A brief history of Tanzania

Africa relies on her oral history. And yet not much oral tradition has survived about the area now called Tanzania before foreign powers came to Tanzania. Arab traders were the first visitors. They penetrated the African continent as far as Lake Tanganyika. Here they set up trading stations in the settlements of Ujiji and Tabora. Sadly their main purpose was the trade in ivory and slaves. The Arab penetration of the bush left a trail of Muslim villages and local leaders and associated traders on their trade corridors. Commerce was the main reason for the demand for slaves. It was easy to buy slaves in those early days, local villagers would raid their neighbours and sell them in order to gain power over their neighbours. Soon, the Arab slaver did not have to fight, he merely had to buy from the strongest power in the area.

The Masai in the north were, in those days, the only tribe that successfully fought off the Arab slave raiders. They were a war-minded nomadic tribe, who were more difficult to attack and raid than a small village.

With the coming of the European powers, colonisation gained scale and speed. The British signed a treaty with the Sultan of Zanzibar in the hope of stopping Napoleon from gaining access to East Africa and endangering the British jewels in the Far east . The British were the first to set up a consulate in Zanzibar when Sayyid moved there.

Tanzania History
Tanzania History

The British interest was twofold; to stop and ban slavery and to gain commercial rights in East Africa . The hunt for the source of the Nile , and the exploration of the inland, was partly a romantic ideal but was also fuelled heavily by the enormous economic power to be gained from this knowledge (or so they thought). When the Sultan proved recalcitrent, the Royal Navy bombarded the shoreline of Stone Town until the Sultan agreed to their hegemony. His aquiescence took a whole 45 minutes, the shortest declared war in history.

The British were not the only ones interested in Africa, the Germans were also working their schemes. They started the “German East Africa Company”, which set up treaties with unsuspecting local chiefs to hand over their land and rights. This “company” sphere of influence was mainly concentrated in the coastal strip, and inland towards Kilimanjaro, Arusha and Moshi. Smoothly, the “company” was given the status of a Protectorate by the German Government; a treaty was signed with Britain (to keep out the French) and German Tanganyika was born. Kenya , Rwanda and Burundi in turn were given to the British.

The Germans set about building schools, hospitals and roads to turn their new colony into a profit making place, but cattle husbandry was a disappointment; the tsetse fly, found all over the north, was a serious threat. Agriculture was hampered by the dry and unfavorable climate of the interior, and was only profitable in the north, around the mountains.

The Germans were harsh rulers, building little in the way of infrastructure. They adminsitered with an iron fist, burying village headmen alive “just to prove a point”. The oral histroy of Tanganyka does not remember them well. They held on to their power until the Imperial British Armies pushed them slowly out of Tanganyka. The war was bitter and fought in horrific conditions. The Germans were pushed down through Mozambique into Malawi. When the German surrender came, the Shutztruppen or East African German Forces were in rags and in a very bad state. At Sea the Konigsmarine were no  more succesful. The Konigsberg raided merchant shipping but was damaged and took refuge in the Rufiji River. Scared to come out, the German crew scuttled her.

boat burning
The landrover serves tanzania well
Zanzibar aerodrome

After the first World War, the Germans were made to give up all colonies in Africa . Their grand scheme, to eventually unite South West Africa (now Namibia ) and German Tanganyika ( Tanzania ) had finally failed.

The British secured a mandate over Tanganyika , who then chose to neglect the colony because of the perecieved unsuitability for agriculture. The only export crop by then was sisal, and Kenya was seen as a much more profitable area.

The Second World War did not affect East Africa as the first war had done so. East Africa was a recruiting ground for the Kings African Rifles. Men from Tanganyika, Kenya and Uganda joined the ranks of the kings’s men and fought against the Italians in Africa. They were then sent to Burma, via Ceylon, where they joined the Indian Army in fighting the Japanese army with tenacity and bravery.

Slowly farmers in Tanganyika formed co-operations, and their union was the Tanganyika Africa Association. In 1953, Julius Nyerere took over the Union , and quickly transformed it into a political organization, merging with other parties to form the TANU and taking the slogan “Uhuru na Umoja” (Freedom and Unity). Tanganyika gained independence in 1961 in a smooth, bloodless way, and Julius Nyerere was the first president.

Sadly Tanzania’s independence may have come too early. The Kings African Rifles had been morphed into the East African Rifles, and were neglected after Independence. Feeling unhappy in 1994,they revolted and killed a few civilians. They took over Tanganyika. Julius Nyerere had to go into hiding. His deputy, Rashidi Kawawa asked the British Deputy High Commissioner for assistance in writing. At this point HMS Centaur, on its way to Asia for exercises, was rerouted back to Aden to take on board helicopters, Royal Marines, and the cavalry. They landed in Dar Es Salaam and took back what are now the Lugalo military barracks. Due to a quirk of logistics (ie a cock up), the Royals had landed with blank ammunition only. They had a plan however: they blew off the doors of the barracks armoury using a Carl Gustav Rocket Launcher and raided the Tanzanian stocks of 7.62 NATO ammunition.

traditional clothing

Order was restored with a minimum of casualties, and Julius Nyerere was allowed to resume power. This was however the end of the EAR. They now became the Tanzania People’s Defence Force, with instructors from Israel and soon after the communist bloc.

Zanzibar (and Pemba ) had a rougher ride to Independence. The Afro-Shirazi Party was established in 1957, who gave the main push for independence. In 1963, after three elections, the two winning minority parties were given leadership, and formed the first independent government. This enraged the Afro-Shirazi Party (led by Abeid Amaan Karume), and with the support of the mainland TANU Party, a bloody revolution was initiated by John Okello, a Ugandan Mercenary. The Arabs were the focus of the rage and most were expelled or massacred. The Sultan was replaced by a Revolutionary Council, and Zanzibar and Pemba were made to merge with the mainland, forming the United Republic of Tanzania.

To this day, the opposition parties dispute the outcome of all elections, and independence from the mainland is a central theme for the contemporary opposition parties, claiming the Union was forced on them by the Afro-Shirazi party.

In 1977, the ASP and the TANU formed the CCM, the Chama Cha Mapinduzi, which has governed Tanzania since independence.

What is quite wonderful about Tanzania is that since the revolution in Zanzibar, none of the political shenanigans have resulted in mass violence. Tanzania is a safe and pleasant country with vibrant and friendly people. In addition, it has no communal issues, and Muslims and Christians live peacefully side by side to date.