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Tanzania is politically stable, but development is slow and tarnished by corruption

Mainland Tanzania has a narrow flat coastal plain which rises to the vast plateau that makes up most of the country. But there is also some spectacular scenery, including in the north-east Africa's highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, at 5,895 metres. Much of the land is assigned to national parks and game reserves. The republic also includes islands in the Indian Ocean, two of the largest of which make up Zanzibar.

Tanzanians can belong to any one of 120 or more ethnic groups. None of these holds a dominant position, but effective efforts at ‘nation-building’ after independence, which included the promotion of Kiswahili as the national language, helped Tanzania to avoid serious ethnic conflict. The same language is also spoken in Zanzibar, though the population here—around one million—has a strong Arab component and is almost entirely Muslim.

Most Tanzanians are poor: around one-third are thought to be living below the poverty line. One-third of children are malnourished and 10% of children die before their fifth birthday. Around one-third of a million people die each year from malaria. HIV and AIDS is also now a major problem with around 6% of adults infected. The government makes anti-retroviral drugs available to all who need them. Tanzanians do however have reasonable standards of education, a legacy of earlier socialist investment.

Most people live in the rural areas from subsistence agriculture though only 8% of the land is under cultivation; large fertile zones as yet untouched. The main food crops are maize, cassava, rice, sorghum, and beans. Most smallholders also grow one or more cash crops, including coffee, cotton, cashew nuts, and tobacco. Tea and sisal are the other main cash crops, though grown mostly on estates.

Many farmers also raise livestock, notably Zebu cattle along with sheep, goats, and poultry. There is also considerable potential for developing fishing offshore as well as sustainable exploitation of freshwater Nile perch in Lake Victoria.

In Zanzibar the main export crop is cloves, but agricultural productivity is low and output is not increasing fast enough to have an impact on poverty.

Most manufacturing is based on processing agricultural commodities. Previously this was dominated by state-owned companies, though now many of these have been privatized.

Tanzania has a number of promising mineral deposits, which include diamonds as well as iron ore, nickel, and phosphates. However the main source of income is gold. There are three main gold mines, owned by Ghanaian, South African, and Australian companies, which have seen a steady rise in production.

Another area for development is tourism to the nature reserves and Africa's two largest game parks, as well as to the ‘spice island’ of Zanzibar. But annual tourist arrivals, around half of which come from the EU, are only 200,000—far fewer than in neighbouring Kenya.

Julius Nyerere's influence

For the first quarter of a century after independence Tanzania was governed, first as prime minister and later as president, by Julius Nyerere. He was a hugely influential figure nationally and internationally. Nyerere's brand of African socialism had some social and political successes in Tanzania but also notable failures, including his attempts to concentrate people into villages and promote cooperative development of the land. When Nyerere retired in 1985 (he died in 1999), he was succeeded by Ali Hassan Mwinyi.


Subjects: Arts and Humanities.

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