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The Commonwealth
United Republic of Tanzania



Did you know:

Filbert Bayi took the Commonwealth Games Men’s 1,500 Metres record at the Christchurch Games (New Zealand) in 1974.

The country includes the highest and lowest points in Africa – the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro (5,895 metres above sea level) and the floor of Lake Tanganyika (358 metres below sea level).

Tanzanian national Dr William Shija was appointed Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in 2007, and Dr Asha-Rose Migiro served as UN Deputy Secretary-General 2007–12.

Key facts

Joined Commonwealth: 1961
Population: 49,253,000 (2013)
GDP: 2.3% p.a. 1990–2013
UN HDI: World ranking 159
Official language: Kiswahili, English
Timezone: GMT plus 3hr
Currency: Tanzanian shilling (TSh)


Area: 945,090 sq km
Coastline: 1,420km
Capital city: Dodoma
Population density (per sq. km): 52

The United Republic of Tanzania borders the Indian Ocean to the east, and has land borders with eight countries: (anti-clockwise from the north) Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (across Lake Tanganyika), Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique. The country includes Zanzibar (consisting of the main island Unguja, plus Pemba and other smaller islands).

Main towns:

Dodoma (capital, pop. 213,636 in 2012), Dar es Salaam (commercial and administrative centre, 4.36m), Mwanza (706,453), Zanzibar Town (501,459), Arusha (416,442), Mbeya (385,729), Morogoro (305,840), Tanga (221,127), Kigoma (215,458), Songea (203,309), Moshi (184,292), Tabora (160,608), Iringa (151,315), Musoma (134,327), Sumbawanga (124,204), Shinyanga (103,795), Mtwara (100,626) and Kasulu (67,704).


There are 90,810 km of roads, 15 per cent paved. There are also two railway systems, extending to a total of 4,460 km, and running on two different gauges. One links Dar es Salaam with central, western and northern Tanzania and Kenya (Tanzania Railways Corporation, gauge one metre, extending to 2,600 km); the other links Dar es Salaam to Zambia (Tanzania–Zambia Railways Authority, or Tazara).

The main ports are at Dar es Salaam, Mtwara, Tanga and Zanzibar. Regular boat services carry passengers and freight between Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. Ferries provide freight and passenger transport on Lake Victoria.

There are three international airports (Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar) and more than 50 local airports and airstrips. Because of the size of the country and scattered population, air services have become the most significant form of internal transport for official and business travel.

International relations:

United Republic of Tanzania is a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States, African Union, East African Community, Indian Ocean Rim Association, Non-Aligned Movement, Southern African Development Community, United Nations and World Trade Organization.

United Republic of Tanzania was a member (with Kenya and Uganda) of the East African Community, which from 1967 had a common market and many shared services, but collapsed in 1977. The three countries again embarked on developing regional co- operation in 1993, bringing about progressive harmonisation of standards and policies across a wide range of activities, and launching a new East African Community in January 2001 and East African Customs Union in January 2005. The Community was enlarged in July 2007 when Burundi and Rwanda became members. United Republic of Tanzania hosts the headquarters of the East African Community in Arusha.


The country comprises several distinct zones: a fertile coastal belt; the Masai Steppe and mountain ranges to the north (with Mt Kilimanjaro rising to 5,895 metres); and a high plateau in the central and southern regions. There are over 61,000 sq km of inland water. Unguja Island (36 km from the mainland) is fertile, hilly and densely populated on the west side, low and thinly peopled in the east.


Varies with geographical zones: tropical on the coast, where it is hot and humid (rainy season March–May); semi- temperate in the mountains (with the Short Rains in November–December and the Long Rains in February–May); and drier in the plateau region with considerable seasonal variations in temperature.


The most significant environmental issues are drought, soil degradation, deforestation, desertification and destruction of coral reefs.


Lush tropical at the coast; the rest of the country, apart from urban areas, is savannah and bush. Forest and woodland cover 37 per cent of the land area, having declined at 1.1 per cent p.a. 1990–2010. Arable land comprises 16 per cent and permanent cropland two per cent of the total land area.


The national parks and game reserves cover 16 per cent of the country and include Serengeti National Park (famous for its vast migratory herds of plains animals, notably wildebeest, zebras, elands and kudus). Small bands of chimpanzees are found in the Gombe National Park along Lake Tanganyika. The steep mountain walls of Ngorogoro Park’s volcanic crater have provided protection and a natural enclosure for animals in an environment of great natural beauty. Rhino and elephant populations are still being depleted by poaching despite government protective measures. Some 36 mammal species and 44 bird species are thought to be endangered (2014).


According to evidence at Olduvai Gorge and in the Manonga Valley, Tanzania may be humanity’s place of origin. Around CE 500 Bantu peoples, the ancestors of the majority of the modern population, began entering the area. Arab coastal settlement and the introduction of Islam took place between CE 800 and 900. Around CE 1200 the Omanis settled in Zanzibar; in collaboration with some of the coastal peoples of the mainland, they set up a slave trade, with parties of slavers raiding communities in the interior and driving people to local markets at such inland centres as Tabora. From there, they would be sold on to major centres at the ports. The sultanate of Kilwe enjoyed a period of prosperity in the 14th and 15th centuries but the coastal towns suffered a decline thereafter, with the arrival of Portuguese adventurers (though there was little Portuguese settlement).

