The country also includes the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba, and other offshore islands in the Indian Ocean. The total area of Tanzania is 945,100 sq km (364,900 sq mi), of which 942,453 sq km (363,882 sq mi) is on the mainland. The designate capital of Tanzania is Dodoma, but many government facilities have yet to transfer from the former capital of Dar es Salaam.

Basic Facts

Official Name -United Republic of Tanzania
Capital City – Dodoma (official)
Languages– Swahili (official), English (official), local dialects
Official Currency – Tanzanian Shilling
Religions – Christian, Muslim, traditional beliefs
Population -31,962,000
Land Area – 886,040 sq km (342,100 sq miles)

More Details

As early as the 8th century AD, Zanzibar and other islands off the coast of East Africa became bases for Arab merchants trading with the mainland, which they called the Land of Zanj (Arabic for Blacks?, or Azania. In the course of time some of these Including Zanzibar and Kilwa became independent Muslim sultanates(ruled by Muslim Sultans) with mixed Arab and African populations. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the were taken over by the adventurous Portuguese merchants.In the 18th century, Zanzibar and Pemba reverted back to the rule of the sultans of Masqat and Oman.

In 1832 Sayyid Said bin Sultan, who was the then sultan of Oman, established his residence on the beautiful island of Zanzibar, where he promoted the production of cloves and palm oil and carried on an active slave trade with the interior. His domain, which included parts of the mainland, was a commercial rather than a territorial empire. Sayyid Said, the great Bu Saidi ruler, He brought with him many Arabs, who settled in the mainland towns as well as on Zanzibar. About the same time, new caravan routes into the far interior were opened up; the three main lines went from Kilwa and Lindi to the Lake Nyasa region; from Bagamoyo and Mbwamaji (near present-day Dar-es-Salaam) to Tabora, where one branch continued west to Ujiji (and on into modern Congo) and another went north to the Victoria Nyanza region; and from Pangani and Tanga northwest into modern Kenya via Mt. Kilimanjaro.

The caravans following the southern route obtained mainly slaves and ivory; along the more northerly routes ivory was the chief commodity purchased. As a result, the Swahili language (a blend of Bantu grammar and a considerable Arabic vocabulary) and culture gained new adherents. In the middle of the 19th century, several European missionaries and explorers visited various parts of Tanzania, notably Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tabora, Lake Victoria, and Lake Nyasa. From the 1860s to the early 1880s Mirambo, a Nyamwezi, headed a large state that controlled much of the caravan trade of central and N Tanzania. About the same time Tippu Tib, a Zanzibari, organized large caravans that passed through Tanzania to present-day Zambia and Congo, where ivory and slaves were obtained.

The successors of sultan Sayyid Said did not have a legal claim to the lands they controlled commercially, and did not have the power to keep the Germans and British from annexing and colonizing them, when the European nations began dividing up Africa in the late 19th century. Zanzibar was then declared a British protectorate in the year 1890; the sultan was retained for ceremonial purposes, but most major decisions were made by the British resident Governor.

Most of the known history of Tanganyika before the 19th century concerns the coastal area, although the interior has a number of important prehistoric sites, including the Olduvai Gorge which is considered to be the “cradle of mankind”. In 1959, Dr. L. S. B. Leakey, a British anthropologist, discovered at Olduvai Gorge in North east of Tanzania the fossilized remains of what he called Homo habilis, who lived about 1.75 million years ago. Tanzania was later the site of Paleolithic cultures.

Trading contacts between Arabia and the East African coast existed by the 1st century AD, and there are indications of connections with India. By about A.D. 900 traders from SW Asia and India had settled on the coast, exchanging cloth, beads, and metal goods for ivory. They also exported small numbers of Africans as slaves. By this time there were also commercial contacts with China, directly and via Sri Vijaya) and India. By about 1200, Kilwa Kisiwani (situated on an island) was a major trade center, handling gold exported from Sofala (on the coast of modern Mozambique) as well as goods (including ivory, beeswax, and animal skins) from the near interior of Tanzania.

The coastal trading centres were mainly Arab settlements, and relations between the Arabs and their African neighbours appear to have been fairly cordial. After the arrival of the Portuguese in the late 15th century, the position of the Arabs was gradually undermined, but the Portuguese made little attempt to penetrate into the interior. They lost their foothold north of the Ruvuma River early in the 18th century as a result of an alliance between the coastal Arabs and the ruler of Muscat on the Arabian Peninsula. This link remained extremely tenuous, however, until French interest in the slave trade from the ancient town of Kilwa, on the Tanganyikan coast, revived the trade in 1776. Attention by the French also aroused the sultan of Muscat’s interest in the economic possibilities of the East African coast, and a new Omani governor was appointed at Kilwa.


