A Brief History of Tanzania

Tanzania is home to some of the oldest hominid settlements, hence the nickname “cradle of mankind”. Hominid jaw fragments unearthed by archaeologists are thought to be 3.6 million  years old. 10’000 years ago hunter-gatherers were living in the area. It lies where routes link the sea with the great lakes (Victoria and Tanganyika).

1000 years ago trade with Roman subjects must have taken place as Roman coins were found. Portuguese captured the the island of Zanzibar in 1505.  Early 18th century the Arabs took over and  traders moved inland in search of slaves and ivory. Then came the Europeans, first exploring, then carving up Kenya and Tanzania between the British and Germany in 1886.

German East Africa – as Tanzania was called back then – was a fertile land for sisal, coffee and cotton.  The tribes profoundly resented the German presence and staged attacks against them. When reinforcement from Germany arrived in 1905 it didn’t take long to brutally squash the attacks. Only it didn’t stop there: the Germans destroyed villages, fields and grains; deliberately causing a famine that killed a quarter million people.

At the onset of the First World War the British took German East Africa. After the war treaty of Versailles they obtained a formal mandate to govern it and the name was changed to Tanganyika.

In 1964 Tanzania emerged as a republic with President Nyerere implementing socialist ideas. Education was soaring while creating cooperatives brought down productivity. When stepping down after 20 years he admitted that his economic policies had failed. He had however managed to keep  tribalism out of politics and the introduction of one common language (Kiswahili) helped bridging gaps.

Recent conflicts occurred in Zanzibar due to irregularities during election, when government forces killed 35 protesters and wounded 600 in 2001.

(photo Soaring Flamingo on Flickr)

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