Bordered by Mozambique, Malawi, Uganda and Kenya and bounded by the shores of the Indian Ocean on the west, Tanzania is the largest country in East Africa. It is famous for being one of the best wildlife destinations in the world, and there are few places where nature so fully abounds. As the first president Julius Nyerere said, “These wild creatures amid the wild places they inhabit are… a source of wonder and inspiration”.
Tanzania does however have a lot of other things to offer tourists including the snow-capped peaks of Kilimanjaro, the island paradise of Zanzibar and the amazing south.
Fossils found in Tanzania by the world famous Leakey family have indicated that some of the world’s earliest humans lived in Tanzania. But little else is known of the people who populated the region until the Masai, a fierce warrior people, moved in from the north and claimed what is now northern Tanzania. The coastal regions including the important settlement of Kilwa had long witnessed maritime squabbles between Portuguese and Arabic traders, it wasn’t until the middle of the 18th century that Arab traders and slaves dared venture into Masai territory in the country’s wild interior.
Tanzania became an important arrival point in to the African interior for many 19th century explorers, the most famous being Stanley and Livingstone. The phrase “Dr Livingstone, I presume” stems from the duo’s meeting at Ujiji on Lake Malawi.
Tanganyika, as the mainland was then known, was colonized by Germany in the 1880s. When Germany lost the first World War, the territory was mandated to Britain by the League of Nations to rule as a protectorate. Britain never expected to stay long and, consequently, did little to improve the country’s infrastructure. The British also took control of the offshore island of Zanzibar, which for centuries had been the domain of Arab traders.
Tanganyika was granted independence in 1961, followed by the island nation of Zanzibar two years later. In 1964 the two countries merged as the United Republic of Tanzania. Tanzania’s independence was due to the work of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) and it’s leader Julius Nyerere, who became the first president.
Nyerere adopted a policy of radical socialism to develop his country. Its goals included decent health care, the establishment of Swahili as a national language (important in a nation of 120 ethnic groupings), increasing international prestige and universal literacy. He improved health conditions somewhat and expanded the usage of Swahili, but his economic policies proved to be a failure.
The early 1960s saw Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda linked in an unlikely economic threesome, sharing a common airline, telecommunication facilities, transportation and customs. Their currencies became freely convertible and there was free and easy movement across borders. But political differences brought this to a halt in 1977, leaving the Tanzanians worse off than ever.
Despite his unsuccessful reforms, Nyerere was beloved for his earnest ideals and regarded as one of Africa’s greatest leaders. He retired from politics in 1985 and died in late 1999. His funeral was attended by more than 3 million mourners.
Tanzania is now escaping the shadow of its northern neighbour, Kenya, and emerging as a prime tourist destination. With friendly people and amazing natural beauty, Tanzania is at the crossroads of a new beginning where the historical past blends with the new, and where eco-tourism is being given the full support of the government.