlife except on the central plateau, parts of which are infested with the tsetse fly, which transmits sleeping sickness in humans and nagana in animals. The savanna uplands are inhabited by several species of antelope, as well as lions, leopards, zebras, elephants, and giraffes. Monkeys are plentiful; apes include chimpanzees and gorillas. Hippopotamuses and crocodiles live along the rivers. The most numerous birds are swimmers and waders, though ostriches are occasionally seen in the uplands. Poisonous snakes include black mambas and puff adders.

Natural Resources of Tanzania

Tanzania contains rich deposits of gold, diamonds, and other precious gemstones, as well as large amounts of coal and salt. Forestland constitutes one of the most substantial natural resources of the country. Among the many hardwoods found are mahogany and camphorwood.

Environmental Issues in Tanzania

A large country with diverse habitats, Tanzania has built a successful tourist industry around its plentiful wildlife. There are many environmental threats, however, spurred by the country’s rapidly growing population. The need for fuel and farmland has caused extensive deforestation, and the expansion of agricultural land into arid and semiarid regions threatens many areas with soil loss and desertification. Dynamite fishing has destroyed a large proportion of the country’s extensive offshore coral reefs. Programs to combat the tsetse fly are controversial because they use pesticides that harm wildlife. Finally, poaching, especially for elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn, remains a serious problem.

Forests, mostly open, relatively dry woodlands, cover 37 percent of Tanzania. Wetlands, including coastal mangrove swamps as well as inland systems such as lakeshores, floodplains, and swamps, make up about 6 percent of the land. Tanzania’s relatively well-organized protected land system has received substantial foreign logistical support and aid. The main elements are forest reserves, game reserves, and national parks, including Serengeti National Park. Tanzania has cooperative wildlife protection agreements with neighboring Kenya.


The population of Tanzania consists mostly of members of more than 120 black African groups, the majority of which speak a Bantu language. The largest ethnic groups are the Sukuma and the Nyamwezi. Other groups of significant size include the Haya, Ngonde, Chagga, Gogo, Ha, Hehe, Nyakyusa, Nyika, Ngoni, Yao, and Masai. The population also includes people of Indian, Pakistani, and Goan origin, and small Arab and European communities. People living in rural areas make up 62 percent of the population. About 45 percent of Tanzanians are Christians; Roman Catholicism is the largest denomination. Islam is the religion of about one-third of the people on the mainland and is dominant on Zanzibar. Less than one-fifth of the population follows traditional religions. Swahili and English are the official languages of Tanzania, but many people continue to use the language of their ethnic group.

Population Characteristics of Tanzania

The population of Tanzania (2009 estimate) is 41,048,532, giving the country an overall population density of 46 persons per sq km (120 per sq mi). Yet the population distribution is irregular, with high densities found near fertile soils around Kilimanjaro and the shores of Lake Malawi, and comparatively low density throughout much of the interior of the country. In the late 1960s and 1970s the Tanzanian government resettled most of the rural population in collective farming villages as part of its socialist agenda. The country’s population growth rate is 2.04 percent (2009).

The largest city, Dar es Salaam, has a population (2002) of 2,497,940. Other major cities are Dodoma (155,000) the capital; Mwanza (population, 1988; 233,013), a port on Lake Victoria, and Tanga (187,634), an industrial center and seaport. Zanzibar (157,634) is the largest city on the island.

Education in Tanzania

Primary education is free and compulsory in Tanzania, but not enough schools are available to accommodate all of the children, and only 98 percent of primary school-aged children are enrolled. It is estimated that 72 percent of people over the age of 15 are literate. Institutions of higher education in Tanzania include the University of Dar es Salaam (1961); the Open University of Tanzania (1992), also in Dar es Salaam; and Sokoine University of Agriculture (1984), in Morogoro.

Culture of Tanzania

Tanzanian culture is a product of African, Arab, European, and Indian influences. Traditional African values are being consciously adapted to modern life.

The country’s main libraries are located in Dar es Salaam, including the library of the University of Dar es Salaam, the National Archives, and the British Council Library. A lending service at the Dar es Salaam Technical College (1956) also circulates books by mail throughout the country. Zanzibar has several community and school libraries in addition to the Museum Library and the Zanzibar National Archives. The National Museum of Tanzania is located at Dar es Salaam. The Zanzibar Government Museum is located in the city of Zanzibar.


The economy of Tanzania is primarily agricultural. Some 82 percent of the economically active population is engaged in farming, forestry, or fishing, and agricultural products account for a significant share of annual exports. The country is one of the world’s largest producers of sisal and cloves.

