by Chris
August 28, 2015

About Tanzania

The United Republic of Tanzania, more commonly known as Tanzania, is a country located in East Africa's Great Lakes region. It is bordered by Kenya and Uganda in the north, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo in the east, and Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia in the south.

A combination of two former European administered colonies - Tanganyika and Zanzibar - Tanzania is an ethnically diverse country of just under 48 million people.

Tanzania's capital is Dodoma, although Dar Es Salaam is the country's largest city, main commercial centre, largest port, and was the capital until 1996.

History of Tanzania

Pre-Colonial Tanganyika and Zanzibar

Prior to the arrival of the first European colonial interests in 1498, Tanzania had already supported a dynamic mix of tribal peoples for thousands of years.

Starting with the Hadzabe and Sandawe hunter-gatherers, the nation's population swelled with two large movements of Southern Cushitic peoples from Ethiopia approximately 4,000 and 2,000 years ago. At around the same time, the Mashariki Bantu people from West Africa settled in the areas around Lake Tanganyika and Lake Victoria, bringing with them West African traditions such as iron-making and agriculture.

The Masai, arguably Tanzania's most famous tribal people, did not come to the area from South Sudan until somewhere between the last 1,500 and 500 years.

Since around the 9th Century AD, trade vessels from the Middle East had been making use of the Indian Ocean coast. It is for this reason that Swahili bears some resemblance to the Arabic tongue, and why Islam is practised among most coastal people.

Colonial Zanzibar and Tanganyika

Legendary Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama visited the Tanganyika coast in 1498, and the Portuguese took control of the region in 1506. They would rule until 1699, when they were ousted from power by the Omani Sultanate.

Omani Sultan Seyyid Said claimed the Zanzibar archipelago and the Tanganyikan coast and even relocated his capital to Zanzibar City (more commonly known as Stone Town). Zanzibar soon became the centre of the Arab slave trade, with 65-90% of the region's native population enslaved. Many buildings from this time remain today, and it is possible for visitors to Stone Town to visit the former palace as well as the former slave markets.

The lucrative slave trade would come to an end in the 1800s, with the British Empire placing increasing pressure on Sultan Said to end the slave trade. Blockades and sanctions eventually had the desired result, and in 1876 the Anglo-Zanzibari Treaty brought an end to Zanzibar's role as a slave port. A few years later in 1890, the archipelago would join the British Commonwealth as a Omani administered British protectorate.

Tension between the Sultans and the British would remain until 1896 when, in the shortest war ever, the Sultanate rebelled for all of 38 minutes before being bombarded into submission.

In the latter stages of the 19th century, Germany conquered the Tanzanian mainland and named it German East Africa. This leadership would last only until the conclusion of the First World War, at which time Tanganyika was handed over to the British Commonwealth.

Over 100,000 Tanganyikan soldiers would fight for the Allies in World War II, and Tanganyika would become an important 'bread basket' for a Commonwealth running desperately short on food and supplies.

Post-Colonial Tanzania

In the decades following the conclusion of World War II, the British Commonwealth gradually wound back its colonial claims. Like many other nations, Tanganyika became an independent member of the Commonwealth in 1961, electing its first president in 1962.

At around the same time, the Zanzibar Revolution brought to an end over 200 years of Arab dominion of the archipelago. The newly independent Zanzibar aligned itself with Tanganyika in 1964, and the two nations adopted a portmanteau of the two names to create a new name for their unified nation: Tanzania.

In 1967, Tanzania's most influential political document, the Arusha Declaration would codify the new nation's political beliefs. It remains the most significant political document in the nation's short history.

Geography & Climate of Tanzania

Bordering Kenya and Uganda in the north, Burundi, Rwanda, and the Republic of the Congo in the east, and Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia to the south, at 947,303 square kilometres, Tanzania is the 13th largest country in Africa and the 31st largest country in the world.

With the Indian ocean off the nation's east coast, Tanzania also incorporates a number of islands including Unguja (Zanzibar), Pemba, and Mafia.

Interestingly, Tanzania also boasts both Africa's highest point (Mount Kilimanjaro at 5,985m above sea level) and lowest point (Lake Tanganyika at 352m below sea level). Lake Tanganyika is one of three of Africa's Great Lakes that lie wholly or partially within Tanzania's borders - the others being Africa's largest lake (Lake Victoria) and Lake Nyasa.

