It is said that the mainland portion of what is now Tanzania was named by a British civil servant in 1920, from the Swahili words tanga (sail) and nyika (bright arid plain). Thus, what was known formerly as German East Africa became Tanganyika Territory.

In 1964, Tanganyika was joined with Zanzibar, an offshore archipelago of islands, to form the present United Republic of Tanzania. Because of a unique combination of historic and cultural factors, Tanzanians share strong feelings of national pride and cohesion. This sense of nationalism has served to keep the country at peace for over two decades, while most of its neighbors have been involved intermittently in catastrophically destructive civil and cross-border wars. Tanzanians have been able to resolve most internal problems without resorting to violence because of a shared language, the lack of political or economic dominance by any ethnic group, and the strong leadership provided by Julius Nyerere (1922–1999), the first president of Tanzania. At the same time, however, repressive, corrupting influences emanating from the colonial, socialist, and capitalist eras have fostered among many Tanzanians an attitude of dependency and fatalistic resignation that helps keep the country one of the poorest in the world. This section covers the following Location & Geography, People & Culture, Government, Safety & Security.

Location & Geography

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 current population in Tanzania is approximately 60 million, comprised of indigenous peoples and Pakistani, Indian, Arab, and European subpopulations. There are heavy population concentrations in the urban centers (including Dar es Salaam, Mwanza, Tabora, and Mbeya), in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, and along the coast of Lake Malawi.

Linguistic Affiliation

While each ethnic group speaks its own local language, almost all Tanzanians are also fluent in the national language, Swahili (Kiswahiliin Swahili), a coastal Bantu language strongly influenced by Arabic. The second official language is English, a vestige of the British colonial period. Most Tanzanians with post-secondary educations speak both official languages fluently in addition to their tribal language. Nyerere encouraged the adoption of Swahili for all Tanzanians in a concerted and successful effort to enable people from different parts of the country to communicate with one another and to encourage them to identify themselves as one people. The use of a single common language has greatly facilitated trade, political debate, nationalism, information dissemination, and conflict resolution.


Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, and the magnificent wild animals (lions, elephants, rhinoceros, giraffes, leopards, cheetahs and more) draw millions of tourists to the country every year.

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. Elegant ebony carvings of both representational and modern design, a specialty of the Makonde people of southeast Tanzania, are prized by collectors around the world.


Tanzania was cradle to some of the earliest hominids on earth, made famous by the discoveries in 1959, by Louis and Mary Leakey, British anthropologists, when they discovered at Olduvai Gorge in NE Tanzania the fossilized remains of what he called Homo habilis, who lived about 1.75 million years ago. Bantu-speaking peoples migrated to eastern Africa at the same time that trade between Arabic-speaking peoples and coastal populations was initiated in the first century B.C.E. By the twelfth century, Arab trading posts were well established along the coast and on some islands.

Around 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 (Indonesia) 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. By about 1000, the migration o f Bantu-speakers into the interior of Tanzania from the west and the south was well under way, and the population there had been greatly increased. The Bantu were organized in relatively small political units. Although Vasco da Gama landed on the East African coast in 1498, it was not until 1506 that the Portuguese fully controlled trade on the Indian Ocean. The Arabs had been trading along the coastline for centuries when Sa’id ibn Suttan moved his capital from Oman to Zanzibar in 1840 to take advantage of the slave markets. During the early nineteenth century, Arab slave and ivory traders began to penetrate deeper into the interior of what was to become Tanzania.

In 1890, Zanzibar became a British protectorate while the mainland became part of German East Africa. The period of German rule was extremely heavy-handed; when the Africans fought back during the Maji-Maji rebellion of 1905, tens of thousands were killed. After the defeat of Germany in World War I (1914–1918), German East Africa was made a League of Nations Mandated Territory, called Tanganyika, controlled by the British. Following World War II, Tanganyika became a United Nations trusteeship of Great Britain. Adhering to a policy of “indirect rule,” the British government used indigenous political systems to implement their control, thereby resulting in much less open hostility than occurred during the time of German rule.

In 1954, Julius Nyerere and Oscar Kambona transformed the Tanganyika African Association (founded in 1929) into the more politically oriented Tanganyika African National Union (TANU). TANU easily won the general elections of 1958–60, and when Tanganyika became independent on December 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. On April 26, 1964, shortly after a leftist revolution in newly independent Zanzibar, Tanganyika and Zanzibar merged; Nyerere became the new country’s first president. Abeid Amani Karume, the head of Zanzibar’s government and leader of its dominant Afro-Shirazi party (ASP), became Tanzania’s first vice president. Although formally united with the mainland, Zanzibar retained considerable independence in internal affairs.

In February 1967, Nyerere issued the Arusha Declaration, 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”) 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.

TANU was the mainland’s sole legal political party and it was tightly controlled by Nyerere. In the early 1970s there was tension (and occasional border clashes) between Tanzania and Uganda, caused mainly by Nyerere’s continued support of Uganda’s ouste president, A. Milton Obote. However, in 1973, Nyerere and Gen. Idi Amin, Uganda’s new head of state, signed an agreement to end hostilities. Tanzania supported various movements against white-minority rule in South Africa, and several of these organizations had offices in Dar-es-Salaam. In 1977, TANU and Zanzibar’s ASP merged to form the Party of the Revolution (CCM). A new constitution was adopted the same year.

Hostilities with Uganda resumed in 1978 when Ugandan military forces occupied about 700 sq. mi (1800 sq. km) of N Tanzania and left only after having caused substantial damage. One month later, Tanzanian forces and Ugandan rebels staged a counter invasion. Tanzania captured the Ugandan capital of Kampala in 1979 and drove Idi Amin from power. This campaign further depleted the country’s already scarce economic resources. Tanzania maintained troops in Uganda after its victory and drew criticism from other African nations for its actions. In 1983, negotiations between Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda led to the reopening of the Kenyan border, which had been closed since 1977 after the collapse of the East African Community.

The birth of nationhood may be attributed to the earlier independence of other African nations along with a growing sense of unity and a need to become independent from the British colonial government. Independence was achieved without bloodshed. Julius Nyerere was elected president of the Tanganyika African Association, later renamed the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), in 1953. African officials elected to TANU in 1958 and 1959 constituted the administration for internal self-government in May 1961. On 9 December 1961, Tanganyika was proclaimed an independent nation. In 1963, Zanzibar was granted independence from Great Britain, and in 1964 an Act of Union was signed between Tanganyika and Zanzibar to form the United Republic of Tanzania.

National Identity

The national identity is influenced by several factors. One of the most important integrating forces is the use of the national lingua franca—Swahili, a language spoken and revered by nearly all Tanzanians. Swahili is a compulsory subject in schools, and some 83 percent of the population is literate. Equally important, of course, is Tanganyika’s independence and subsequent unification with Zanzibar to form the United Republic. Perhaps the most important influence on a sense of national identity was the development of Tanzanian socialism. The creation of Nyerere, Tanzanian socialism was codified in the Arusha Declaration of 1967.

