A Brief History of Tanzania

At first the politics, laws, and social customs seemed to be a stark change from our seemingly on the go lifestyle back in Canada. Everything in Tanzania has seemed to be laid back and relaxed with an exception of the traffic, which for the most part will appear lawless to newcomers. After a few weeks in Dar es Salaam I have started to become accustom to the way of life here. As we explored and spoke with local residents, we learned more about the history of city in which some aspects of life and history reminded me of Canadian history and politics.

Dar es Salaam started as a port city after the Sultan of Zanzibar, Majid bin Said Al-Busaidi, began to develop it in 1865. The region had already been strongly influenced by Middle Eastern traders who traveled up and down the coast, similar to Europeans exploring North America, where exchanges of cultural, social, and political traditions with the local populations were common. This exchange between the native populations and Arabian traders along the African coast (now Tanzania) is most noticeable through the countries religious diversity and one of the country’s two official languages Kiswahili. Kiswahili is a mix of Bantu, a major African language, with Arabic and Persian that had developed over a long period of time. Modern Kiswahili has begun to incorporate words from European nations as development and global influence increases. The region’s Arabic influence on social norms of modesty and religion can still be seen throughout everyday life today.

While many Arabian and Persian social norms can be seen mixed in with tribal traditions, the city’s modern urban and political structure shows strong European influences. In the 1880s much of East Africa was organized into a German colony including Tanzania, Rwanda, and the African Great Lakes region. Zanzibar at this time was under protection of British influence. The colony was short lived due to the defeat of Imperial Germany in the Great War (WW1) when Tanzania fell under British colonial rule until the nation’s independence in 1961.

Julius Nyerere, the First president of Tanzania (Tanganyika at that time), united the country into one socialist state including 120 ethnic groups under one language: Kiswahili. After separating from British rule during its independence, Tanzania adopted a government modeled after the Great Britain parliamentary system, similar to Canada’s use of the parliamentary system. However, the Tanzania system does have its differences; while both Canada and Tanzania have prime ministers in their highest appointments, Tanzania also has a president which includes two vice presidents, one to represent Zanzibar and the other to represent mainland Tanzania. Modern Zanzibar in many ways reminds me of Quebec back home in Canada. While both are part of one nation, the difference in culture and tradition still sets them apart from the rest of the nation. Politically, Zanzibar has a separate government called the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar which is similar in structure to the government of Tanzania, however still serves under the United Republic of Tanzania. Tensions between these two governments has historically caused conflicts and Zanzibar independence has be sought in the past.

It has been interesting to learn some of the history of two vastly different nations and to see some of the same influences that we see back home that we rarely think about.

  • Liam Halpin

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