Covering approximately 365,000 square miles (945,000 square kilometers)—an area about one and one-half times the size of Texas, Tanzania lies on the east coast of Africa, just south of the equator. It shares borders with Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, and the Indian Ocean.
Tanzania also shares three great lakes—Victoria, Tanganyika, and Malawi—with its neighbors. The country is comprised of a wide variety of agro-ecological zones: low-lying coastal plains, a dry highland plateau, northern savannas, and cool, well-watered regions in the northwest and south. The 120 ethnic groups that inhabit Tanzania have adapted to a wide range of geophysical and climatic conditions.
The specific habits, customs, and life-views of each group have been influenced by tribal traditions and alliances, European invasions, population movements over the centuries, and introduced and endemic diseases. In the late 1990s, the central political administration was moved from Dar es Salaam on the Indian Ocean coast to the more centrally located city of Dodoma, which lies in the middle of the central plateau. Because of Dodoma’s dry climate, relative lack of economic development, and small size, however, the port of Dar es Salaam remains the urban center of national importance.
The landscape and animals are valued national treasures, symbolized on coins and as brand names for manufactured products. Severe depredations by poachers from both inside and outside the country, however, continue to threaten the survival of many species. The torch of freedom (uhuru) and the figure of a soldier (representing the sacrifice of veterans and the war dead) are also common symbols throughout the country.
Tanzania is one of the world’s poorest countries and undernourishment is prevalent, especially in children. The young life expectancy age of 42.3 years is mostly due to malnutrition, tropical diseases such as malaria, and very unsanitary conditions. Open sewers, uncovered garbage piles, and contaminated streams and lakes are sources of disease.
Although living conditions in larger towns and cities are typically better than in rural areas, unsanitary conditions and malnourishment are widespread throughout both. Childhood deficiencies in Vitamin A (which can cause blindness) and iodine are the country’s most serious malnourishments.
About 40 percent of the population of Tanzania is classified as undernourished by the World Bank. This means they do not receive adequate nutrition in their diet. Of children under the age of five, about 31 percent are underweight, and nearly 43 percent are stunted (short for their age).
Agriculture provides the mainstay of the Tanzanian economy, still employing close to four-fifths of the economically active population. Farmers grow food for subsistence and for sale. Minerals, precious metals, fish, timber, and meat are also important products.
In many rural areas of Tanzania, tribal customs advocate a gender division of labor: women and girls take care of the household chores, small children, and livestock, and plant and weed the agricultural fields. Men prepare land for cultivation, care for large livestock, market produce, and make the important financial and political decisions for the family. As girls and women throughout the country have gained access to more formal education, however, they are challenging the customary division of labor.
Among the lower socioeconomic strata, with few exceptions, women have a lower standard of living than do men. Generally speaking, boys are valued more than girls. Only women descended from ruling tribal families, successful businesswomen, or women politicians enjoy privileges equal to that of men. Among the formally educated there are conflicts between husbands and wives regarding the appropriate roles and responsibilities of each. When an activity undertaken by a woman becomes successful, her husband or a male relative will try to take control of the activity or the money it has generated, especially in rural areas.