Both the symbolic and practical cornerstone of Tanzanian socialism was ujamaa,a Swahili word meaning “family” or “familyhood.” The core structure of ujamaa is the traditional extended family and clan structure of most ethnic groups, which provides a framework for mutual assistance and cooperation. It was believed this structure would provide the foundation for socialist production. In practice, the forced resettlement of rural populations into ujamaa villages was met with great local opposition, and Tanzanian socialism has largely proven to be an economic failure. The concept of ujamaa and mutual assistance, however, did infiltrate the national ethos; they are represented, for example, in elaborate ebony carvings of intertwined figures, standing upon or grasping one another in expression of mutual support and social collectivity.

National resources also contribute to a sense of national identity. For example, at 19,340 feet (5,895 meters), Mount Kilimanjaro is the highest point on the African continent. This beautiful, now quiet volcano is located near Arusha, the major tourist city in the nation. Wildlife safaris to the Serengeti Plain and the world’s largest caldera, Ngorongoro Crater, are initiated from this city. Few Tanzanians, however, are wealthy enough to afford such luxuries and many never see the wildlife Westerners associate so closely with Africa. Finally, Lake Victoria, the second largest freshwater lake in the world and source of the Nile, is an important symbolic and natural resource—although it is shared with Uganda and Kenya.

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. 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 constitution was amended to allow 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, and the number subsequently grew. Tanzania began repatriating the refugees in 2002, but some 100,000 remained in 2008. More than 200,000 Burundian refugees who fled to Tanzania in 1972 also remain.

Mkapa, who continued to pursue economic reforms, was reelected in 2000, but there were blatant irregularities in the vote in Zanzibar, where the opposition party, which favors greater independence for the island, had been expected to do well. In 2005 the CCM candidate for president, Jakaya Kikwete won the election with 80% of the vote and CCM won more than 90% of the seats in parliament, but the voting in Zanzibar was again marred by violence and irregularities. A corruption investigation implicated the prime minister, Edward Lowassa, and two other cabinet members in 2008, leading them to resign in February; Kikwete subsequently re-formed the cabinet.

Ethnic Relations

Within the borders of Tanzania co-exist approximately 120 ethnic groups speaking languages representing all four major African language groups. These include Khoisan, or “click” speaking hunter-gatherers, Nilotic-speaking pastoralists (such as the Maasai), Cushitic speakers, and Bantu speakers; the latter predominate in terms of population size. The largest ethnic groups include the Sukuma (over three million), and the Chagga, Haya, and Nyamwezi (over one million each). Despite the tremendous cultural and linguistic diversity among Tanzanians, ethnic groups are united by the use of a common language—Swahili—and a sense of national identity. The growing number of refugees (from neighboring Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda in particular) do not appear to have caused serious ethnic tensions, but they have become a serious strain on the economy and the local environment.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

The architecture of urban coastal centers reflects the long, rich history of Tanzania. Ruins of Arab mosques, cemeteries, and house structures can be found at sites such as Kaole, just south of Bagamoyo. Tombs embedded with Chinese ceramics dating to the twelfth century reflect the trade between distant civilizations. Nineteenth-century stone houses on narrow streets characterize Bagamoyo, which was one of the main endpoints of the East African slave trade.

Founded in the 1860s by Sultan Seyyid Majid of Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam, which most likely means “house of peace or salvation,” is the main commercial center. Looking out over the Indian Ocean, the sails of fishing vessels are dwarfed by transoceanic cargo ships gliding into the port. Architectural styles reflect Arab, German, and British influence and occupation. Major buildings include elaborate mosques and churches, such as the German-style Lutheran Church. One of the largest public gathering locations in all Tanzanian cities and towns is the marketplace, where meat, produce, housewares, and a variety of miscellaneous items are sold. In addition, football (soccer) stadiums are important areas where people convene in Dar es Salaam and in all large urban areas. One of the most visible monuments in the center of Dar es Salaam is the Askari, or “soldier,” which was unveiled in 1927 and commemorates the loss of African troops during World War I. The most significant monument is the Uhuru, or “freedom,” torch commemorating Tanganyika’s independence from Great Britain in 1961.  Suburban dwellings, most of which are built along a grid pattern, include the swahili house, a rectangular structure made of either stone with a corrugated roof or earth on a wooden frame with a thatch roof. This type of house is found all along the coast.

About 90 percent of Tanzania’s people live in rural settings. Each ethnic group has a unique traditional house structure, ranging from the round, beehive-shaped house of the Haya, who live on the western shore of Lake Victoria, to the long, rectangular houses made of wood and thatch of the Gogo people in central Tanzania. Each ethnic group’s traditional house structure has a corresponding cultural logic that determines the use of space. For example, the Haya traditional house is surrounded by a banana plantation; an area in front of the house used for relaxation and food drying is kept free of debris by daily sweeping. The interior of the house is divided into separate use areas, some reserved for men; some for women, children, and cooking; some for animals; and one for honoring ancestors.

Traditional houses are being replaced increasingly by rectangular, “European”-style houses made from a variety of materials, including brick, wood, earth, and thatch. Unlike in traditional houses, cooking areas have been moved outside.


For most Tanzanians, including those who live in urban areas, no meal is complete without a preferred staple carbohydrate—corn, rice, cassava, sorghum, or plantains, for example. Plantains are preferred in the northwest, ugali (a thick mash of corn or sorghum) in the central and southwestern regions, and rice in the south and along the coast.

The staple is accompanied by a fish, beef, goat, chicken, or mutton stew or fried pieces of meat, along with several types of vegetables or condiments, commonly including beans, leafy greens resembling spinach, manioc leaves, chunks of pumpkin, or sweet potatoes. Indian food (such as chapatis, a flat bread; samosas, vegetable or meat-filled pastries; and masala, a spiced rice dish), is widely available in all urban areas.

Breakfast preferences depend on income levels and local tradition: bread, sweet rolls or biscuits (mandazi), coffee or tea (sometimes with spices, sugar, and/or milk), buttermilk, and chicken broth are the most common foods. Finger foods sold on the streets include fried plantains and sweet potatoes, charcoal-roasted corn on the cob (with no butter or salt), small bags of peanuts and popcorn, pieces of dried or fried fish, samosas, bread, fruit, dates, hard candy, gum, and mishikaki, or shish kebabs of beef or goat grilled over a charcoal fire. In local bars selling homemade brews or bottled spirits and pop, it is common to eat roasted meat—beef or goat; often the meat will be flavored with hot peppers, salt, and fresh lime juice.

Without exception, all ceremonial occasions demand the preparation of enormous platters of food, such as pilau, a spiced rice, potato, and meat dish that caters to local tastes and culinary traditions. It is considered very shameful for guests to leave hungry from a ceremonial meal or dinner party. Except among religions that forbid it, alcohol is also an integral—and sometimes highly symbolic—part of ceremonies. Local beers and spirits derived from bananas, corn, rice, honey, or sorghum are served alone or alongside manufactured alcoholic beverages. Konyagi, a gin-like spirit, is brewed commercially in Tanzania as are a variety of beers and soft drinks. Certain beers produced in neighboring countries—Primus, from Burundi, for example—are also popular.


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).

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.

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.

