Tanzania among Africa's fastest-growing economies


Located on the east coast of Africa and south of the equator, Tanzania was home to some of the world’s first human settlements. Indeed, in 1959 some of the oldest human fossils were unearthed by an anthropologist in Olduvai Gorge in northern Tanzania. Also known as the “Cradle of Mankind”, this area is home to some of the oldest evidence of mankind’s evolution, with fossils dating back as far as 3.6m years.

Today, Tanzania – one of East Africa’s largest economies and most popular tourist destinations – is seen as one of the world’s most culturally diverse countries because of the variety of influences and settlers who have populated its mainland and islands. The country is comprised of mainland Tanganyika and the archipelago of Zanzibar. Dodoma is its official capital, although Dar es Salaam, the country’s largest city and port, has long been the nation’s commercial and administrative centre.

Modern History

Tanzania has been populated by waves of migration, from nomadic hunter-gatherers, to Cushitic-speaking farmers and cattle herders. The majority of people living in Tanzania today are of Bantu descent, a group arriving to the eastern coast of Africa as early as the 1st century.

Tanzania has seen a wide array of communities and settlers call its islands and coast home throughout its history, gradually turning the area into a major trading post in the East African region. The Shirazi era, between the 13th and 15th centuries, was one of the most prosperous early periods during which Persian settlers established numerous trading towns, dealing goods like gold and ivory with countries as far as India and China. These people were joined between the 15th and 18th centuries by Nilotic-speaking pastoralists from southern Sudan.

Starting from the late 15th century, European explorers – most notably Vasco da Gama of Portugal – began to reach the coast of East Africa. By 1525 the Portuguese had control of the entire coast until they were ousted in 1699 by Omani Arabs, turning Zanzibar into the centre of the Arab slave trade until 1873. Inland exploration of the region intensified during the 19th century with the arrival of a number of Europeans, among them German explorer Carl Peters, who played an instrumental role in the founding of German East Africa. By 1886 the Germans occupied most of mainland Tanzania, with the exception of a 16-km-wide strip along the coast, which remained under the control of the sultan of Zanzibar.

In the two decades that followed, the Germans strived to develop their colony, establishing a railway from Dar es Salaam to Tabora and Ujiji, introducing new crops such as cotton and developing coffee plantations around Mount Kilimanjaro. Forced labour and harsh working conditions, however, led local communities to despise the German presence and rebel against the colonial rule. This uprising, known as the Maji Maji Rebellion, lasted from 1905 to 1907. With reinforcement sent over from Germany, the uprising was defeated, mainly through the engineered famine of the local populations.

The onset of the First World War inevitably dampened Germany’s ambitions in the region, and by 1916 most of German East Africa had been taken over by British, Belgian and South African troops. In 1919 the League of Nations granted Britain a mandate over mainland Tanzania – or Tanganyika as it was known – which in 1946 was converted by the UN into a trusteeship, promoting local political development.

One of the most significant developments that ensued was the founding of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) in 1954 by Julius Nyerere. Nyerere, who had recently returned from a threeyear undergraduate programme at the University of Edinburgh, was the son of a chief and a teacher.


Tanganyika won independence on December 9, 1961 with Nyerere as prime minister. One year later a republican constitution was adopted, and Nyerere was elected president. In early 1964 Zanzibar – which had been a British protectorate since the late 19th century – underwent a revolution, freeing it from British rule. On April 26, 1964 the island was united with mainland Tanganyika, forming the United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar. Shortly thereafter, on October 29, 1964, the state was renamed the United Republic of Tanzania.

Beginning in 1977, the year the TANU and Zanzibar’s Afro-Shirazi Party united to form the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), Nyerere governed the country as a one-party state until he stepped down in 1985. He was succeeded by Ali Hassan Mwinyi.

Multiparty Politics

In 1992 a multiparty system was ushered in. Parliamentary and presidential elections were held in 1995 with participation from 13 political parties. The much-contested elections saw the CCM win 59.22% of the proportional vote and the leader of the CCM, Benjamin Mkapa, was elected president. The National Convention for Construction and Reform-Mageuzi came in second, with 21.83% of the votes, while Civic United Front (CUF) in third place won 5.02% of votes. Mkapa was then elected for a second term in 2000 with 72% of the vote. The presidential elections of 2005 and 2010 saw CCM candidate Jakaya Kikwete in power. In 2015 John Magufuli, also of the governing CCM, was elected as the fifth president of Tanzania.


Tanzania spans 947,000 sq km and comprises mainland Tanganyika – which accounts for 99% of the country’s territory – and Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous archipelago made up of two main islands: Unguja and Pemba. The country is bordered by Kenya and Uganda to the north, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, Zambia and Malawi to the south-west, Mozambique to the south and the Indian Ocean to the east.

Tanzania is home to Africa’s highest point, the famous 5895-metre Mount Kilimanjaro, as well as three of the continent’s best-known lakes, with Victoria – the world’s second largest – to the north, Tanganyika to the west and Nyasa to the south. The country has several distinct geographical zones, with a fertile belt along the coast, the Maasai Steppe and mountain ranges to the north, and a high plateau in the central and southern regions.

The country’s climate varies from tropical along the coast, to semi-temperate in the mountains and drier conditions in the plateau region. A heavy rainy season usually occurs from March to May with a lighter one from November to January.

Natural Resources

Tanzania is a resource-rich nation with vast swaths of land under conservation to protect the earth and wildlife. The majority of its numerous national parks and game reserves are located in the north and south of the country, and serve as major tourist attractions (see Tourism chapter). One such park is the 1.5m-ha Serengeti National Park, famous for its biological diversity and gnu, gazelle and zebra migrations. The country also boasts a wide array of mining resources ranging from gold, diamonds and tanzanite, to nickel, uranium and natural gas (see Energy & Mining chapter).

These resources, however, have not necessarily generated the expected socio-economic benefits. Their sustainability is in jeopardy due to environmental harm and illegal activities such as poaching. The government is working with various international organisations to overcome such obstacles.


According to World Bank statistics, Tanzania was home to 50m people in 2016. Tanzania has one of the world’s highest annual growth rates at 3%, which is expected to bring the country’s population to 70m by 2025. Life expectancy at birth stands at 58 years for men and 60 for women (see Health chapter). Though the poverty rate fell from 60% in 2007 to 47% in 2016, some 12m people still live in extreme poverty, according to the World Bank.

Swahili and English are the country’s two official languages, but most Tanzanians also speak the language of their ethnic group. Arabic is widely spoken in Zanzibar. An estimated one-third of the country is Muslim, another third is Christian and the remainder hold various traditional beliefs.


Tanzania is one of Africa’s fastest-growing economies, with annual GDP growth averaging 7% since 2000 (see Economy chapter). Agriculture occupies a central role in the economy, accounting for around 29% of GDP and employing some twofifths of the population. Corn, rice, sorghum and bananas are among the country’s main cultivated crops, and agricultural exports form a key source of foreign revenue, primarily from coffee, cotton and cashew nuts (see Agriculture chapter). That said, tourism remains the biggest generator of foreign exchange, bringing in $2bn in 2014.

Economic expansion is also being driven by mining and energy, given Tanzania’s deposits of gold and natural gas. IMF projections put the country’s GDP growth rate at 6.2% in 2017 and 6.8% in 2018.

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