to the 19th century AD
In the uncharted centuries of
prehistory, Tanzania is criss-crossed by tribal trade routes linking the
Great Lakes (Victoria and Tanganyika) with the coast. These are the same
routes along which Arab traders subsequently move inland, searching for
slaves and ivory.
In a second wave of penetration by outsiders, Europeans use Bagamoyo
(opposite Zanzibar) as their starting point for exploration inland.
Burton and Speke do so in 1856, as does Stanley in 1871 and again in
1874. But the most significant visitor to the region turns out to be
Karl Peters, a young man with a feverish enthusiasm for the notion of a
Peters, with two companions, spends a few weeks at the end of 1884
moving at frantic speed within the sultan of Zanzibar's mainland
territories. The trio arrive in each new region with blank treaty forms
and German flags. They fill in the local chief's name and persuade him
to make his mark on the document and to run up a flag. Then they move
on. Grievously under-equipped and soon short of food, they only just
manage to make their way back to the coast.
But Peters, returning to Berlin, has an exciting proposition to put to
Bismarck - who is himself in high imperial mood, with his Berlin
colonial conference still in progress. A German east African colony,
Peters tells him, is there for the taking.
In February 1885 Bismarck grants Peters a charter for an East African
protectorate, but the fact is kept secret until the colonial conference
has ended. Meanwhile Peters recruits more agents in Africa to continue
the work of distributing treaty forms. Their instructions are to be
schnell, kühn, rücksichtslos (swift, daring, ruthless).
When the sultan of Zanzibar hears of the proposed protectorate on his
territory, he sends a protest to the German emperor. It reaches Berlin
in May. Bismarck asks Peters what the response should be. Peters replies
that there is a lagoon facing the sultan's palace in Zanzibar, deep
enough for warships to anchor in.
German-British carve up: AD 1885-1886
On 7 August 1885 five German warships steam into the lagoon of Zanzibar
and train their guns on the sultan's palace. They have arrived with a
demand from Bismarck that Sultan Barghash cede to the German emperor his
mainland territories or face the consequences.
But in the age of the telegram, gunboat diplomacy is no longer a local
matter. This crisis is immediately on desks in London. Britain, eager
not to offend Germany, suggests a compromise. The two nations should
mutually agree spheres of interest over the territory stretching inland
to the Great Lakes. This plan is accepted before August is out.
The embarrassed British consul finds himself under orders from London to
persuade the sultan to sign an agreement ceding the lion's share of his
mainland territory, with the details still to be decided. In September
the German gunship's begin their journey home. A joint Anglo-German
boundary commission starts work in the interior.
By November 1886 the task is done and the result is agreed with the
other main colonial power, France. The sultan is left a strip ten miles
wide along the coast. Behind that a line is drawn to Mount Kilimanjaro
and on to Lake Victoria at latitude 1° S. The British sphere of
influence is to be to the north, the German to the south. The line
remains to this day the border between Kenya and Tanzania.
German East Africa: AD
The administration of the territory in the agreement of 1886 is handed
over to Karl Peters' German East Africa Company. The company extends its
territory to the sea from 1888, by buying a lease of the coastal strip
which was left in the sultan of Zanzibar's possession. But local
resentment leads to a Muslim uprising in that year which is only
suppressed after the arrival of German troops (assisted on this occasion
by the British navy).
The inadequacy of the company causes the German government to take
direct control in 1891. But Karl Peters retains his involvement, being
appointed imperial commissioner.
There follow two decades in which the German authorities make
considerable efforts to develop their east African colony. A railway is
built from Dar es Salaam to Tabora and then on to Ujiji. New crops, such
as sisal and cotton, are introduced and prove very successful - as also
is the development of coffee plantations on the slopes of Mount
But this energetic German presence is profoundly resented by the African
tribes, particularly when the harsh methods of forced labour are used in
the cultivation of the new and alien crops. The result, in 1905, is a
widespread popular rebellion which becomes known as the Maji-Maji
Maji is the Swahili for 'water'. The rising gets its name because the
belief spreads among the African workers that a magic potion of water,
castor oil and millet seeds can turn German bullets to water. In August
1905 the drums begin to broadcast the news that cotton plants are being
pulled up rather than tended, in a symbolic gesture of resistance.
The excitement spreads throughout much of the colony, as people drink
the potion and set off on a rampage wearing headbands woven from the
stalks of millet, the indigenous crop. Soon, inevitably, there are
murderous attacks on Germans and the burning of their houses.
Reinforcements arrive from Germany in October 1905, by which time many
of the Maji-Maji have already begun to discover that German bullets do
not turn to water. The German commander, General von Götzen, uses a
strategy hardly more humane than that of his colleague von Trotha in
Namibia, whose brutality has caused an international outcry only a year
Von Götzen decides that in the long term only famine will bring these
rebellious workers to heel. He instructs his troops to move through the
country destroying crops, removing or burning any grain already
harvested, and putting entire villages to the torch.
It is estimated that about 250,000 Africans die in the resulting famine.