Land Tenure and Property

Although Tanzania is one of the least densely populated countries in eastern Africa, control and access to productive lands has become an increasingly contentious issue. Following independence, national laws were enacted to provide the state with ownership of all lands, granting citizens use rights only through short-and long-term leases. At the local level, however, different sets of traditional tribal laws pertain. Since the demise of socialism and the penetration of the market economy, customary or tribal claims to land have clashed with the national laws. Throughout Tanzanian history, few customary laws have permitted women, who perform the bulk of agricultural labor in the country, to own land. While national laws have been modified to enable women to buy or inherit property, these changes challenge—and are often overruled at the local level—by customary laws. Many analysts believe that enhanced access to and control of land by women would result in significant increases in agricultural production.

Commercial Activities

Agricultural and manufactured products are sold both retail and wholesale. The informal economy in Tanzania is significant, petty hawkers making up the bulk of traders. Second hand clothing, household goods, cloth, and foodstuffs dominate the informal trade. Forced licensing and taxation of small-scale business-people has caused some friction between the government and citizens, leading on multiple occasions to demonstrations and local resistance.

Major Industries

Most of the industrial production is geared toward local commodities. Important industries include food processing and the manufacture of textiles, alcoholic beverages, and cigarettes. Other industrial activities include oil refining, and the manufacture of cement, gunnysacks, fertilizer, paper, glass, ceramics, and agricultural implements. Because of the relatively unspoiled game parks and only rare incidents of insecurity, tourism is a growing industry.


The most important commodities include cotton, fish and shrimp, coffee, cashew nuts, cloves (grown mainly on the offshore islands), tea, beans, precious stones, timber, sisal, sugar, pyrethrum, coconuts, and peanuts. Textiles, clothing,shoes, batteries, paper, and cement are examples of products commonly sold to neighboring countries. Throughout most of the country, however, production and marketing are severely constrained by very poor infrastructure, from roads and railroads to communication and power networks. During the socialist period, many products of inferior quality—from hardware to bicycles—were imported from China and other socialist countries. Today, a much wider variety of higher quality items from many countries around the world are available in shops and markets, although their high prices often prohibit all but the wealthy from purchasing them.

Division of Labor

Customary divisions of labor generally relegate the heaviest physical labors (for example, clearing of fields, cutting trees) to men and lighter tasks to women. Similarly, few women work with machines and other highly valued productive assets. Children as young as three or four learn to help their parents with household and field chores, although girls often shoulder a much greater work burden than boys, a pattern that often repeats itself as children grow into adulthood.

Professional positions are usually occupied by individuals who have had post-secondary school education. Successful business people may or may not have formal education, but often have relatives, friends, or patrons who helped finance the establishment of their business.

Social Stratification

Tanzanian society is divided along many lines. The traditional elite includes descendants of kings and paramount chiefs, who, after independence, lost their traditional titles. The modern elite includes many individuals in the government, successful business-people, and highly educated individuals. With the advent of the HIV-AIDS epidemic and the decrease in social services, the poorest families are no longer able to care for all of their children and relatives. Beggars in urban areas and street children have become more visible and are often victims of police brutality.

Economic stratification became more pronounced during the German and British colonial periods, when certain ethnic groups or individuals who were favored for particular physical traits or skills were able to profit from a special relationship with the colonial hierarchy. Ownership of one or more automobiles,expensive hairstyles and Western clothing, large, Western-style houses with modern amenities, perfect command of English and/or other nonnative languages, and frequent travel are all markers of the upper classes. At the other extreme, many of the poorest Tanzanians are severely malnourished and clothed in rags, living constantly on the edge. The market economy has encouraged individual success, proliferation of Western goods, and systemic corruption, causing the gap between the rich and the poor to widen even further.

Political and Social Life

Modeled after the government of Great Britain, the United Republic of Tanzania developed a parliamentary system of government soon after independence. The highest positions include the president, prime minister, and chief justice. A term limit for the presidency was set at five years in 1984. In addition, two vice presidents were established to balance power between the mainland and Zanzibar. If the president is from the mainland, for example, one of the vice presidents must be from Zanzibar to help minimize the excessive influence of individuals.

Called Mwalimu or “respected teacher,” Julius Nyerere was president of Tanzania for more than two decades (1964–1985). Widely revered throughout Africa and the world for his honesty, integrity, and wisdom, Mwalimu Nyerere was largely responsible for the enduring stability of the new nation. He is perhaps most noted for his attempts to help negotiate an end to violence in other African nations, including South Africa and Burundi. The former president and father of the nation died on October 14, 1999, at the age of 77. The impact of his loss to the nation and the continent is just beginning to be felt. Nyerere was succeeded by Ali Hassan Mwinyi, a Zanzibari native, who served two terms (1985–1995).

Tanzania implemented a one-party political system for many years after independence. In 1977, the Tanganyika African National Union was merged with representatives of the Zanzibari Afro-Shirazi Party to form the Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) or the “Party of Revolution,” with Nyerere as chairman. The CCM ruled unopposed until the first multiparty elections were held in 1995 when Benjamin William Mkapa was elected president.

Many Tanzanian government officials are noted for their dedication and austerity, although corrupting influences of the market economy have become more prevalent over time. In a general sense, the authority of government officials at all levels is respected by local citizens, regardless of ethnic affiliation. This respect is demonstrated by greeting officials with a shaking of right hands, often while laying the left hand under one’s right arm. This is also the proper way to receive a gift. Women and girls often bend down slightly on one knee (a modified curtsy) to greet officials and elders.

Tanzania has been less afflicted by large-scale social problems than its neighbors. Social conflicts due to religious differences have been relatively minor, although recent tensions between Muslims and Christians threaten to destabilize the unity between Zanzibar and the mainland. On 7 August 1998, terrorist bombings of the American Embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi, Kenya, killed 81 people and injured hundreds more. Although the individuals responsible have not yet been identified, it has been suggested that organized Muslim fundamentalists outside of Tanzania may have planned the attack. In addition, there is long-standing tension between Asians (e.g., Indians and Pakistanis), who own most of the businesses in Tanzania, and indigenous Tanzanians.

Theft is a serious social problem, especially in larger cities and towns. If a criminal act is witnessed by the public, often a crowd will punish the thief with a beating. With the exception of the military and police, very few people have access to guns. There is some evidence that Tanzanian ports are assuming an increased role in the shipment of illegal drugs destined for American and European markets. Some use of illegal drugs among the local population has surfaced, but the full extent is unknown.

The Tanzanian People’s Defense Force includes the army, navy, and air force; in 1998/1999, military expenditures were about $21 million. The most important military activity occurred in 1978–1979, after Uganda attempted to annex part of the Kagera Region in northwest Tanzania. Under the direction of Idi Amin Dada, Ugandan troops invaded the region, but were repelled by the Tanzanian army—at great expense to the nation. The war is vividly portrayed in local songs, and a monument commemorating the loss of Tanzanians stands in Bukoba, the Kagera Region’s administrative headquarters.

