Tanzania: Politics, Economy & Culture (1945-Present)

Tanzania: Politics, Economy & Culture (1945-Present)
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  • 0:02 Two Countries, Many…
  • 1:20 But One Government
  • 3:27 Economy of Tanzania
  • 4:33 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Born from the unity of a former German colony and a former Arab sultanate, Tanzania started its independence heavily leaning towards socialism, but is now coming around to more free market views on economics.

Two Countries, Many Ethnicities

Many countries throughout Africa were based on the earlier colonial boundaries drawn by the Europeans more than 100 years ago. Few countries actually sought to unify with a society that was completely different than their own. However, that's exactly what Tanzania did. Tanzania has two distinct parts, mainland Tanzania and Zanzibar, a group of islands just off the coast. Mainland Tanzania, once called Tanganyika, and Zanzibar had considerable differences, many of which persist to this day.

Dozens of ethnic groups exist in the mainland, whereas Zanzibar is largely comprised of the descendants of earlier Muslim merchants, from Arabia and Persia, who married local women. This difference is best seen in the importance of language. While both English and Swahili are official languages of Tanzania, many more people speak Swahili. Swahili is the native language of Zanzibar, as well as major cities on the coast of the mainland, as the language was originally used for trade. Further, inland, however, both Swahili and English are foreign, compared to the more than 50 native languages that are used throughout the area.

But One Government

So why did these two areas merge? Both countries underwent serious changes during the 1950s, and by 1961, were independent. Within a few years, the Zanzibaris had overthrown the sultanate, establishing the People's Republic of Zanzibar and Pemba. However, this lasted only a few months before the two countries merged into one. Called Tanzania, with the first two syllables invoking the names of each part of the new country, it came as a shock to many people. Why in the world would two African countries, with so little, relatively speaking, in common, seek to create a nation together?

The answer was relatively simple: Pan-Africanism. The leadership of both countries felt that Africans could overcome the disadvantages of different ethnic groups, instead focusing towards common goals. Also important to note is the role of the elites in each region. On the mainland, the rich tended to live towards the coast, as trade was much more lucrative than herding and farming. As a result, they spoke Swahili and admired the cosmopolitan culture of Zanzibar. This helped to ease the transition to union.

However, the system still allowed considerable self-government by each component part. After all, Zanzibar had a much more Middle Eastern cultural identity, while the mainland was thoroughly African. Court systems were, and are still today, independent of each other except for the highest levels, and both regions have their own legislative assemblies, in addition to the larger, national one.

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