In 1884 Dr Karl Peters journeyed into the interior to acquire territory, through treaties with chiefs, on behalf of the German emperor. In the late 1880s Germany took over the area from the coast to (and including) Ruanda and Urundi, calling it the Protectorate of German East Africa. There was rather sparse German settlement: the people objected to being ‘protected’. In 1905–06 there was an all-out rebellion, which was put down by a strategically engineered famine, leading to about 200,000 deaths.

At the time, Britain was concerned with the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba, which were declared a British Protectorate in 1890. In 1919, the League of Nations gave Britain a mandate to administer part of German East Africa, now known as Tanganyika (Belgium, with a similar mandate, took over the administration of Rwanda and Burundi). In 1946 Tanganyika became a UN trust territory.

A legislative council was set up in 1926. It was enlarged in 1945 and restructured in 1955 to give equal representation to Africans, Asians and Europeans, sitting as 30 ‘unofficials’ with the 31 ‘officials’. In 1954, a schoolteacher, Julius Nyerere, founded the Tanganyikan African National Union (TANU), which promoted African nationalism and won a large public following. The colonial authorities responded with constitutional changes increasing the voice of the African population while reserving seats for minority communities. Elections were held in 1958–59 and again in 1960. The result was overwhelming victory for TANU, which by this period was campaigning for independence as well as majority rule. The new government and the UK agreed at a constitutional conference to full independence for Tanganyika in December 1961. Zanzibar achieved independence in 1963 as a separate country.

Tanganyika became a republic in December 1962, one year after achieving independence, and the first presidential election brought the TANU leader, Julius Nyerere, to the presidency. In 1965 the constitution was changed to establish a one-party system. Meanwhile, in Zanzibar, the Sultan was overthrown in a revolution in January 1964, the constitution was abrogated and the country became a one-party state under the Afro-Shirazi Party. In April 1964 Tanganyika and Zanzibar united as the United Republic of Tanzania. In 1967 Nyerere made the Arusha Declaration, unveiling his political philosophy of egalitarianism, socialism and self-reliance. In 1977, TANU and the Afro-Shirazi Party merged to form the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM). Ali Hassan Mwinyi succeeded Nyerere in 1985.

Presidential elections were held every five years from 1965 with, under the one-party system, the electorate voting ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to a single presidential candidate. In general elections (held at the same time as the presidential elections) the choice was between two candidates put forward by the CCM. Pressure for reform grew within the United Republic, and among international donors. The government responded with constitutional changes that permitted opposition parties from 1992 and so brought in a multiparty system, under which parliamentary and presidential elections were held in October 1995 and contested by 13 political parties.

The October 1995 elections were not completed on schedule, as the National Electoral Commission found irregularities at certain polling stations. The vote in seven Dar es Salaam constituencies was annulled and re-run on 17 November. Ten opposition parties announced that they would boycott the repeat elections, and all the opposition presidential candidates withdrew. The CCM emerged with a substantial majority (approximately 75 per cent of the vote) in the parliamentary elections. The presidential election held at the same time brought to power CCM leader Benjamin Mkapa (Ali Hassan Mwinyi, who had served two terms as President, was not eligible to stand again and had retired before the election).

Former President Julius Nyerere died in October 1999 after a long illness. As one of Africa’s foremost international statesmen he was widely mourned and many world leaders attended his funeral in Dar es Salaam.


The October 1995 presidential and legislative elections in Zanzibar, the first to be held since the restoration of multiparty democracy, were fiercely contested by CCM and the Zanzibar- based Civic United Front (CUF) and the results – which gave the CCM a very small majority in both elections – were strongly disputed by the CUF, whose members began to boycott the Zanzibar parliament. This impasse was finally resolved when an agreement was reached through the good offices of the Commonwealth Secretary-General.

At the October 2000 elections in Zanzibar Abeid Amani Karume, the CCM’s presidential candidate, and the CCM were officially declared the winners but a high level of tension persisted. Then, through the good offices of the Commonwealth Secretary- General and with continuing pressure from the national government and the international community, talks got under way, and in October 2001 the parties reached agreement on a peace accord. The main planks of the accord were the holding of by-elections in those seats of the Zanzibar parliament which had been declared vacant when CUF members refused to take them up; reform of Zanzibar’s election law and setting up of a permanent election register; and giving statutory force to the impartiality of Zanzibar’s state-owned press. Progress in implementing the accord was slow, but the by-elections in Pemba were held peacefully in May 2003, the results were readily accepted by CCM and CUF, and efforts to foster political reconciliation continued.

Tanzania: a short history

Africa - Tanzania Documentary

Learn more about United Republic of Tanzania on The Commonwealth site
Society, Economy, Constitution & politics, History and Travel.

Snapshots from Tanzania
By David C. Bjorkquist (1992) (pdf)

Tanzania Handbook
By the CIA

Island Of Zanzibar

Tanzania Tourism

Tanzania Vacation Travel Video Guide

Nat Geo Wild HD Islands Zanzibar

Business in the Commonwealth
Web site of the Country

Return to our Commonwealth Page


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