The dismal economic failure of Nyerere’s socialist system in Tanzania opened up the country to the influences of international banking organizations that intervened—ostensibly to save the economy. Loans to rebuild the economy after the socialist period were conditioned upon cost-cutting structural adjustment programs that severely reduced the size of the government as well as the number and quality of social support systems. As a result, many Tanzanians have resorted to basic survival strategies, assisted in many parts of the country by foreign aid programs and church organizations.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

With the support of several Scandinavian countries, the high level of development assistance in Tanzania began in the 1970s and 1980s, and spawned a dramatic growth of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Many of these NGOs collaborate with international organizations (the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross, for instance) and U.S. and European private voluntary organizations (CARE, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children, and Doctors without Borders, for example) to implement a wide variety of projects in health, water and sanitation, agriculture, and microenterprise. Dozens of humanitarian aid programs—which rely on the availability and expertise of local NGOs—support an estimated 800,000 refugees currently in Tanzania who have fled conflict and political instability in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, and Burundi. NGO staff positions provide a very important avenue of employment for highly educated Tanzanians who are finding it difficult to secure civil service positions in a government downsized by structural adjustment. Increasingly, NGOs are competing with one another for limited development and relief funds.

Gender Roles and Statuses

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. Similarly, where conditions of extreme poverty< obligate male heads of households to migrate in search of work, women in these communities have taken over some of the hard physical labor. In many modern households in Tanzania, wives and husbands are challenging and questioning one another’s changing roles. The disruptive effects of alcohol abuse, AIDS, and materialism have also placed great strains on relationships within and among families.

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.

Marriage, Family and Kinship

Traditional systems of social organization are still of great significance in the daily lives of Tanzanians. Kinship systems provide networks for support and become visible during all major life-cycle ceremonies.

In general, traditional marriage customs vary by ethnic group. The practice of clan exogamy—or marriage outside of the clan or group—is typical, however, of almost all ethnic groups. Traditional customs call for marriages to be arranged by the parents of the bride and groom, although such arrangements are becoming less common, particularly in urban settings. In patrilineal ethnic groups (those in which descent is traced through males), traditional marriage customs often include the presentation of a dowry or bride price to the wife’s family by the bridegroom. The dowry may include livestock, money, clothing, locally brewed beer, and other items. The amount of the dowry is determined through negotiations between the families of the engaged. Preparations for marriage may take months. For those wealthy enough to afford it, marriage may include a separate dowry ceremony and, several months later, a church wedding followed by traditional ceremonies. Although many ethnic groups and Muslims allow polygyny (having more than one wife), the practice is decreasing in popularity, in part because of the influence of Christianity and the expense of maintaining several households.

The basic family structure is extended, although the pressures of development have led increasingly to nuclear family units, particularly in urban areas. In most cases, the man is the supreme head of the household in all major decisions. A wife earns respect through her children and, indeed, is not considered to be a fully mature woman until she has given birth to a healthy child. In most ethnic groups, she is recognized by her eldest child’s name and called, for example, “Mama Kyaruzi,” after her eldest child of the same name. Children eat separately, often with their mothers.

The market economy has placed significant pressure on the stability of the domestic unit and the extended family. Educated, wealthy family members are often called upon to provide resources to other family members for their education and general welfare. In many areas deaths due to AIDS have placed additional strain on the extended family.

Tanzanian laws of inheritance vary according to ethnic group. There are also significant differences between national and customary laws of inheritance, which are settled in the court system. Generally speaking, boys and men are favored over girls and women in customary ethnic laws, in part to keep clan holdings together. (When women in patrilineal ethnic groups marry in Tanzania, they tend to live with or near their husband’s family.) Nevertheless, the customary subdivision of land holdings—even just among sons—has already led to serious fragmentation of land in areas where arable land is scarce.  In some groups, widows and divorcees are not adequately provided for through customary laws and must fend for themselves or be cared for by their children. This discrimination is being challenged by lawyers, affected individuals, and organized groups.

Clanship systems are common in most ethnic groups. While the majority of ethnic groups are patrilineal, recognizing descent through male ancestors, there are some matrilineal groups (where descent is traced through females) in Tanzania: the Kaguru in the east-central part of the country, for example. In practice the structure and function of clans differs significantly from one ethnic group to another. In some cases, they form well-recognized groups while in others they are dispersed. In general, an elder, or group of elders, is often responsible for settling disputes within the clan and for conducting various ceremonies to venerate the ancestors.


Throughout the nation, children are raised with the strong influence of parents as well as close relatives, friends, and neighbors. Using a kanga, a brightly colored rectangular cloth with elaborate designs, mothers carry babies close to their bodies in a sling, even while working in the fields, at home, or in shops. An essential multipurpose item of women’s apparel, the kanga can also be used as a shawl, head cover, skirt, or dress. Daughters at very young ages begin helping their mothers care for their younger siblings.

Until the age of five or so for boys, and until adolescence for girls, children have the most contact with their mothers, sisters, and other female relatives. Both boys and girls attend school if the parents can afford the fees. If there is not sufficient money for both to attend, the boy is usually favored, and the girl remains home to help her mother until she gets married and moves away. Students are supposed to respect their teachers, and corporal punishment is still practiced in Tanzanian schools.

Among some ethnic groups, puberty ceremonies for boys and girls are practiced. Marking the transition to adulthood, such elaborate ceremonies may involve circumcision of boys and several kinds of genital surgery on girls. Unsterile surgical procedures performed on girls may have severe health consequences.

Development programs have recently begun to make more use of the performing arts to deliver public service messages (about AIDS prevention and the importance of breast-feeding, for example).

As fees for schooling have risen, families are finding it difficult to send their children to secondary schools. The wealthy send their older children to boarding schools both within and outside the country, although they worry that the materialistic influences of the modern world and lack of family supervision will negatively influence their children.

Tanzanians are proud of their disciplined upbringing. The ability to keep control of one’s temper and emotions in public is highly valued. Young men and women in rural areas are not supposed to show mutual affection in public in daylight, although this rule is often broken in urban centers. Boys and men, however, are commonly seen in public holding hands as a sign of friendship or camaraderie. In many rural areas, women are not supposed to smoke, talk in a raised voice, or cross their legs while sitting or standing. Traditionally, elders are honored and respected by the rest of the community, although youth are increasingly challenging such customs as arranged marriages.

Although the use of silverware is increasing, traditional customs prescribe eating all foods, including rice and meat sauces, with the right hand. Children who attempt to eat with their left hands are disciplined appropriately at very early ages. This custom is related to the perceived symbolic purity of the right hand, compared to the left hand which is often used for cleaning after using the toilet.

Medicine and Health Care

Similar to people in other poor, tropical nations, Tanzanians are challenged by numerous health problems, including parasitic, intestinal, nutritional, venereal, and respiratory diseases. In the mid-1990s, life expectancy at birth was forty-two years for men and forty-five years for women.

Malaria, commonly referred to as the “Tanzanian flu,” remains the leading cause of illness and death. Transmitted by the Anopheles mosquito, the parasite Plasmodium falciparum has become increasingly resistant to treatment. It is especially severe among children, the elderly, and people with compromised immune systems. Other common diseases include schistosomiasis, sleeping sickness, poliomyelitis, tuberculosis, and pneumonia. There are an estimated 150,000 cases of leprosy.

