Tanzania

Tanzania is like a cultural mosaic of over 120 ethnic groups, all with their own language and culture. Yet it has been untouched by the tribal rivalries and political upheavals of its neighbours. May be it’s because, as a blind man once told this writer on a bus heading to Arusha, “we have no oil or important mineral resources to fight over”. May be it’s simply because you cannot get cross in such a beautiful country. Home to the most varied wildlife, its geography is breath taking. Still, what make the visitor want to come back again and again are its people. Warm, welcoming and happy, they are slowly but firmly making their future a more pleasant journey.

Some facts, figures and context

Tanzania has a population of 43.7 millions (UN – 2009). Yet it is as big as France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Denmark, Ireland and the UK put together. It became independent in 1961 and united with its neighbours Zanzibar 2 years later. Its first President, Julius Kambarage Nyerere has been hailed for banning tribalism from daily life and politics and thus ensuring peaceful conditions for its people (and to this day). In particular he imposed a single official language, Swahili; the only one not attached to a specific tribe and encouraged people to learn it so they could “talk” to each other. Not a mean feast in Africa where politics are closely tied with ethnics and where many leaders (past and also present) like to stir tribal rivalries to keep themselves in power. However, his 10 years of socialism and self reliance policies from 1967 ended up in failure and were further aggravated by the oil crash of 1979 and the costs of repelling the invasion of its borders by the forces of Idi Amin in 1979.

Today Tanzania remains one of the poorest countries in the world with an annual per capita income of US$390 in 2006. Its economy is still heavily dependent on agriculture which provides jobs for nearly 80% of the population but on only 4% of the land area because of rain patterns and the typography. Most people cultivate just enough for their own consumption. This means that the Government struggles to raise the taxes needed to provide the services that are expected in a modern society and is very exposed to the economic ups and downs of its primary commodity exports such as coffee, tea, sisal, maize and cotton. International aid will be needed for decades to come while it makes strides in education and infrastructure building, both needed to build a more modern economy that will lift its people out of poverty. 35% are still living below the poverty line while nearly half the population is under 15.