With an estimated per capita income of $400.20 a year, Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world. From the late 1960s through the 1970s the government pursued a form of “African socialism,” aimed at reviving and modernizing precolonial African social and economic structures. The government nationalized most banks and industries in 1967. In the mid-1980s, after a decade of economic decline, Tanzania began moving away from socialist policies and adopted an economic recovery program. Agricultural production increased, as did financial support from donor nations. Since the mid-1990s the government has privatized many industries and banks, and has adopted financial restraints recommended by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The estimated national budget in 1996 included $733 million in revenues and $768 million in expenditures.

Agriculture of Tanzania

Much of the world production of cloves comes from Zanzibar and Pemba islands, and cloves are the islands’ principal export. For the country as a whole, chief exported crops are cashews, tobacco, and coffee. Cotton, tea, and sisal are also exported. The principal food crops for domestic consumption include corn, cassava, sorghum, rice, millet, sweet potatoes, and plantains. The livestock population includes cattle, goats, sheep, and poultry.

Forestry and Fishing in Tanzania

Timber production in Tanzania in 2007 totaled 24.4 million cu m (863 million cu ft), nearly all of which was used as fuel. Timber includes camphor, podo, and African mahogany. Fish and fish products are important Tanzanian exports. The fish catch in 2007 was 341,717 metric tons, most of which was caught in inland waters, especially Lake Victoria. Sardines and tuna are caught in the Indian Ocean.

Mining in Tanzania

Tanzania is rich in minerals and its mining sector is expanding. Diamonds, the top mineral export for decades, were surpassed in importance by gold in the late 1990s. Gold is by far Tanzania’s top export earner. Many other precious gemstones are found in Tanzania, including rubies, sapphires, and tanzanite, which is found nowhere else in the world. Coal, limestone, tin, salt, lead, iron ore, and tungsten are also mined in the country.

Manufacturing and Energy in Tanzania

Most manufacturing in Tanzania involves the processing of raw agricultural materials into products such as beer, sugar, cigarettes, and sisal twine. The government has also encouraged non-agricultural manufacturing, and Tanzania exports cement, textiles, metal products, and other goods to neighboring countries. Some 53 percent of Tanzania’s electricity is produced in hydroelectric plants; major facilities are on the Pangani and Great Ruaha rivers.

Currency and Foreign Trade in Tanzania

The currency unit is the Tanzanian shilling (1,245 Tanzanian shillings equal U.S.$1; 2007 average). Tanzania nationalized most banks in 1967, but the state-owned Bank of Tanzania (1966) began allowing privately owned banks to operate in the mid-1990s.

In 2007 the imports of Tanzania were valued at $5.3 billion, and exports totaled $2,005 million. Gold, cashews, tobacco, coffee, cotton, tea, diamonds, cloves, and sisal made up the bulk of exports. Main imports were petroleum, machinery, transportation equipment, iron and steel and other metals, and food and live animals. Principal trading partners for exports are the United Kingdom, France, India, Japan, and Netherlands; chief partners for imports are South Africa, Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United Arab Emirates. Tanzania is also a member of the five-nation East African Community (EAC) and its customs union, which means that Tanzania enjoys duty-free trading with the other member nations. Considerable foreign exchange is also derived from tourists, some 692,000 of whom visited Tanzania in 2007. Most come to see Kilimanjaro and Serengeti National Park.

Transportation and Communications in Tanzania

Tanzania has 4,582 km (2,847 mi) of railroad, including lines linking Dar es Salaam to Lake Tanganyika, with branches to Mwanza, Mpanda, and Arusha. The Tanzania-Zambia Railway (Tazara), opened in 1975, provides a link between Dar es Salaam and Zambia. All these lines were rehabilitated and expanded in the 1990s. Tanzania’s road network is generally poor. Only 9 percent (2003) of roads are paved. Ferries link the mainland with Zanzibar and the other major islands. The major seaports are Dar es Salaam and Mtwara. Airports serving Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar, and elsewhere provide domestic and international connections. The national airline is Air Tanzania.

Tanzania has a national radio network and several local radio and television stations. Among the country’s daily newspapers are the influential Uhuru and the Daily News, both published in Dar es Salaam.


The United Republic of Tanzania was formed on April 26, 1964, by the adoption of an Act of Union between Tanganyika, on the mainland, and the island of Zanzibar. The nation is governed under the constitution of 1977, as amended. The internal affairs of Zanzibar are administered under a constitution of 1985.

Executive of Tanzania

The chief executive of Tanzania is a president, who is popularly elected to a five-year term. The president appoints a vice president, prime minister, and cabinet.

Legislature of Tanzania

The legislature of Tanzania is the unicameral National Assembly. It has 274 members, 232 of whom are popularly elected to five-year terms. Most of the rest of the members are either elected by the National Assembly, appointed by the president, or sit by virtue of being commissioners of the country’s regions.