German East Africa, like German South West Africa, acquires in its early
years a besmirched colonial record. Meanwhile Karl Peters, the
originator of this colony, has in 1897 been tried and convicted in a
Potsdam court for brutal offences committed in Africa. They include his
response to the suspicion that one of his servants may have slept with
his African mistress. The young girl is flogged and then both are
These scandals shock Berlin sufficiently for reforms in colonial policy
to be hastily put in place. But any likely benefit is cut short by the
onset of World War I. Early in 1916 British forces move south from Kenya
to occupy German East Africa.
British Mandate: AD
After the end of the war the treaty of Versailles, in 1919, grants
Britain a League of Nations mandate to govern the former German East
Africa - which now acquires a new name, Tanganyika.
British policy from the 1920s onwards is to encourage indigenous African
administration along traditional lines, through local councils and
courts. A legislative council is also established in Dar es Salaam, but
African members are not elected to this until after World War II. By
then local political development is an obligation under the terms of UN
trusteeship, in which Britain places Tanganyika in 1947.
During the 1950s a likely future leader of Tanganyika emerges in the
person of Julius Nyerere. Son of a chief, a convert to Roman Catholicism
while studying at Makerere college in Uganda, then an undergraduate for
three years in Edinburgh university, Nyerere returns to Tanganyika in
He immediately founds a political party, TANU or the Tanganyika African
National Union (evolving it from an earlier and defunct Tanganyika
African Association). From the start its members feature prominently in
elections to the legislative assembly. When independence follows, in
1961, Nyerere becomes the new nation's prime minister. In 1962
Tanganyika adopts a republican constitution and Nyerere is elected
Republic of Tanzania: AD
In 1964 Nyerere reaches an agreement with Abeid Karume, president of the
offshore island of Zanzibar which has been so closely linked in its
history to the mainland territory of Tanganyika. The two presidents sign
an act of union, bringing their nations together as the United Republic
of Tanzania. Nyerere becomes president of the new state, with Karume as
Nyerere, by instinct an idealistic socialist, guides his country along
lines which often have a utopian touch. Local self-sufficiency is
emphasized. Traditional and simple solutions are sought for local
problems rather than relying on technological foreign imports. Great
importance is placed on education and literacy, in which excellent
results are achieved.
Nyerere declares his political creed in a document of 1967 known as the
Arusha Declaration. This announces the introduction of a socialist state
and is accompanied by the nationalization of key elements in the
economy. With such policies Nyerere inevitably has to rely on help from
the eastern bloc, and in particular China. Nevertheless he is able to
maintain his declared international stance of non-alignment.
The Arusha Declaration puts agriculture at the centre of the national
economy and introduces a programme of 'villagization' - meaning the
moving of peasant families into cooperative villages where they can
supposedly work together more productively.
As elsewhere where such cooperatives have been tried (in particular Mao
Tse-tung's China, a source of inspiration to Nyerere), they prove both
unpopular and inefficient. When Nyerere relinquishes executive power
voluntarily in 1985 (a rare act in modern African history, and certainly
one with no appeal to Mao), he admits that his economic policies have
But in his twenty-three years in office he has established an impressive
reputation as an independent and free-thinking African statesman -
willing to sever relations with the UK (1965-8) because of British
acceptance of racist Rhodesia and South Africa, but also taking on the
OAU (as when he recognizes Biafra's secession in 1968).
Chama Cha Mapinduzi: from AD
From 1965 each part of the union has only one political party, but they
are different parties - TANU in Tanganyika and ASP (Afro-Shirazi Party)
in Zanzibar. In 1977 they merge as the CCM or Chama Cha Mapinduzi
When Nyerere stands down as president, in 1985, he remains chairman of
the CCM and as such retains an important voice in the formulation of
general policy. For the executive post of president the party puts
forward only one candidate, Ali Hassan Mwinyi. However, by the early
1990s there is irresistible pressure - here as elsewhere in Africa - for
the introduction of multiparty democracy.
President Mwinyi promulgates a new democratic constitution in 1992, with
the stipulation that political parties will only be registered if they
are active in both Tanganyika and Zanzibar and if they are not
identified with specific religious, regional, tribal or racial groups.
Elections are held in 1995. The CCM just wins in Zanzibar, where
opposition anger at electoral malpractice disrupts polital life for the
rest of the decade. In Tanganyika the CCM candidate Benjamin Mkapa is
elected president of the union, but only after all his rivals have
withdrawn from the race alleging ballot-rigging.
During the 1990s very great strain is placed on an already impoverished
Tanzania by the ethnic conflicts over the border in Rwanda and Burundi.
During a single 24-hour period in 1994 as many as 250,000 Rwandan
refugees stream into Tanzania. Eventually the total is 550,000 from
Rwanda and 100,000 from Burundi. Many of them are still in Tanzania at
the end of the decade.
In Dar es Salaam a hopeful sign is the progress of an anti-corruption
campaign launched by President Mkapa. In 1997 more than 1500 civil
servants are dismissed on these grounds.