Home > Passport Series: Tanzania: Part 1: Country Profile
Passport Series: Tanzania: Part 1: Country Profile
This month’s Passport Series is all about Tanzania. Tanzania is home to Africa’s highest mountain, some of the world’s most ecologically significant wildlife reserves and its own unique style of hip hop! Follow us throughout the month of January as we learn about Tanzania, its microfinance sector, and the work that Kiva does there.
Tanzania is a nation in East Africa, bordering the Indian Ocean and several countries including Kenya and Mozambique. Modern day Tanzania is made up of the islands of Zanzibar and a mainland area previously known as Tanganyika. Tanzania is one of the earliest inhabited areas on Earth; fossil remains of humans and pre-human hominids have been found in the country dating back over two million years. Waves of migration from all over Africa contributed over the centuries to the region’s over 120 ethnic groups. Cultural influences from outside of Africa arrived as early as the first millennium AD in the form of travellers and merchants from the Persian Gulf and western India.
Historic buildings in Zanzibar - Photo Credit: CIA World Factbook
Portuguese traders claimed control over the East Coast of Africa (including the area that is now Tanzania) in the 16th century, violently enforcing a monopoly on Indian Ocean trade. The local people rose up and overthrew the Portuguese in the late 18th century with the assistance of one of their main trading partners, the Omani Arabs. The revolution did not lead to lasting autonomy for the local tribes however, as the Arabs proceeded to claim dominion over the region in the 19th century. The Arab’s seizure of control over the area was motivated by the emergence of the lucrative Arab-led slave and ivory trades. These trades had a devastating effect on the people of East Africa, destroying families and communities and disrupting long standing patterns of political organization and economic production. The area was further destabilized when it became a colony of Germany in 1885. After World War I, the region was taken over by Britain under a League of Nations mandate.
A slave memorial in Zanzibar - Photo Credit: CIA Factbook
Shortly after achieving independence from Britain in the early 1960s, Tanganyika
and Zanzibar merged to form the nation of Tanzania. Julius Nyerere served as the first President of Tanzania from 1962 to 1985. One-party rule ended in 1995 with the first democratic elections held in the country since the 1970s. Zanzibar has maintained semi-autonomous status which has led to two contentious elections since 1995, which the ruling party won despite international observers' claims of voting irregularities. The formation of a government of national unity between Zanzibar's two leading parties succeeded in minimizing electoral tension in 2010.
Map of Tanzania - Photo Credit: CIA World Factbook
Tanzania is composed of 26 regions. Dodoma, in Central Tanzania, has been the country’s capital since 1996. Dar Es Salaam previously served as the country’s political capital from independence to 1996. It remains the country’s commercial center as it is the main seaport for the country and its landlocked neighbors. Northeast Tanzania is mountainous and is home to Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa. The country is bordered by three of the largest lakes on the continent: Lake Victoria (the world's second-largest freshwater lake) in the north, Lake Tanganyika (the world's second deepest) in the west, and Lake Nyasa (also known as Lake Malawi) in the southwest. Central Tanzania comprises a large plateau, with plains and arable land. The eastern shore is hot and humid, with the islands of Zanzibar lying just offshore. Zanzibar consists of two main islands (Unguja and Pemba) and several smaller ones.
 Mount Kilamanjaro - Photo Credit: CIA World Factbook
 A Tanzanian wildlife park - Photo Credit: CIA World Factbook
Tanzania is one of the world's poorest economies in terms of per capita income, however, Tanzania has averaged 7% GDP growth per year between 2000 and 2010 fueled by strong gold production and tourism. The economy depends heavily on agriculture, which accounts for more than 40% of GDP, provides 85% of exports, and employs about 80% of the work force. Recent banking reforms have helped increase private-sector growth and investment, and the government has increased spending on agriculture to 7% of its budget. Continued donor assistance and solid macroeconomic policies supported a positive growth rate, despite the world recession. In 2008, Tanzania received the world's largest Millennium Challenge Compact grant, worth $698 million.
Demographics and Culture
Tanzania’s population (approximately 43 million) is concentrated along the coast and isles, the fertile northern and southern highlands, and the lands bordering Lake Victoria. The relatively arid and less fertile central region is sparsely inhabited. About 80% of Tanzanians live in rural communities. Zanzibar’s population is about 1.3 million (3% of Tanzania’s population).
The Tanzanian flag - Photo Credit: CIA World Factbook
Tanzanians, together with their socio-linguistic cousins in the Comoros Islands and the East Africa coast (from modern-day southern Somalia to northern Mozambique), created Swahili culture and language, which reflect long and close associations with other parts of Africa and with the Arab world, Persia, and South Asia. As with the Swahili language, Swahili culture has a Bantu core that has been modified by those foreign influences.
Zanzibar Harbor - Photo Credit: CIA World Factbook
The first language typically learned by a Tanzanian is that of his or her tribe, with Swahili and English learned thereafter. Current statistics on religion in Tanzania are unavailable because religious surveys were eliminated from government census reports after 1967. Religious leaders and sociologists estimate that on mainland Tanzania the Christian and Muslim communities are approximately equal in size, each accounting for 30 to 40 percent of the population. The remainder of the mainland population is said to practice various other faiths including indigenous religions. Zanzibar is believed to be more than 99% Muslim.
The music of Tanzania stretches from traditional African drumming and percussion and the string-based taarab to a distinctive hip hop known as bongo flava. Bongo flava developed in the 1990s, mainly as a derivative of American hip hop, with additional influences from reggae, R&B, afrobeat, dancehall, and traditional Tanzanian styles.
Check out this video for a taste of bongo flava!
Stay tuned next week for an exploration of Tanzania’s microfinance industry!