Judiciary in Tanzania

The highest tribunals in Tanzania are the Court of Appeal and the High Court. Lesser courts include district and primary courts. People’s courts function in Zanzibar.

Local Government of Tanzania

The mainland is divided into 21 regions, Zanzibar into 3 regions, and Pemba into 2 regions. The governments of the regions are headed by regional commissioners. The 1985 constitution of Zanzibar provides for a popularly elected president and a 75-member house of representatives (50 elected, 25 appointed).

Political Parties of Tanzania

The country’s leading political party is the Revolutionary Party of Tanzania (Chama Cha Mapinduzi, or CCM). It was formed in 1977 by the amalgamation of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) and Zanzibar’s Afro-Shirazi Party. Opposition parties were legalized in 1992. The Civic United Front (CUF) is a leading opposition party in Zanzibar.

Defense of  Tanzania

In 2006 the armed forces of Tanzania had 27,000 members—23,000 in the army, 3,000 in the air force, and 1,000 in the navy.


Tanzania was formed by the federation of Tanganyika and Zanzibar in 1964. The histories of the two areas are very different.


As early as the 8th century AD, Zanzibar and other islands off the coast of East Africa became bases for Arab merchants trading with the mainland, which they called the Land of Zanj (Arabic for “blacks”), or Azania. In the course of time some of these—including Zanzibar and Kilwa—became independent Muslim sultanates with mixed Arab and African populations. In the 16th and 17th centuries they were dominated by the Portuguese, and in the 18th century, Zanzibar and Pemba were subject to the sultans of Masqaţ and Oman.

In 1832 Sayyid Sa‘īd ibn Sultan, the sultan of Oman, established his residence on Zanzibar, where he promoted the production of cloves and palm oil and carried on an active slave trade with the interior. His domain, which included parts of the mainland, was a commercial rather than a territorial empire. His successors did not have a legal claim to the lands they controlled commercially, and did not have the power to keep the Germans and British from annexing them when the European nations began dividing up Africa later in the century.

Zanzibar was declared a British protectorate in 1890; the sultan was retained for ceremonial purposes, but most major decisions were made by the British resident. Sultan Khalifa ibn Harub used his influence to support British rule. At the time of his death, Britain was divesting itself of its African colonies, and Zanzibar, troubled by political factionalism, was granted independence in December 1963. A few weeks later its conservative government was overthrown in a bloody revolution and replaced by a leftist regime under Sheikh Abeid Amani Karume.


Tanganyika, populated by many Bantu groups, such as the Chagga, Hehe, Gogo, Yao, and Nyamwezi, and by the Masai and other Nilotic peoples, was defined by a series of treaties between European states in the decade after 1886. These ignored the claims of the sultan of Zanzibar, giving the Germans control over the vast reaches of Tanganyika and reserving Kenya and Uganda for Britain.

After putting down African resistance to their rule, the Germans invested heavily in Tanganyika, hoping to convert the northern part into profitable coffee and tea plantations. The onset of World War I in 1914 ended these plans. German East Africa became a major theater of operations, in which General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck tied down about a quarter of a million British and colonial troops with a makeshift force of 12,000 Africans and 4,000 Germans before finally capitulating in 1918. Tanganyika then became a mandate of the League of Nations under British tutelage.

The actions of the British governors in the 1920s kept European colonization to a minimum; thus, unlike neighboring Kenya, Tanganyika did not develop a race problem. The results of this enlightened attitude were evident in the transition period before independence. The major party, the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), led by Julius Nyerere, was a moderate organization; its appeal cut across ethnic and national lines. Nyerere became prime minister when Tanganyika was granted independence in December 1961; one year later the new nation adopted a republican constitution, with Nyerere as its president.

Tanzania Under Nyerere

In January 1964 Nyerere survived an abortive military coup; later, in an effort to strengthen his government against revolutionary violence, he opened discussions with Prime Minister Karume of Zanzibar that led to the formation of Tanzania in April. Dar es Salaam was named the capital of the new country.

The Nature of the Federation

The agreement arose from mutual need. Zanzibar received aid from the mainland, and Nyerere could legally act to moderate the Zanzibar revolution. He became president of the union, and Karume was its first vice president. Each area retained its own legislature and legal system pending an agreement on more complete integration.

