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Tanzania: History

Tanzania is probably one of the oldest countries ever to be known continuously inhabited areas on Earth; fossil remains of humans and pre-human hominids have been found dating back over two million years. More recently, Tanzania is believed to have been populated by hunter-gatherer communities, probably Cushitic and Khoisan speaking people. About 2000 years ago, Bantu-speaking people began to arrive from western Africa in a series of migrations. Later, Nilotic pastoralists arrived and continued to immigrate into the area through to the 18th century. Travellers and merchants from the Persian Gulf and Western India have visited the East African coast since early in the first millennium. Islam was practised on the Swahili coast as early as the eighth or ninth century. Claiming the coastal strip, Omani Sultan Seyyid Said moved his capital to Zanzibar City in 1840. During this time, Zanzibar became the centre for the Arab slave trade. Between 65% to 90% of the population of Arab-Swahili Zanzibar was enslaved. One of the most famous slave traders on the East African coast was Tippu Tip, who was himself the grandson of an enslaved African. The Nyamwezi slave traders operated under the leadership of Msiri and Mirambo.

In the late 19th century, Imperial Germany conquered the regions that are now Tanzania (minus Zanzibar), Rwanda, and Burundi, and incorporated them into German East Africa. During World War I, an invasion attempt by the British was thwarted by German General Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, who then mounted a drawn-out guerrilla campaign against the British. The post-World War I accords and the League of Nations charter designated the area a British Mandate, except for a small area in the northwest, which was ceded to Belgium and later became Rwanda and Burundi.

British rule came to an end in 1961 after a relatively peaceful (compared with neighbouring Kenya, for instance) transition to independence. In 1954, Julius Nyerere transformed an organization into the politically oriented Tanganyika African National Union (TANU). TANU’s main objective was to achieve national sovereignty for Tanganyika. A campaign to register new members was launched, and within a year TANU had become the leading political organisation in the country. Nyerere became Minister of British-administered Tanganyika in 1960 and continued as Prime Minister when Tanganyika became officially independent in 1961. Soon after independence, Nyerere’s first presidency took a turn to the left after the Arusha Declaration, which codified a commitment to socialism in Pan-African fashion. After the Declaration, banks were nationalised as were many large industries.

After the Zanzibar Revolution overthrew the Arab dynasty in neighbouring Zanzibar, which had become independent in 1963, the island merged with mainland Tanganyika to form the nation of Tanzania on 26 April 1964. The union of the two, hitherto separate, regions was controversial among many Zanzibaris (even those sympathetic to the revolution) but was accepted by both the Nyerere government and the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar owing to shared political values and goals. Nyerere set up a one-party rule. The communist bloc powers of China, East Germany and the USSR established friendly relations with the new regime. Corruption was rampant.

The socialist regime burned villages and forced people to relocate onto collective farms, which greatly disrupted agricultural efficiency and output. Tanzania turned from a nation of struggling sustenance farmers into a nation of starving collective farmers. From the late 1970s, Tanzania’s economy took a turn for the worse. Tanzania also aligned with Communist China, seeking Chinese aid in Tanzania’ssocialist endeavour. The Chinese were quick to comply, but with the catch that all projects be completed by imported Chinese labour.

Years of socialism left the country as one of the poorest, the least developed and the most aid-dependent in the world. From the mid-1980s, the regime financed itself by borrowing from the International Monetary Fund and underwent some reforms. From the mid-1980s Tanzania’s GDP per capita has grown and poverty has been reduced.

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