Reputed for its stability in the region, Tanzania is also one of sub-Saharan Africa’s fastest-growing economies, boasting average GDP growth of around 7% per year since 2000. The country has historically been an attractive centre for trade due to its strategic location along the continent’s east coast. Until the arrival of European settlers in the 19th century, the country primarily traded with its Arab and Eastern counterparts. These activities shifted after the Germans came to rule most of the region in the 1880s. Today, Tanzania is seen as one of Africa’s most dynamic and diverse countries. Its economy remains highly dependent on agricultural output, although the development of tourism and the discovery of natural gas in recent years should help offset the country’s dependence on its primary sector.

Understanding the history of Tanzania is crucial to properly interpreting its current events. Much of the country’s modern-day political scene is still influenced by the roots of its political independence, as well as by some of the ideologies that dominated the post-independence era. Despite having faced numerous political challenges since independence, the country finds itself in a stable position with a positive outlook, helped in part by a staunchly anti-corruption leader at the helm.

Political History

Beginning in 1919 Tanzania was placed under British administrative rule, during which time an indigenous African administration was encouraged through local councils and courts. In 1926 a legislative council was established in Dar es Salaam under the governor of Tanganyika (mainland Tanzania).

Seats in the 20-member council, however, were reserved for non-Africans until 1960. That year the election of its members shifted entirely from the hands of the governor to those of the people, and the council acquired the new title of National Assembly. With restrictions on candidacy lifted, the lead to independence became inevitable, and in 1961 Julius Nyerere became independent Tanzania’s first prime minister, and was then elected president the following year.

The Tanzanian Experiment

In a bid to speed up development, Nyerere sought a new approach with the aim of overcoming a number of challenges that plagued the country’s post-independence economy, ranging from inequality to high levels of foreign aid.

Nyerere adopted the Arusha Declaration in 1967, a policy statement calling for self-reliance and egalitarianism, with the goal of creating an internally integrated economy and decreasing external dependence. The government opted for a socialist model of tighter state control, with the nationalisation of businesses including plantations, industry and banking, and major investments in primary education and health care.

One of the policy’s main pillars was Ujamaa – the Swahili word for “familyhood”. This programme for rural development was mainly executed through the establishment of collective farm villages. To that end, a relocation policy was adopted in 1974, and by 1977 most of the country’s rural population had been resettled. However, the strategy – perhaps unsurprisingly, given the significant disruption it caused – did not yield the expected results. Agricultural production saw a major decline in conditions and people lacked the motivation to produce communally.

Crises & Reform

Dwindling economic performance became an increasing concern in the early 1980s. Agricultural production, Tanzania’s largest contributor to GDP, continued to ease, and concerns from foreign donors over a lack of structural reforms led to a drawdown in aid. Nyerere resigned in 1985. An economic recovery programme (ERP) in 1986-89 was carried out by his successor, Ali Hassan Mwinyi, allowing modest growth to resume. The reforms included cuts in state spending, incentives to boost foreign investment, efforts to purge corruption and business privatisation.

Consequently, international aid and numerous development programmes – which had been suspended or dropped – were resumed, though the effectiveness of those initiatives is still a subject of debate today. A number of reforms were implemented in terms of trade and exchange rate liberalisation, which also helped restore confidence among foreign investors and major institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank.

During that period Tanzania received around $6bn in foreign assistance, and by 1990 foreign aid accounted for 29.3% of the country’s GDP. In spite of the two-year suspension of a number of funds due to concerns of misuse in the early 1990s, aid continued to flow over the following decades, and by FY 2015/16 Tanzania was looking to source upward of TSh3trn ($1.4bn) in foreign aid to support its development expenditure.

Although the country is likely to continue receiving foreign assistance for the foreseeable future, the current administration is advocating a new approach to foster more self-reliance and reduce its dependence on donor aid through measures targeting domestic revenue collection and a widening of the country’s tax base, among other things (see Economy chapter).

Government Structure

Tanzania’s government consists of the president and the National Assembly. The president is elected by direct popular vote every five years and is eligible to run for a second term. He or she is the head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. The president forms his or her Cabinet among National Assembly members.

The National Assembly is a unicameral body currently made up of 393 members. It comprises 264 members representing constituencies, 113 special seats for female members, five members elected by the Zanzibar House of Representatives, the Attorney General and 10 members appointed by the president. The majority of seats are chosen directly by the people with a vote every five years. At present the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), or “Party of the Revolution”, holds the vast majority of seats in the assembly.

The legal system in Tanzania combines the jurisdictions of British, Islamic and tribal laws. The judiciary is divided between a five-level network of courts. It consists of primary courts, district courts, resident magistrate courts, three divisions of the High Court and the Court of Appeals. Judges to the High Court and Court of Appeals are appointed by the president, while the chief justice appoints the remainder. Zanzibar also has its own court system, mirroring that of the union.

