Superlatives are unavoidable. There is simply no other African country – perhaps no other place in the world – that possesses a natural variety and largesse comparable to Tanzania. From the snow-capped majesty of Kilimanjaro, the highest freestanding mountain on earth, to the forested shores of Lake Tanganyika, the world’s longest, second-deepest and least-polluted freshwater body, this is a land of astonishing scenic beauty.

As for the wildlife – well, Tanzania is a singularly compelling safari destination. In the south, you have the Selous, the world’s largest game reserve. In the north, the sweeping plains of the Serengeti are justifiably the most famous park in Africa, while nearby Ngorongoro Crater is perhaps the most scenically dramatic. The remote west, meanwhile, is home to what Africa’s top chimpanzee tracking sites, namely Gombe Stream and Mahale Mountains. And while the eastern coastal belt is somewhat lacking in big game, compensation comes in the form of the forested Eastern Arc Mountains, home to dazzling diversity of birds, monkeys, chameleons and flowering plants found nowhere else in the world.  
As if that weren’t enough, there’s also the legendary ‘spice island’ of Zanzibar, the highlight of an Indian Ocean coastline studded with postcard-perfect beaches, mysterious ruined cities and modern-day settlements steeped in centuries of maritime trade with Asia and Arabia. Offshore, you’ll find reefs and islands inhabited by whales, dolphins, giant marine turtles, sharks, giant coconut crabs, and literally thousands of brightly coloured reef fish.
The Tanzanian interior embraces 120 distinct tribes, ranging from the iconic Maasai pastoralists of the Rift Valley to the Hadzabe hunter-gatherers of the Lake Eyasi basin and industrious Chagga agriculturists of the Kilimanjaro footslopes. Yet this remarkable cultural diversity has seldom been a source of modern conflict. On the contrary, mainland Tanzania, almost uniquely in Africa, has undergone a series of political transitions – from colonial dependency to independent nation, from socialist state to free-market economy, from benevolent dictatorship to fully-fledged democracy – without ever experiencing sustained civil or ethnic unrest.
The most scenic country in Africa? Quite possibly. The finest wildlife destination? Almost certainly. A beacon of tolerance and stability in an increasingly turbulent world? Without a doubt!

Facts & figures

came into being in 1964, when the mainland state of Tanganyika united with the offshore Zanzibar Archipelago.
Tanzania lies on the east African coast between 1° and 11°45' south, and 29°20' and 40°35' east. It is bordered by Kenya and Uganda to the north, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, and Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique to the south.

Extending over 945,166km2, it is one of the largest countries in sub-Saharan Africa, covering a greater area than Kenya and Uganda combined. In a global context, it is more than four times the size of Britain, and 1.5 times the size of Texas.
The nondescript small town of Dodoma has displaced Dar es Salaam as the official national capital, and is now where all parliamentary sessions are held. However, Dar es Salaam remains the capital in all but name – by far the largest and most important city, it is the site of most government departments, diplomatic missions and large businesses, as well as the main international airport.
The total population is estimated at around 40 million. The population of Dar es Salaam is estimated at 2.5 million, exceeding that of the country’s next 10 largest towns combined – which are, in descending order of size, Mwanza, Zanzibar Town, Morogoro, Mbeya, Tanga, Moshi, Dodoma, Arusha, Tabora and Iringa.
Roughly 120 tribes inhabit Tanzania, each speaking its own language. The most populous tribes are the Sukuma, Haya, Chagga, Nyamwezi, Makonde, Hehe and Gogo. None comprises as much as 10% of the total population.
In the mid-1980s, Tanzania ranked with among the five poorest countries in the world. Since then, things have improved dramatically, to the extent that Tanzania is no longer listed among the world’s 20 poorest countries.
The economic mainstay is subsistence agriculture. But Tanzania is also Africa’s third-largest gold producer after South Africa and Ghana, and the only known source of the gem Tanzanite. Tourism generates almost a billion USD in annual foreign revenue, a tenfold increase since 1990.
Tanzania is the site of Africa’s highest and fifth highest mountains, Kilimanjaro and Meru. In addition, the continent’s largest three water bodies, Lakes Victoria, Tanganyika and Nyasa-Malawi, all lie partially within Tanzania. Ngorongoro is the world’s largest intact volcanic caldera, while the more northerly Ol Doinyo Lengai is said to be the most active volcano on the African mainland. 
Roughly 25% of Tanzania’s surface area is accorded some form of official conservation status, and it’s been estimated that the country supports something like 20% of Africa’s large mammal biomass.
The Selous is the largest game reserve in Africa, and home to the largest extant populations of elephant, buffalo, sable antelope and African wild dog, while Serengeti in the north is the setting for an annual migration involving more than two million wildebeest and other ungulates. In terms of rarities, however, the jewel in Tanzania’s crown is the Eastern arc Mountains, whose endemic-rich forests are ranked among the world top 20 biodiversity hotspots.   