Public health problems are further exacerbated by the nation’s poverty, which makes proper food storage and the provision of adequate waste disposal and safe drinking water difficult to achieve. Nevertheless, technologically appropriate solutions to these and other public health problems, such as improved ventilated pit latrines, are increasingly being implemented. The Arusha Declaration for Tanzanian Socialism prepared the way to extend primary health care to the rural population. This led to the establishment of some three thousand rural health facilities and seventeen regional government hospitals. Although community health workers have been somewhat successful in alleviating health problems, the lack of medical supplies, facilities, and physicians continues to make confronting illness a primary survival issue.

The third poorest nation in the world, Tanzania has decreased its spending on health care significantly in recent years, largely because of higher levels of foreign debt repayment. The measles immunization rate, for example, has fallen from an estimated 86 percent to about 60 percent in recent years.

Health problems have been exacerbated by AIDS which emerged in Tanzania in the mid-1980s. In 1998, the estimated HIV seroprevalence rate was 49.5 percent among high-risk populations in major cities and 13.7 percent among low-risk groups. In rural areas, the estimated HIV seroprevalence was 34.3 percent and 16.6 percent among high- and low-risk groups, respectively. AIDS has placed tremendous strain on an already challenged health care system; in some parts of the country, underlying HIV infection may be the primary reason for hospital admissions.

The number of children orphaned due to deaths associated with AIDS is very high. The staggering number of AIDS-related deaths among young adults has placed serious strain on the extended family and the elderly, who are often called upon to care for the resulting orphans.

All Tanzanian ethnic groups have highly sophisticated indigenous healing systems that help circumvent the inadequate supply of Western drugs and biomedical health services. The mganga, or “traditional healer” in Swahili, plays an extremely important role in health care, and treats chronic and infectious illnesses. In many cases, herbal remedies have established pharmaceutical efficacy. In addition, the mganga may also be called upon to treat social and “psychological” problems as well as problems not commonly perceived as “illnesses” by people outside of Africa, such as difficulty finding a lover, difficulty conceiving a child, or lack of success in business affairs. Predicated on a holistic approach to health, traditional healers treat body, mind and spirit as an integrated system, often in the communal sense of the “social body.” Faith healing among some Christian sects as well as various Islamic healing practices are also common.

Although infectious diseases are the most visible health problems in Tanzania, social problems related to alcohol abuse are increasingly being recognized.Low-alcohol-content (approximately 5 percent) beers made from grains, fruits, palm sap, and honey play a vital role in almost all ethnic groups. Traditional beers are commonly consumed as part of nearly all ceremonies as well as being used in offerings to ancestors. While still used for these purposes, beer and other alcoholic beverages began to be sold as commodities in the postcolonial period, contributing greatly to social problems.

The major state holidays are New Year’s Day (1 January); Zanzibar Revolution Day (12 January); Union Day (26 April); International Workers’ Day (1 May); Saba Saba(7 July, commemorating the establishment of TANU); Peasants’ Day (8 August); and Independence Day (9 December). All holidays are celebrated with large amounts of food and alcohol at the appropriate time. The middle classes use days off to take outings with their families, watch soccer matches, or travel to see relatives.

The Arts and Humanities

The formal development of the humanities and arts in Tanzania has been constrained by a severe lack of government and private funding. Tourists, the local elite, and expatriates support most of the fine artists, foremost among them the Makonde ebony carvers. While not as well-known as Congolese or Senegalese singers, Tanzanian musicians are beginning to make their mark in the music world.

Because most of the local languages in Tanzania are expressed orally rather than in written form, little other than dictionaries and collections of idioms and fables collected by missionaries or local and foreign researchers have been published. The national language of Kiswahili, however, has a very old and rich history. Stories, novels, poetry, epics, textbooks, children’s literature, and historical treatises are widely available around the country.

A thriving tourist industry supports thousands of artisans in Tanzania, the most famous being the Makonde carvers of ebony from the extreme southeast corner of the country. Other tourist items include paintings and greeting cards of landscapes, local peoples, and wildlife; intricately woven baskets; soapstone, ceramic, and malachite carvings and jewelry; woven or printed wall hangings, and decorative and functional objects formed from banana leaves and coconut hulls.

Individual tribes are characterized in part by distinctive theatrical performances, dances, and music—for example, the Snake Dance performed by the Sukuma people in the north-central part of the country. Some of these groups are invited to Dar es Salaam to honor the president, ministers, or foreign dignitaries. Occasionally, private or state funding is found to send them to foreign capitals to perform. While not as well-known as Congolese, Malian, or Senegalese singers, Tanzanian musicians are beginning to make their mark in the music world. Theater, dance, and music skits on radio and television are also being used by churches, state agencies, and development organizations to relay public service messages about such topics as AIDS, corruption, vaccination campaigns, and contraception.

Lack of funding has also constrained the development of the physical and social sciences in Tanzania. Like Makerere University in Uganda, the University of Dar es Salaam was once one of the leading centers of critical socialist thought in Africa. While it still attracts some of the world’s foremost thinkers and philosophers, the university currently suffers from substandard infrastructure, an inadequate library, and poorly paid but internationally recognized professors.

People & Culture

Tanzanian culture is a mix of influences with over 120 tribes. Tanzania is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. From the tall graceful Maasai warriors, the ancient ways of the Hadza bushmen, the resourceful agricultural practices of the Wameru, the artistic talents of the Makonde to the Chaga farmers and traders. Each of the 120 different tribes in Tanzania have their own distinct ways of life but together, they gracefully unite to form Tanzania.

Languages: Over 120 languages are spoken in Tanzania, most of them from the Bantu family. After independence, the government recognized that this represented a problem for national unity, and as a result made the kiswahili language (Swahili) the official language. The government introduced it in all primary schools to spread its use. Kiswahili was the logical choice because a wide range of people were already informally using it along the coastal regions and it was a perfect language to help unify the country since it did not originate or belong to any particular tribe.

Given the conditions at that time, it was not possible to introduce the language in to the entire educational system, because the language was still callow and undisciplined. The task of formalizing kiswahili and writing kiswahili books for all schools was considerable. The government decided to apply Kiswahili exclusively to all elementary/ primary education and use English (the colonial language since the end of  World War one) in high schools and universities. Kiswahili is still taught as a course in high schools and Universities.

Today, a great majority of the population have accepted and fluently use Kiswahili, thus English is generally well known. As a result of this linguistic situation, many of the 120 tribal languages are slowly withering away with every new generation.  Kiswahili on the other hand has grown into an international language that is widely used across multiple boarders. Kiswahili is ranked among the top 10 international languages. Apart from Tanzania, it is now used in Kenya, Uganda, DRC Congo, Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique to name a few. Kiswahili is also taught in universities around the world such as; Harvard, Oxford, Yale, Cambridge, Colombia, Georgetown, George Washington, Princeton and many more.