Much of Tanzania enjoys a warm climate, with temperatures rarely falling below 20C and climbing into the low 30s during the hot November to February period. In the highlands, temperatures tend to be between 10C and 20C.

Tanzania experiences long and short wet and dry seasons.

  • Long Rain: March, April, and May.
  • Long Dry: June, July, August, September, and October.
  • Short Rain: November and December.
  • Short Dry: January and February.

When it comes to the Tanzanian coast and the Zanzibar archipelago, weather is typically warmer and more humid throughout the year.



Tanzania has a population of just under 48 million people, with 44.1% of these aged under 15. The majority of Tanzania's population lives along the country's northern border or its east coast, with the remainder of the country much more sparsely populated. Population density varies from 12 per square kilometre in the Katavi region all the way up to 3,133 per square kilometre in the country's most populous city, Dar Es Salaam (population 4.3 million).

Tanzania's population is comprised of 125 ethnic groups, and 99% of the population are of African descent. The most populous tribes are the Chagga, Sukuma, Nyamwezi, and Haya - with each tribe boasting in excess of a million members.


Although the national census has not included religious data since 1967, religious leaders and sociologists esimate that Islam accounts for 35%, Christianity 30%, and traditional African religions account for a further 35%. The remainder of Tanzania's population are practitioners of other faiths or do not practice religion at all.

In Zanzibar, around 99% of the population are Muslim.

On the mainland, Christianity finds its roots in early missionaries from various churches including Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Lutheran. The coast tends more towards Muslim beliefs, while the nation's interior leans more towards Christianity.

In recent years, other religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Baha'is have grown in popularity.


Tanzania is the most linguistically diverse country in East Africa, with more than 100 different languages spoken in the country. Of these, Swahili and English are Tanzania's official languages.

While English is an official language, it lags behind Swahili in terms of widespread use. 90% of Tanzanians speak Swahili as a first or second language, with a local dialect being their other language. English is generally spoken fluently only by the educated, with others knowing basic phrases.

Major Cities

Dar Es Salaam

Tanzania's capital until it was replaced by Dodoma in 1996, Dar Es Salaam remains the nation's cultural and financial capital. With the largest population (just under 4.5 million), Dar Es Salaam is also the main port of arrival and departure for most visitors to Tanzania.

Despite its status as an important transit stop, Dar Es Salaam is not in itself a popular tourist destination. While the city does boast impressive museums and a diverse selection of restaurants and hotels, most tourists to Tanzania tend to go to Zanzibar and/or the northern safari circuit near Arusha.


The host and de facto home of the East African community, Arusha has long served as an important diplomatic meeting place - most notably in the wake of Rwanda's 1994 Genocide.

At the foot of Mt. Meru and with Serengeti, Ngorongoro, Lake Manyara, Tarangire, Arusha, and Kilimanjaro National Parks all located within a day's drive, it is also the 'safari capital' of Tanzania and is serviced by two international airports catering to this.

A diverse and vibrant city, Arusha is known for its cosmopolitan population and its happening night life.


Originally a German railway settlement, Dodoma became the official administrative capital of Tanzania in 1996, taking over from Dar Es Salaam. Despite this, many government departments are still based in the former capital.

Dodoma has a population of less than 500,000 and no real tourism to speak of.


The gateway to Kilimanjaro, Moshi is a city of just under 200,000 people located a short drive from Arusha.

Its proximity to Mount Kilimanjaro makes it a popular tourist spot for those wishing to climb or see the mountain up close, and a number of lodges and resorts exist in and around the town.

The annual Kilimanjaro marathon is hosted in the city.

Zanzibar City (Stone Town)

People often assume that Stone Town and Zanzibar City are one and the same, but Stone Town is just a small part of the bustling city that is Zanzibar City. Over 200,000 people call Zanzibar City (sometimes known as Zanzibar Town or just Zanzibar) home.

The city can be divided into two parts: historic Stone Town and modern Ng'ambo (The Other Side in Swahili). The two sides of the city were once divided by a creek, but now a road (Creek Road) acts as the line between old Zanzibar and new Zanzibar.

For tourists, Stone Town is the area in which most of their time is likely to be spent. It is in Stone Town that the city's many historic buildings - from Portuguese forts to Omani palaces to British colonial buildings - can be seen, and where hotels, restaurants, and other tourist attractions can be found.

Famous for its labyrinthine alleys and melting pot of cultures, Stone Town is one of Africa's most fascinating cities.


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