As the scramble for African territory among the European powers intensified in the 1880s, Carl Peters and other members of the Society for German Colonization signed treaties with Africans (1884–85) in the hinterland of the Tanzanian coast. By an agreement with Great Britain in 1886, Germany established a vague sphere of influence over mainland Tanzania, except for a narrow strip of land along the coast that remained under the suzerainty of the sultan of Zanzibar, who leased it to the Germans. The German East Africa Company (founded 1887) governed the territory, called German East Africa.

German East Africa became a major theater of operations, in which General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck tied down about a quarter of a million British and colonial troops with a makeshift force of 12,000 Africans and 4,000 Germans before finally capitulating in 1918. Tanganyika then became a mandate of the League of Nations under British tutelage. The British, especially during the administration (1925–31) of Gov. Sir Donald Cameron, attempted to rule “indirectly” through existing African leaders. The actions of the British governors in the 1920s kept European colonization to a minimum; thus, unlike neighboring Kenya, Tanganyika did not develop a race problem. The results of this enlightened attitude were evident in the transition period before independence.


The major party, the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), was transformed by Julius Nyerere and Oscar Kambona from the Tanganyika African Association (founded in 1929) into the more politically oriented Tanganyika African National Union (TANU). TANU, led by Julius Nyerere, was a moderate organization; its appeal cut across ethnic and national lines easily won the general elections of 1958–60, and when Tanganyika became independent on Dec 9, 1961, Nyerere became its first prime minister. In December 1962, Tanganyika became a republic within the Commonwealth of Nations, and Nyerere was made president. Nyerere became prime minister when Tanganyika was granted independence in December 1961; one year later the new nation adopted a republican constitution, with Nyerere as its president.


The Arusha Declaration, IN 1967 was a major policy statement that called for egalitarianism, socialism, and self-reliance. It promised a decentralized government and a program of rural development called ujamaa (“pulling together of resources”) that involved the creation of cooperative farm villages. Factories and plantations were nationalized, and major investments were made in primary schools and health care. While Nyerere put some of the declaration’s principles into practice, it was not clear if power in Tanzania was, in fact, being decentralized. By the 1980s, it was clear that the economic policies set out by the Arusha Declaration had failed.

The economy continued to deteriorate with cycles of alternating floods and droughts, which reduced agricultural production and exports thus increasing poverty and further alienating Tanzania from Global Trade. After Nyerere resigned as promised in 1985, Ali Hassan Mwinyi, president of Zanzibar, became head of the one-party government. He began an economic recovery program involving cuts in government spending, decontrol of prices, and encouragement of foreign investment; modest growth resumed. In 1992 the single party system was abolished and the constitution was amended to allow for the formation of opposition parties.

The 1995 multiparty elections, which were regarded by international observers as seriously flawed, were won by Benjamin William Mkapa, candidate of the ruling CCM. In the 1990s Tanzania was overwhelmed by refugees from the war in neighboring Burundi; by the end of the decade some 300,000 were in Tanzania. Mkapa, who continued to pursue economic reforms, and was re-elected in Oct 2000, but there were blatant irregularities and violence that left scores dead and others injured with others seeking refuge in Kenya, in the vote in Zanzibar, where the opposition party “CAF”, which favors greater independence for the island, had been expected to do well.

Tanzania is extremely heterogeneous, with more than 120 different indigenous African peoples as well as small groups of Asians and Europeans that spread over the 25 provinces or regions in the country. As early as 5000 BC, San-type (early descendants of the Khoi-san of South Africa) hunting bands inhabited the country. The Sandawe hunters of northern Tanzania are thought to be their descendants. By 1000 BC, agriculture and pastoral practices were introduced through the migration of Cushitic people from Ethiopia. The Iraqw, Mbugu, Gorowa, and Burungi have Cushitic origins. About AD 500, iron-using Bantu agriculturalists coming from the west and south started displacing or absorbing the San hunters and gatherers; at roughly the same time, Nilotic pastoralists entered the area from the southern Sudan.

Today the majority of Tanzanians are of Bantu descent; the Sukuma constitute the largest group, and others are the Nyamwezi, Hehe, Nyakyusa, Makonde, Yao, Haya, Chaga, Gogo, and Ha. Nilotic peoples are represented by the Masai, Arusha, Samburu, and Baraguyu. No one group has been politically or culturally dominant, although the tribes that were subject to Christian missionary influence and Western education during the colonial period (notably the Chaga and Haya) are now disproportionately represented in the government administration and cash economy.

There are also Asian and European minorities. During the colonial period, Asian immigration was encouraged, and Asians dominated the up-country produce trade. Coming mostly from Gujurat in India, they form several groups distinguished by religious belief: the Isma’ilis, Bohras, Sikhs, Punjabis, and Goans. Since independence the Asian population has steadily declined due to emigration. The European population, never large because Tanganyika was not a settler colony, was made up primarily of English, Germans, and Greeks. In the post independence period, a proliferation of different European, North American,and Japanese expatriates connected with foreign aid projects have made Tanzania their temporary residence.