The Tanzanian national anthem is titled “ Mungu Ibariki Afrika” (God Bless Africa), composed by a South African composer – Enock Sontonga. The song is also the national anthem of South Africa and Zimbabwe. The music industry in Tanzania has evolved over the years. Due to the mixture of various cultures in Tanzania, native music is morphing into new music that is a combination of the old, new and imported sounds and rhythms. Tanzanian musicians are among the best in Eastern Africa. Legendary artists such as RemyOngala, Dionys Mbilinyi, Sabinus Komba, Siti binti Saad, Bi Kidude, Saida Karoli, Hukwe Zawose Nasibu Mwanukuzi aka Ras Nas, Jah Kimbuteh and many others. And new vibrant artists such as Imani Sanga, Judith Daines Wambura Mbibo aka Lady Jaydee, Rose Mhando, Joseph Haule aka Professor Jay, Ray C, Saleh Jaber aka Saleh J, Joseph Mbilinyi aka Sugu/ Mr. II/ 2-proud and many more. They mix native music with imported sounds and the result is a range of interesting flavors of music.

Traditional Tanzanian music includes; Zouk, Ngoma, Taarab and Ndombolo.  Some of these traditional music types have been incorporated into exported music to create unique sounds that are referred to as Mtindo, Sikinde, Modern Taarab, Bongo flavor, African hip hop, Bolingo and Reggae.

Traditional music instruments include ngoma, marimba, coconut shell fiddles, Filimbi (whistles made of wood or bone) and Traditional trumpets made from bull/buffalo horns or ivory.


Tanzanian cuisine is unique and widely varied. The coastal region cuisine is characterized with spicy foods and use of coconut milk. Such foods are; pilau (wild rice/ mixed rice), bagia, biryani, kabab, kashata (coconut or groundnuts rolls), sambusa (samosa).

As you move inland you will find foods that are less spicy; wali (rice), ugali, chapati (a bread), kuku choma (grilled chicken), nyama choma (grilled meat), nyama pori (wild/bush meat that is either sun dried, grilled or cooked), kiti moto (grill pork), mishikaki (skewed meat), samaki (fish), ndizi (plantains/bananas), bamia (okra), mchicha (greens/spinach), njegere (peas), maharage (beans), kisamvu (cassava leaves), kisusio (soup from boiled animal bones and meat or blood) and many dishes.

Famous Snacks include; maandazi (bread-like rolls), visheti, kashata (coconut or groundnuts rolls), kabab, sambusa (samosa), mkate wa kumimina, vileja, vitumbua (rice cakes), bagia, firigisi (grilled gizzards), tende (dates), korosho, karanga (groundnuts), daga (fried nut-sized fish), senene (pan grilled grasshoppers), and many others.

Native beverages include; chai (tea) which is usually a breakfast beverage taken with chapati, maadazi, mkate (breads), ugali and/or mayai (eggs ). Kahawa (coffee) is also another beverage. It is more commonly taken in the evenings, when the sun is cool and people are on the front porch, playing cards, Bao or just chatting. Many people drink coffee with kashata (coconut or groundnuts rolls).

Other native beverages are specific to certain regions and tribes. These are; Mnazi/ Tembo (Coastal region), Mbege (Kilimanjaro region), Wanzuki, Gongo. There also various beers, wines and spirits produced in Tanzania. These include Kilimanjaro beer, Safarai beer, Serengeti beer, Konyagi, Banana Wine and many more.

Social Norms and Etiquette Greetings

  • Men greeting Men – A handshake is appropriate in most situations.  Handshakes tend to be energetic and very often linger.  It is also appropriate for two men to walk hand in hand in public. This does not have any implication on their sexual preferences, it’s just a sign of friendship and closeness.
  • Women greeting Women – A handshake and/or bow is appropriate in most situations.  If you would like to show great respect you may also place your left hand over your right elbow when handshaking and bowing.  Handshakes tend to be energetic and linger.
  • Meetings between Men and Women – Appropriate greetings depend on the nature of the relationship. If the man is Muslim a woman may bow and greet but handshakes are not appropriate. For all others a handshake and/or bow is appropriate but it is best to wait for the woman to extend her hand, otherwise a bow or a nod of acknowledgment will suffice.

Note:  Greeting is an important aspect of the culture and is very lengthy, lasting anywhere from one minute to ten. Elders are very respected in Tanzanian culture and are always greeted by saying “shikamo,” whereas they reply “marahaba”. Also, always use your right hand when shaking hands.

Communication Style

  • Indirect communication is considered much more polite than being direct and specific, especially when talking to superiors or your elders.
  • You may find that people address problems differently.  For example, instead of asking for help and then explaining specifically their reasons, they may tell you a 5 minute story about a problem they are having and only then begin to hint at the assistance you can give.  If you do not want to/are unable to help, you can simply answer vaguely with a polite but firm excuse and that should be sufficient.
  • It is best in social and business interactions to not be too blunt about your problems/ feelings/ frustrations/ needs.
  • Urban Tanzanians will be much more used to direct communication, but you should be cautious not to offend people by rushing to your point quickly without introducing the topic and “talking around it” for a few minutes.
  • Humor plays a big role in communicating.  Most Tanzanians enjoy a good joke.

Personal Space & Touching

  • Personal space differs from place to place based on tribal and religious influences. Generally, an arm’s length or a bit less is appropriate.  Personal space tends to be less between members of the same gender.
  • When two people of the same sex are talking, touching is acceptable.  It is common to touch the hands, legs, and shoulders.
  • When two people of the opposite sex talk there is very little to no touching. The only appropriate touch is a handshake.

Eye Contact

  • When talking to an elder, many people tend to look down out of respect.
  • When talking between colleagues or friends direct eye contact is acceptable.
  • Overly direct eye contact with a member of the opposite sex is usually interpreted as an intrusion of privacy or being rude. This is especially true with men looking at women.
  • A woman who uses direct eye contact and smiles at a man for an extended time frame will most likely be interpreted as flirting. Similarly, looking and then looking away and giggling will very likely be interpreted the same way

Views of Time

  • In most situations, Tanzanians have little to no concept of time and are not overly concerned with being punctual.
  • In rural areas Tanzanians tend to give their time very freely. If you are living in a village it is expected for you to visit your neighbors numerous times per week, to sit and chat with them, and especially to eat meals with them if offered.
  • Visiting a friend or neighbor often takes hours and you may find that they run out to purchase sodas or run to the kitchen to begin cooking ugali upon your arrival. This is less pronounced in urban areas where many people are employed in paying jobs (and therefore stricter with time).
  • In business situations, time is less freely given. Important officials may require you to wait for hours before meeting them and they may only have a few minutes of time to spare. The waiting time partially is a demonstration of a person’s importance in society and it is best to be respectful and friendly even if you are frustrated. If you react with anger, the person will be less likely to help you.
  • Once you have established a friendly relationship even in a business situation, you may find that your host has a whole hour to spare and even offers you soda or tea.
  • The chances of a meeting starting on time are very slim. In many cases it can be up to several hours late.
  • Public transport is usually not reliable when considering set schedules and the like.

