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Tanzania Marks 50th Anniversary

  • Zlatica Hoke

On April 26, 1964, shortly after gaining independence from Britain, two countries in the Great Lakes region — coastal Tanganyika and the Zanzibar archipelago — merged to form a single nation.

Later that same year, the two combined portions of their respective names — "Tan" from Tanganyika and "Zan" from Zanzibar — to become Tanzania, the eastern African country that marks its 50th anniversary on Saturday.

Drawn by the pristine waters and fine sand beaches of Zanzibar island, one of the world's last open slave trade markets, tourists from around the globe have come to learn about darker aspects of the country's history.

"People used to make a lot of money through slave trade, and people became really wealthy," says tour guide Abdullah Suleiman Abdullah. "And slaves used to work very hard in the spice plantation until 1873, when the trade was abolished."

Today, gold production and tourism are Tanzania's economic backbone, but the country is working to diversify. This past week, the capital, Dar es Salam, hosted an information and communications technology summit where regional government and industry representatives discuss opportunities.

"ICT is very important in development and social development of our people," said Tanzanian communications minister Makame Mbarawa. "Everything has changed now. Anything you want to do, you have to do with ICT [information and communications technology]. ICT is not just a tool, ICT itself is a very important tool for social and economic development."

But as the weak government struggles to pull the nation out of poverty, increasing violence by radical Islamists may discourage tourists from visiting Tanzania's great national parks and attractive coastline.

Once an island of religious tolerance, Zanzibar has seen a spate of church burnings and violent attacks in recent months. During his regular morning run, moderate Muslim cleric Sheikh Fadhil Soraga was attacked with acid by an unidentified assailant.

"When I was coming across him, he threw me an acid, on my face," he said. "He targeted the eyes. Of course, he got them, and the acid fell straight from the eyes, and down the neck, burning the chest. It was a very, very serious attack on me."

As they celebrate their country's anniversary, some Tanzanians worry about the future of their country.

Analysts say that radical Islam has not taken hold in Tanzania, but warn that an unstable government, poverty and unemployment could turn many young people to extremism.

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