Tanzania is made up of 31 regions, with a commissioner heading each region. The regions are divided into districts, all of which hold at least one popularly elected council led by an appointed executive officer.

Political Parties

Tanzania’s first political party, the Tanganyika African Association, was founded in 1929 and transformed by Nyerere into the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) in 1954. In 1977 it was merged with Zanzibar’s Afro-Shirazi Party (ASP) to form the CCM. The CCM remained the country’s sole legal political party up until 1992 when a multiparty democracy was introduced as part of Mwinyi’s efforts to implement structural adjustments in return for continued international aid and cooperation. A new constitution was introduced to that end, stipulating that political parties must be active in both mainland Tanganyika and Zanzibar, and not affiliated with any religious, racial or tribal groups.

The country’s first multiparty elections were held in 1995 and were represented by 13 political parties, including the CCM, the Zanzibar-based Civic United Front (CUF) and the Chama cha Demokrasia na Maendeleo (Chadema) – or “Party for Democracy and Progress”. However, the results of the elections, which returned Benjamin Mkapa of the ruling CCM as president, were highly scrutinised by observers in the international community. The CCM’s victory in Zanzibar in particular led opposition parties – most notably the CUF – to allege electoral malpractice.

General Elections

Tanzania’s latest elections were held in October 2015 and saw CCM leader John Magufuli elected president of the united republic. The former minister of public works won the election with 58% of the vote, besting close rival, former Prime Minister Edward Lowassa, who captured 40% of the vote.

The parliamentary elections that were held at the same time, however, saw the number of seats dedicated to the party’s majority in the National Assembly decline from 265 to 252. The number of seats occupied by CUF members increased from 35 to 42, while those of Chadema rose from 49 to 70. Elections in Tanzania are overseen by an electoral commission, in place since 1992. The commission relies on a first-past-the-post voting system, whereby the candidate with the largest number of votes is declared the winner.


Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous archipelago that joined mainland Tanganyika in 1964, forming the United Republic of Tanzania, after its sultanate – a minority Arab ruling elite – was overthrown by the ASP. Since then, the archipelago has managed to retain considerable control over its internal affairs.

Zanzibar has its own president – currently Ali Mohamed Shein of the CCM – and House of Representatives, both elected for five-year terms. The house currently comprises 82 members: 50 members popularly elected by the people, 10 appointed by the president of Zanzibar, 20 special seats for women, an attorney general and a house speaker. The legislative body retains full jurisdiction over all non-union affairs, granting it the power of passing laws for Zanzibar without the approval of the National Assembly.

In the wake of a 2001 incident where political protests led to the deaths of over 30 people, the CCM and the CUF formed a joint committee in an attempt to restore peace. However, in 2005 concerns over election results led to a partial boycott of Zanzibar’s Parliament by the opposition until 2009. In 2010 a government of national unity was ushered in after both parties reached a compromise.

In October 2015 the Zanzibar Electoral Commission nullified the Zanzibar presidential election results three days after the vote due to irregularities. The commission held a scheduled rerun of the elections in March 2016, with the vote returning CCM candidate Shein. Yet again, the opposition and some external observers expressed concerns over the result.


As with many economies around the world, Tanzania has grappled with corruption, and recent years have seen the government take a number of steps to reduce incidents of illicit financing and capital flight. In 2008 Daudi Ballali, governor of the Bank of Tanzania, was fired following an international audit that revealed more than $120m in improper payments by the central bank to local companies. That same year then-President Jakaya Kikwete dissolved his Cabinet following a corruption scandal that saw the country’s prime minister and two other ministers resign.

The administration of the current president, Magufuli, has sought to take a strict anti-corruption policy approach since being elected in 2015. Efforts in this regard have been directed towards tackling incompetence in the public sector through firings and cutbacks among public officials, as well as purging some 10,000 so-called ghost workers from the public sector payroll, and dismissing 9900 civil servants who were found to have forged either school or college certificates. New tools are also being instituted to ensure better management and effective spending of the government’s budget, with the view of curtailing corruption and misappropriation of funds.


Overall, Tanzania’s experience as an independent African nation has been a positive one on the world stage, particularly in comparison to its peers and in light of some of the self-imposed hurdles it has had to clear. In its shift from a socialist experiment under Nyerere to a market economy under his successors, the country has fared relatively well in maintaining political stability and economic growth.

However, there is work and further collaboration that needs to be achieved to help support the continued development of the country’s democratic credentials – particularly in off-coast Zanzibar – as well as foster broad-based socio-economic development.