Tanzania Human and Economic Geography

By | June 6, 2022

With a population of 26,700,000 residents (1993), divided into 120 different tribes but today speaking the same national language, Kiswahili, scattered over a vast territory and concentrated above all on the periphery (as the most fertile soils and the best climates are those of the coastal areas, of the volcanic hills in the Kilimanjaro region and those of the lakes region), the country has tried to develop the region in 1973, moving the capital from Dār es-Salāām to Dodoma, on the internal plateau: this choice was purely formal until the mid-1980s, as only in 1985 did the new capital begin to actually take on some of the fundamental administrative functions. The policy of concentrating the rural population in a more limited number of inhabited centers, which should have operated along the lines of “ African socialism ” (ujamaa), has been abandoned since 1985 with the resignation of Nyerere.

According to Homosociety, currently more than 90% of the rural population lives dispersed in many small villages poorly equipped with means of connection; the old coastal capital, Dār es-Salāām, has a population of 1,360,850 residents (1988) and Dodoma reached 203,833 residents. The country’s economy experienced serious difficulties in the seventies and eighties and still does not seem to have managed to find its vitality. The primary sector, which employs 80% of the active population and which supplies almost all of the exported goods (but only 2.9% of the total area is cultivated and only 2% irrigated), is in serious difficulty due to inconstancy of the climate, the scarcity of fertilizers and means of transport and limited technical assistance.

Food production (corn, millet, sorghum, cassava, rice and vegetables), which in the years of drought falls far below the country’s needs, is based on small family farms gathered in inefficient cooperatives. Commercial agriculture, controlled by the state, is at the mercy of price fluctuations on the world market. Coffee cultivation, concentrated in the high areas around Moshi and Arusha, is in decline (590,000 q in 1993); the export of coffee is quoted annually by the International Coffee Organization (ICO). Cotton, after a period of expansion in the early 1980s, is gradually decreasing (730,000 q of fiber in 1992). Cloves, once grown mainly in Zanzibar and today mainly in Pemba, cover 2/3 of the world demand. Agave sisalana, tobacco, cashew, sugar cane, coconut, pyrethrum and peanuts offer limited prospects for expansion.

The industries (textiles, machinery, construction materials) are almost all supported by foreign technical and financial assistance; a refinery built by ENI is in operation in Dār es-Salāām. Most of the electricity is produced by some hydroelectric power plants built on the Ruaha and Pangani rivers. Mining has dropped to insignificant levels.

Internal communications are lacking: the most important railway lines are the one that connects the coast with Ujiji on Lake Tanganyika passing through the capital (with a derivation for Mwanza, on Lake Victoria), still built under the Germanic administration, and the line that from Dār es-Salāām reaches the mining region of Zambia, built by the Chinese in 1974. The two most important roads are the one parallel to the railway to Zambia and the one, completed in 1985, which connects the new capital with the old one. The port of Dār es-Salāām has lost much of its international functions since Zambia resumed using Mozambique’s ports.

Tourism is very limited due to the decline of the accommodation facilities. Foreign trade, which is highly passive, sees the United Kingdom in first place among suppliers, followed by Japan, Germany and Italy.

Population and society

Like many African states, Tanzania has 120 ethnic groups without problems of coexistence and hegemony due to the great fragmentation. One of the majority ethnic groups, the Bantu one, for historical reasons, is influenced by the Arab culture, as evidenced by the spoken language, Swahili, which is a Bantu language with Arabic contributions. The reflections of the colonial era are still found today in the widespread use of the English language and in the circumstance that about 35% of the population is Christian. This percentage is similar to that of Muslims, a legacy of the long Arab and Persian domination, especially on the east coast, prior to the period of colonization. The island of Zanzibar is a case in itself, since it was the seat for almost a century – until the unification with Tanganyika – of an important sultanate linked to Oman and, even today, almost all the residents of the island are Muslim. President Nyerere had endowed the country with a so-called structure ujamaa (‘extended family’ in Swahili), the basis of rural African socialism. This system, which is based on the equal rights and equality of the individuals who formed the Ujamaa communities, has reduced the divisions within the state to the utmost. The Tanzanian population, like most African peoples, has a high rate of HIV infections: according to estimates for 2012, 5.1% of the adult population is affected.

Tanzania Demography