Gender Issues

  • Tanzania is going through a transition when it comes to gender roles; however, it is still a male dominant society.
  • In rural areas women will most likely be housewives. They will be expected to cook, clean, do the laundry and take care of the children, as well as work their land.
  • In urban settings it is more likely to find women who work and have a career.
  • For women smoking in public is usually unacceptable. Women who smoke, drink at bars, and/or dress provocatively are often seen as prostitutes.  This is more so in rural areas vs. urban ones.
  • Foreign women are generally not held to the same standard as local women, but may be looked down upon if they engage in certain taboo behaviors.
  • Foreign women, especially in urban areas, can be expected to dress slightly less conservatively and it is acceptable. (In a small town – though not a village – you could wear jeans whereas most local women will not, for example.)
  • NOTE: that it is NEVER okay to wear shorts that are above the knee. Tanzanians are very polite and will not tell you that it is a problem. You may see other tourists wearing shorts, however, do not be deceived – everybody is watching you in a mixture of amusement and horror.
  • If you are in rural Zanzibar or anywhere on Pemba, wearing a headscarf is not necessary (although all local women will be wearing them) but you will probably find that locals are much more friendly and appreciative of your visit if you do wear even just a lightly wrapped hair covering.
  • Women tend to be more demure about sex – declining at first but then agreeing only after some convincing. So if you decline to have sex with a man, do not be surprised if he continues to try to change your mind. Be polite, be firm, and he will get the message eventually.


  • When gesturing or beckoning for someone to come, you should face your palm downwards and make a scratching motion with the fingers.  It is considered very rude to beckon someone with the palm up.  That is reserved for animals.
  • Pointing to a person with one finger is generally considered rude (although it is sometimes unavoidable). It’s best to point with the whole hand or in a slightly vague manner.


  • In many rural areas and in Zanzibar it is usually unacceptable for women to walk around in shorts, or tank tops, and in some cases pants. Women are expected to dress in a modest way; skirts below the knees and shirts with sleeves. In urban areas guidelines are more flexible and women are seen wearing long pants
  • For men it is inappropriate to wear short pants.
  • Tanzanians do not use their left hand when eating, or touching another person. Never eat with your left hand, hand something to another person with your left hand, or handshake with your left hand. Also, do not touch anything with your left hand, such as produce at the market. Some people may not be as strict about this but most are.
  • It is considered rude to let the bottom of one’s foot or shoe point at someone.  Feet should also not be propped up on chairs or tables.
  • Boys don’t usually braid their hair. If you have braids and you are a man, it usually implies that you are gay, which is a major taboo in Tanzanian culture.

Law & Order

  • The legal drinking age is 18 and is not heavily enforced
  • Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines.
  • It is illegal to wear camouflage clothing. A hat is probably okay but pants or shirts that are camouflage are not okay. Police can stop you at any time and demand that you change your clothes and that you pay a fine.


Tanzania is governed under the constitution of 1977 as amended. The president, who is head of state and head of government, is elected by popular vote for a five-year term and is eligible for a second term. Political parties besides the ruling Party of the Revolution (CCM) were permitted starting in 1993, and the first multiparty elections were held in 1995.

The unicameral legislature consists of the 357-seat National Assembly or Bunge; 239 members are popularly elected, 102 are women who are indirectly elected on a proportional basis, 10 appointed by the president, 5 are members of the Zanzibar’s legislature (Zanzibar has its own president and House of Representatives, for dealing with matters internal to Zanzibar), and 1 is the attorney general. All legislators serve five-year terms.

Administratively, Tanzania is divided into 26 regions.

Safety & Security 

At all times, travelers should maintain a high level of security vigilance. They should avoid political rallies and related public gatherings. In the past, peaceful demonstrations have turned violent with little or no warning as riot police clashed with demonstrators.

Zanzibar – The population in Zanzibar is majority Muslim and holds traditional values. Some Zanzibar newspapers have warned that women deemed to dress immodestly may be subject to harassment. You should dress modestly, behave in a conservative manner, and exercise caution in public.

Inter-city transportation routes between major cities such as Arusha and Dar es Salaam are serviced by a variety of carriers with differing levels of safety and comfort. If you are traveling by bus select carriers who use modern equipment and avoid riding in vehicles in obvious disrepair. On long-haul bus routes foreigners have been victims of being drugged, whereby drug-laced food and drink are used to sedate unsuspecting passengers so their belongings can be easily stolen. Travelers are cautioned not to accept food or beverages from fellow passengers.

Travelers are strongly encouraged to use taxis or hired drivers from a reputable source for in-town transportation.  Foreigners have been victims of robberies when using unlicensed taxis in Dar Es Salaam. In these incidents, once victims have entered the car, they are held against their will for up to several hours and taken to several ATM machines throughout the city to liquidate their accounts. In these instances, foreigners have been forced to surrender their belongings under the threat of violence.

Travelers should avoid using the ubiquitous microbuses (dala-dalas), which are frequently overcrowded, poorly maintained, a common site of petty theft, and whose operation is generally unsafe.

Crime is a serious problem in Tanzania; visitors should be alert and cautious. Street crime in Dar es Salaam is common and includes mugging, vehicle theft, “smash and grab” attacks on vehicles, armed robbery, and burglary. Thieves and pickpockets on buses and trains steal from inattentive passengers.

Crime involving firearms is becoming more common. A series of robberies involving increasing levels of violence has occurred along the coast and on Zanzibar. Robbers have held up tour buses and dive boats at gunpoint.

Pedestrians on beaches and footpaths, both in isolated areas and in popular tourist venues, are often targeted for robbery or assault, especially on Zanzibar and in Dar es Salaam and its environs. Visitors should limit the amount of cash they carry and leave valuables, such as passports, jewelry, and airline tickets, in a hotel safe or other secure place. Cameras are highly coveted by thieves, and should be guarded. Because of the potential for fraud, credit cards should only be used in reputable tourist hotels.

Sexual assaults involving tourists are an increasing concern. Travelers should contract only with legitimate tour guides, preferably arranged by a known travel agency or hotel. Travelers are advised to be wary of “spontaneous” offers of sightseeing, and avoid being alone with “friendly” strangers who propose special, customized sightseeing trips.

A continuing concern is Tourè Drive on Msasani Peninsula in Dar es Salaam. Tourè Drive is the beach front road from the Sea Cliff Hotel into town which provides an inviting view of the ocean. There are regular reports of daytime muggings, pick-pocketing, and theft from cars, and the road continues to be an area of concern any time of day on foot or by car.

Occasionally, these crimes escalate into violence. While frightening, the number of these attacks is small and the majority of foreign tourists enjoy Tanzania in peace. Travelers are always urged to practice common sense security and remain vigilant of their surroundings. If a situation does not seem right, travelers should follow their instincts and leave the scene.

Travelers are strongly encouraged not to walk around at dusk or later, and to avoid the section of Arusha on the far side of the Themi River at all times on foot. Long-time residents say that crime in Arusha peaks around the December-January holiday season. Travelers should be even more vigilant during these months.