Historical timeline

6 – 1.5 million years ago
Fossil evidence at Olduvai Gorge and other sites in Kenya and Ethiopia suggests that the Rift Valley was inhabited by several species of Australopithecus, Homo and possibly other hominid genera.
1.5 million years ago Homo erectus, credited with the discovery of fire and the first use of stone tools and speech, becomes the first hominid to cross from Africa into Europe and Asia.
500,000 years ago Modern man Homo sapiens appears on the fossil record.

8-1000 bc
East Africa is populated by Khoisan-like hunter-gatherers whose art still adorns the rockscapes of central Tanzania. Intermittent contact between Ancient Egypt and the East African coast is established circa 2500 bc, when a naval explorer returns to the Pharaonic court with ivory, ebony and myrrh from a land called Punt.

1st millennium bc
The Tanzanian interior is populated by Bantu-speakers, whose familiarity with Iron Age technology helps them gain dominance over their hunter-gatherer forbears. Phoenicians explore the coast circa 600bc, entering into trade with a port called Rhapta, which probably lay on the Pangani or Rufiji estuary in present-day Tanzania.
1st millennium ad Trade between the Swahili Coast and Persian Gulf is established by the 9th century ad, when East Africa’s earliest known Islamic buildings were built.
11th century 
KiSwahili, a simplified Bantu language with many Arabic elements, spreads along most of the coast between Mogadishu (Somalia) and Sofala (Mozambique), following a domestic trade route used to transport gold mined in present-day Zimbabwe to a port closer to Arabia.
13-15th century As Persian naval technology improves, so does the centre of maritime trade move further south, leading to the establishment of around 30 Swahili city-states on the East Africa coast. The most important of these is Kilwa (in southern Tanzania), a gold-reading emporium that was regularly visited by Arabic and Asian merchant ships.
1505 The Portuguese, having rounded the Cape in 1499, capture Kilwa, Mombasa and several other coastal ports. Under Portuguese control the gold trade collapses and the economy stagnates.
1827 Sultan Said of Oman selects Zanzibar as his East African base, partly because of its proximity to Bagamoyo, the terminus of a caravan route to Lake Tanganyika). He establishes several Omani clove plantations, impervious to the land claims of local inhabitants.
Sultan Said relocates his personal capital from Oman to Zanzibar. By this time, Said and his Omani cronies control all aspects of local trade, which is dominated by the export of slaves captured in the interior, some 40,000 of which are sold from Zanzibar annually.
Ngoni exiles from Zululand (South Africa) enter southern Tanzania and attack resident tribes using revolutionary Zulu military tactics. Soon after, astute local chiefs such as Mirambo and Mkwawa use similar tactics to forge larger kingdoms and to extract taxes and guns from passing Arab slave traders. In 1848, the German missionary Johan Rebmann becomes the first European to see Kilimanjaro, and is ridiculed for his report of a snow cap on the Equator.
1855 Another German missionary, James Erhardt, produces a map of Africa based on third-hand Arab accounts. Wildly inaccurate, this map places a slug-shaped lake in the heart of the continent, creating a renewed surge of curiosity about the source of the White Nile.
1858 The Scots missionary David Livingstone, having already become the first European to cross the Kalahari Desert and to see Victoria Falls, stumbles across Lake Nyasa-Malawi (part of which lies in present-day southern Tanzania). He becomes an outspoken critic of the slave trade, which is rife in the Nyasa hinterland. In the same year, Richard Burton and John Speke become the first Europeans to lay eyes on Lake Tanganyika. Speke continues north to Lake Victoria, which he controversially nominates as the source of Nile.
1867-73 Livingstone spends the last six years of his life wandering between the great lakes, making notes on the slave trade and trying to locate the source of the Nile, settling incorrectly on Zambia’s Lake Bangweulu. In 1872, Henry Stanley locates the recuperating Livingstone at Ujiji, uttering the famous phrase: ‘Dr Livingstone, I presume’. A year later, Livingstone’s emotional funeral at Westminster Abbey catalyses the anti-slaving lobby, and Sultan Barghash of Zanzibar outlaws the slave trade in exchange for British protection against foreign powers. A church is built over Zanzibar’s slave market.
