Beyond Wristbands: Your wider guide to Tanzania

In response to the limited focus of Kony 2012, The Yorker is publishing a series of articles intended to inform a broader awareness of the reality in various African countries.

A Brief History

In 1890, Zanzibar became a British ‘protectorate’, while the mainland became part of German East Africa. The Maji Maji Rebellion of 1905-7 saw a struggle to expel the German administration, in the course of which 120,000 Africans were killed by the German military suppressing the rebellion.

Regions of Tanzania. ©Public domain

After Germany’s defeat in WWI, German colonial domination of Tanzania was replaced by the control of the UK under a United Nations mandate, which saw the country become a UN trust territory under British control called Tanganyika. Following a policy of ‘indirect rule’ to implement their control, the rule of the British government resulted in much less open hostility than that of the heavier handed German rule.

In 1954, Julius Nyerere, then one of only two Tanganyikans educated abroad at university level (at Edinburgh), organised a political party-the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU). In May 1961, Tanganyika became autonomous, with Nyerere becoming Prime Minister. Full independence was achieved on December 9, 1961; the first of the East African states to gain independence.

To remedy the fact that Tanzania had few exportable minerals and a primitive agricultural system, Nyerere issued called in 1967 for self-reliance through the creation of cooperative farm villages and the nationalisation of factories, plantations, banks and private companies. Unfortunately, this programme failed due to factors including corruption, inefficiency and the rising price of imported petrol, all compounded in 1979 and 1981 by a costly military intervention to overthrow President Idi Amin of Uganda.

Nyerere’s successors have attempted to improve productivity and attract foreign investment by dismantling government control of the economy. Since the 1980s, the economy has grown, with tourism being an important revenue earner, and some success with attracting foreign investors.

Current Climate

Since 1996, Tanzania has taken aggressive steps toward fostering a turnaround in fiscal performance, and a strong Ministry of Finance has emerged, backed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Annual growth rate has averaged 6.7% since 2006, one of the best in sub-Sahara Africa, but accounting for about 22.6% of GDP, Tanzania's industrial sector is one of the smallest in Africa.

In spite of recent economic growth, this has not translated to significantly improving the lives of average Tanzanians; the country remains one of the poorest in the world, with many of its people living below the World Bank poverty line. The economy remains dependent on foreign aid; 30% of the budget is dependent upon donor assistance. The global financial crisis significantly affected the tourism industry, one of Tanzania's greatest earners; however, Tanzania was able to maintain relatively strong growth in 2010.

Tanzania has decreased its spending on health care significantly in recent years, largely due to higher levels of foreign debt repayment, with the prevalence of AIDs placing tremendous strain on an already challenged health care system.

While the political union between Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania has weathered more than four decades of change, and Tanzania has been less afflicted by large-scale social problems than its neighbours, recent tensions between Muslims and Christians threaten to destabilise the unity between Zanzibar and the mainland.

What Next

The free-market policies implemented by Nyerere's successors have unfortunately failed to rectify the endemic economic crisis. Experts fear a planned highway threatens the Serengeti game park, Tanzania's biggest draw for tourism, and one of the country’s main sources of revenue.

In 2002, the Tanzanian government introduced free and compulsory primary education, made possible by money gained through debt relief. Ironically, this has created a new problem. In remote areas the average teacher-pupil ratio is 1:66, with some now having to contend with class sizes of nearly 100 pupils; they are in desperate need of more trained teachers.

Creating a pool of skilled people has been singled out as a crucial requisite if Tanzania is to attain a higher level of social and economic development. It has been noted that reviewing school curricula would prepare people to become entrepreneurs, as well as motivate them to develop small industries of their own as well as become better workers in the global market.

While the Tanzanian government continues to base its policies on free market cure-alls, the recent IMF and World Bank's Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPCI), which reduces the debt- servicing obligations of Tanzania and other heavily indebted poor countries, may enable the government to spend more money on vital social services.

More in Beyond Wristbands:

Your wider guide to Kenya



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