Foreigners residing in Arusha report a steady increase in crimes targeting the homes of expatriates living in the region. These armed home invasions usually involve some violence and have resulted in some victims being seriously injured. Foreigners residing in the area should ensure that their homes have a safe haven – a secure area with reinforced barriers to retreat to and remain safe if intruders enter the home. Residents in Arusha strongly recommend retaining a professional security company with 24-hour guards and roving patrols.

Carjacking has occurred in rural and urban areas. Visitors are advised to drive with doors locked and windows rolled up, not to stop between populated areas, and to travel in convoys if possible.

Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. If you purchase them you may be breaking local law.

Victims of crime
If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and your nearest embassy or consulate.

  • Your Embassy can: 
    Replace a stolen passport.
    Help you find appropriate medical care if you are the victim of violent crimes such as assault or rape.
  • Put you in contact with the appropriate police authorities, and can contact family members or friends.
  • Help you understand the local criminal justice process and direct you to local attorneys, although it is important to remember that local authorities are responsible for investigating and prosecuting the crime

The local equivalent to the “911” emergency line in Tanzania is: 111

Criminal penalties

While you are traveling in Tanzania, you are subject to its laws even if you are a foreigner. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than your own country’s. In some places you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you. In some places, it is illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. In some places driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. If you break local laws in Tanzania, your foreign passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not where you are going.

Persons violating Tanzania’s laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested, or imprisoned. Penalties for possessing, using, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Tanzania are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. 
If you are arrested in Tanzania, authorities of Tanzania are required to notify your. embassy of your arrest. If you are concerned your embassy may be unaware of your situation, you should request the police or prison officials to notify your. embassy of your arrest.

Special circumstances:
Every year, thousands of U.S. citizens have a truly awe-inspiring experience in Tanzania enjoying its natural wonders. However, such activities do have inherent risks. A handful of tourists are mauled or killed by wild animals. Climbers are injured or killed in rockslides or succumb to altitude sickness or hypothermia. Safaris and mountain expeditions require sustained physical exertion and can aggravate existing chronic health problems. Foreigners have died while on safari in accidents or from natural causes related to the exertion of the trip or environmental factors. Most tour operators offer structured, safe excursions into parks, the mountains, and other wildlife areas.

Travelers must play a responsible role in maintaining their safety, and are reminded to maintain a safe distance from animals and to remain in vehicles or protected enclosures when venturing into game parks. Persons with chronic health problems should weigh the risks before joining an extended trip in the African wilderness. Climbers should familiarize themselves with the signs of altitude sickness and heed the advice of the professionals organizing the ascents.

You should carry a copy of your passport with you at all times so you’ll have readily available proof of identity and citizenship if questioned by local officials.  Credit cards may be used at some major hotels but are not widely accepted in Tanzania. In the larger urban areas, ATM’s are usually available at major banks. However, travelers should exercise caution when using ATM, debit, and credit cards in Tanzania. There have been numerous recent reports from foreigners of fraud, particularly against U.S. dollar denominated accounts. Travelers should arrive with sufficient cash or traveler’s checks for their trip if they will be spending time outside large cities. Those using traveler’s checks should be advised that reputable financial institutions require that the holder of traveler’s checks present the original receipt for the checks and proof of identity, such as a passport, before the institutions will complete a transaction.

Photography of military installations is forbidden. Individuals have been detained and/or had their cameras and film confiscated for taking pictures of hospitals, schools, bridges, industrial sites, and airports. Installations that are prohibited from being photographed are not always marked.

Same Gender Couple Issues
Tanzania is largely a traditional society. Public displays of affection between persons of the opposite gender garner serious disapproval, and such displays between persons of the same gender could risk violence. Public discussions of sexuality of any type are not well-received and there is no openly gay community. Same gender sexual relations are illegal in Tanzania although there are no reports that anyone has been arrested or prosecuted for such activities recently.

Although taxis are relatively inexpensive in Nairobi, Kampala, and other towns, buses and dalla-dallas, a kind of minibus, in Tanzania, are extremely cheap and an attractive alternative to those on a budget. 

However, be aware that every bus and minivan in East Africa can harbor pickpockets who can perform their job easily because the vehicles are so wildly crowded that you’re literally squeezed from every side. Make sure when you travel by bus or minivan that all your valuables are buried deep within tight-fitting clothing. Backpacks and hand luggage are especially risky propositions unless they are in your lap with your arms around them.  Bottom line…take a taxi.

Avoiding Rip-offs
A current scam exists where a foreigner is approached by a Tanzanian gentleman (usually dressed in western style clothing– baseball cap, jeans, t-shirt, sneakers) who appears to speak very good English. He sees the foreigner waiting for transportation and offers to have his friend who is a taxi cab driver take the traveler to their destination. Once in the vehicle, the foreigner is threatened by the Tanzanian gentleman and driver to hand over money from their bank accounts as well as personal belongings. These nefarious characters are prevalent at bus stations and crowded areas (particularly the Ubongo bus station) where people are waiting for transport.

Bogus Currency

Obviously, exchanging U.S. or European currencies for shillings on the street in Tanzania, comes with the usual problem: bogus currency. Counterfeit bills are everywhere. You’ll be especially hassled to exchange your money on the street in Nairobi. It’s recommended you exchange your cash at official Forex Bureaus or banks. Barclays, the huge English bank, has offices throughout the region.


Sponsorship Requests
No matter where you go in East Africa, you’ll be asked to sponsor something. Often, it’s school children requesting sponsorship for school supplies. The child will usually have a school notebook with a list of sponsors scrawled on the first page. Sometimes, the list is bogus, and any money you might give the child goes into his pocket for everything but school supplies. Sometimes the request is genuine—too genuine. Beyond high school, education is anything but free in East Africa (like most places). You’ll also be asked to sponsor immigrants to your home country, and just about anything else you can imagine. Choose your response wisely.

Double-Standard Prices
To many East Africans, mzungu (“white person”) means money, so you’ll often be charged more than the local people for products and services—sometimes triple. If you don’t mind such overbilling, fine. Otherwise, try to get a guide or a porter to purchase goods and services for you (most are pleased to do it). Likewise, some shops don’t have prices on items. When you walk through the door, the prices can go up. Try to shop where the prices are marked.

Illegitimate Tour Operators
Tour operators—even tour operators running mountain trips—must have a government license to operate within Kilimanjaro and Arusha (Mount Meru) National Parks. However, there are many companies out there who don’t have licenses and who will try to sell you a climb. Ask to see their license. Many legitimate companies hang photocopies of their licenses on the office wall so the originals don’t get too ratty. If you are concerned, ask to see the original document. Some unscrupulous firms will obtain a legitimate company’s license, photocopy the document, white-out the other company’s name, write in their own, then photocopy the document again so it looks the same as the legitimate firm’s license hanging on the wall. Although climbing Kilimanjaro with an unlicensed firm will likely be no problem as far as park officials are concerned, some of these illegitimate companies are notorious for bad service.

Paying Park Fees
Because you are required to hire an outfitter to climb Kilimanjaro the national park fees will be handled for you by the outfitter as part of the overall price of the climb. Be leery, though, of the price you are quoted for an ascent of Kilimanjaro: a recent development is tour operators offering very low prices for an ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro that then turn out to not include park fees.