1880s As the so-called Scramble for Africa heats up, Britain and Germany negotiate a territorial partition identical to the modern border between Kenya and Tanzania. In 1888, the German East Africa Company places agencies at most coastal settlements north of Dar es Salaam, demanding heavy taxes from traders. In September, a sugar plantation owner called Abushiri Ibn Salim leads an uprising, and the German agents at most ports are killed or driven away. In April 1889, German troops capture Abushiri and hang him in Pangani.
1890s The population of the new German colony decreases as a result of a series of natural disasters: a rinderpest epidemic, followed by an outbreak of smallpox, destructive locust plagues, and droughts and famines. Militarily, German attention is focussed on the Hehe (around present-day Iringa), who successfully ambush a German battalion led by Emil Zalewski in 1891. The Hehe chief Mkwawa shoots himself rather than face capture by the Germans in 1898.
1905-6 The southeast rises against German rule in the Maji-Maji Rebellion, a name that refers to a belief that water (‘maji’ in Swahili) anointed by the spirit-leader called Kinjikitile rendered one immune to bullet fire. After the rebellion is quelled, the Germans try to flush the ringleaders by inducing a famine that leads to 250,000 deaths. Following public outcry in Germany, a relatively altruistic new administration creates an incentive-based scheme for African farmers, leading to a threefold increase in exports over the years leading up to leading up to World War One.
1914-8 The Allies capture German East Africa. The League of Nations mandates the Ruanda-Urundi District (now Rwanda and Burundi) to Belgium and the rest of the colony, re-named Tanganyika, to Britain.
1939-45 Tanganyika has no direct involvement in World War II, but benefits economically as rocketing international food prices lead trade revenue to increase sixfold between 1939 and 1949 – this despite the disastrous and costly Groundnut Scheme of 1947, which fails miserably in transforming southeast Tanganyika into a large-scale mechanised groundnut producer.
The call for independence is led by some of the 100,000 indigenous Tanganyikans who fought for European democracy in World War II, yet returned home to find themselves victims of racist and non-democratic policies in a British colony. In 1954, Julius Nyerere, a 34-year-old graduate of Edinburgh University, becomes president of TANU, advocating a peaceful transformation to self-government.
Tanganyika is granted full independence under Nyerere on 9 December 1961. Not one life was lost in the transition. Zanzibar, until then a British protectorate, is granted full independence in December 1963. A month later, the Arab government of Zanzibar is toppled in a bloody coup. In April 1964, Tanganyika and Zanzibar merge to become the United Republic of Tanzania. TANU will later merge with the Zanzibari ASP to form the CCM, which rules Tanzania to this day.
Early 1970s A staunch socialist, Nyerere embarks on a policy of villagization, encouraging rural people to form Ujamaa (familyhood) villages and collective farms. Initial small-scale success leads Nyerere to forcibly re-settle people who had not yet formed villages. By the end of 1975, some 65% of rural Tanzanians lived in Ujamaa villages. In many areas, however, water or food supplies were inadequate, and the policy was abandoned as a costly failed experiment.
Late 1970s An outspoken critic of white supremacist policies in South Africa and what was then Rhodesia, Nyerere pulled out of an OAU conference held in Idi Amin’s Uganda in 1975 on the basis it gave “respectability to one of the most murderous regimes in Africa”. Following Amin’s annexation of part of northwest Tanzania, Nyerere invaded Uganda in 1979. Amin was toppled.
Tanzania had become an economic disaster as a result of several factors: drought, Ujamaa, rising fuel prices, lack of foreign aid, corruption in state-run institutions, and the high cost of the war with Uganda. As a result, Nyerere retired in 1985, to be succeeded by Ali Hassan Mwinyi, who abandons socialism to a three-year Economic Recovery Plan in alliance with the IMF, since when Tanzania has achieved a real-term average annual growth rate of around 4%.
1995-now The first multi-party election takes place in October, returning the CCM with a majority of around 75% under the leadership of Benjamin Mpaka, who is succeeded by Jakaya Kikwete in 2005.

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