Integration, however, proved to be difficult, and the differences between the two areas remained great. The Zanzibar government was far more radical and doctrinaire than that of Tanganyika. Many elections had been held in Tanganyika, but none on the island. Until 1977 TANU was the only recognized political party on the mainland, but several different candidates normally stood for election for any given seat in the legislature. TANU merged with Zanzibar’s one party to form the Revolutionary Party of Tanzania (known by its Swahili name Chama Cha Mapinduzi, or CCM), but the merger was more cosmetic than real. In 1970 the entire legal system on Zanzibar was reorganized to give power to three-member people’s courts that permitted no defense attorneys; meanwhile, the courts of Tanganyika continued to follow the general practices inherited from the British. Mainland courts refused to extradite prisoners to Zanzibar because of the vast differences in their systems. Thus, despite the change in name, the two areas that constitute the federation remained fundamentally separate.

The Tanzanian government had announced a decision to transfer the national capital from Dar es Salaam to Dodoma in 1974, but the implementation of this edict was slow in coming. The National Assembly, Tanzania’s legislative body, and various government offices were gradually moved to Dodoma over the next several decades.

2. The Economy

From the beginning, Tanzania was a poor state, with few exportable minerals, little industry, and an agricultural system dominated by ideas of tribal self-sufficiency. To counteract a deteriorating economic situation, Nyerere made some major changes in 1967. The state gradually extended its control over all areas of business life. Banks and all private companies were nationalized and state corporations created to provide goods and services for the population. This experiment in socialism received a tremendous blow with the increases in the price of petroleum in the 1970s, which wiped out Tanzania’s reserves. Nyerere’s ujamaa (“familyhood”) program, designed to revitalize village agriculture by combining modern technology with African ideas of cooperation, was hampered by world economic developments, government inefficiency, and resistance from local village and district heads.

3. Foreign Policy

During the 1970s and the early 1980s, Tanzania’s leaders were in the forefront of African liberation movements. Mozambican nationalists were allowed to use Tanzanian territory for training and attack bases during their rebellion against the Portuguese. In Uganda, Tanzanian troops helped overthrow the regime of Idi Amin in 1979 and occupied the country until 1981. President Nyerere was also one of the major African representatives in the negotiations for ending white rule in Zimbabwe. Although it maintained good relations with the West, Tanzania moved closer in philosophy and practice to the Communist-bloc countries; China was particularly helpful with aid.

Tanzania Since Nyerere

In November 1985 Nyerere retired and was succeeded in the presidency by Ali Hassan Mwinyi; however, Nyerere retained the chairmanship of the CCM until August 1990. Opposition parties were legalized in 1992. The first multiparty elections were held in October 1995, but logistical problems caused the electoral commission to schedule a new round of elections for November. Opposition parties accused the ruling CCM of fraud and withdrew from the second elections, claiming irregularities in the voting procedures. Benjamin Mkapa, a member of the CCM, was elected president, and the CCM won the majority of the seats in the National Assembly. Multiparty elections were also held in Zanzibar in October 1995, and President Salmin Amour, a member of the CCM, was reelected. Opposition parties contested the results, however.

Regional Pressures

In the early 1990s violence in the countries bordering Tanzania led to an influx of refugees. In 1993 refugees from Burundi crossed the border into Tanzania, fleeing the violence that followed a coup attempt against the Burundian government. In Rwanda violence erupted between the Hutu and the Tutsi in 1994, causing hundreds of thousands of refugees to flee into Tanzania. A resurgence of violence in Burundi in 1995 sent thousands more Burundian refugees into Tanzania. Tanzania closed its border with Burundi in March. At that time Tanzania had about 60,000 refugees from Burundi and more than 700,000 refugees from Rwanda. Representatives of Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo or DRC) met in November 1995 and agreed on a plan for the repatriation of refugees, but many refugees refused to return to their countries. In many parts of Tanzania, refugees significantly outnumbered local residents.

In 1995 the United Nations (UN) Security Council established an international war crimes tribunal to try individuals accused of participating in the genocide in Rwanda. The city of Arusha in Tanzania was selected as the site for the tribunal. Trials began in May 1996.

Tension in Zanzibar

Tensions between Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania rose in the 1990s as Zanzibaris increasingly called for greater autonomy from the national government. In late 2000 Mkapa was reelected as president, and the CCM swept legislative elections in both Tanzania as a whole and in Zanzibar. International observers noted serious irregularities in the Zanzibar polling, and the Civic United Front (CUF), the main opposition party in Zanzibar, charged the CCM with voter intimidation. Clashes between members of the CUF and government forces rocked Zanzibar in 2000 and 2001. The CCM and CUF signed accords in 2001 and 2002 to amend Zanzibari voting laws and electoral procedures, quelling the violence.

Recent Developments

In the presidential and legislative elections of 2005, the CCM scored a crushing victory over the opposition. The CCM’s presidential candidate, Jakaya Kikwete, formerly the foreign minister, took 80 percent of the vote in winning the presidency. Mkapa was barred by the constitution from running for a third term. The CCM also swept the legislative elections, winning 206 of the 232 contested seats in the National Assembly.

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