First colour TV in Africa and a hotbed of financial inclusion: 10 facts about Tanzania ahead of major elections

Because of its political stability, it is one of Africa's less talked about countries, but like a duck, it is paddling mightily under the surface.

AS TENSIONS rise ahead of Tanzania elections on October 25, this quiet (by African standards) giant has the media glare focused intently on it. Even though the country is the most populous in East Africa, it rarely steals the limelight from its more tempestuous neighbours - such as the Democratic Republic of Congo - or fast-growing economies Kenya and Rwanda. 

Surprisingly so —after digging beneath the surface, this country unveils an incredibly interesting past, ambitiously roaring past its neighbours in some areas. It’s almost like a duck - the feet may be paddling mightily underwater, without causing too much of a ripple on the surface.

Here are 10 insights on one of Africa’s less talked about but significant countries: 

1—Tanzania has its fingers in two nice pots - it is the only country in East Africa which also is a member of the Southern African Development Community. This means the country is able to benefit from being a hub of trade for the landlocked SADC members, including the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Malawi and Zambia.

2—Tanzania is the only African nation to possess a dual-government structure, a lopsided arrangement that falls short of being a fully-fledged federation. The island of Zanzibar retains its own executive, legislature, and judicial system, while a parliament in Dodoma and a president in Dar es Salaam take decisions for both the mainland and the Union as a whole.

The island of Zanzibar is also particularly interesting, with a couple of firsts that pre-date the mainland: 

3—Zanzibar was the first place in Africa to introduce colour television – in 1973. Mainland Tanzania did not introduce it until some 20 years later, in 1994. 

4—Zanzibar was also the location of the first steam locomotive in East Africa (1881). It was introduced for the Sultan’s private railway from the city to his summer palace. Initially the two Pullman cars were hauled by mules but in 1881 the Sultan ordered an 0-4-0 tank locomotive from Bagnall. The railway saw service until the Sultan died in 1888 when the track and locomotive were scrapped. 

5—You can’t talk about Tanzania without mentioning Mt. Kilimanjaro. Standing at 20,000 feet, it is the tallest mountain on the African continent and the highest free-standing mountain in the world. It has three volcanic cones, Mawenzi, Shira and Kibo. Mawenzi and Shira are extinct but Kibo, the highest peak, is dormant and could erupt again. Almost every kind of ecological system is to be found on the mountain: cultivated land, rain forest, heath, moorland, alpine desert and an arctic summit.

6—Despite not being known for its technological prowess (there were 11.3 million internet users in 2014 in a population of nearly 50 million), Tanzania was the first African country to apply the new Open Data Readiness Assessment methodology in June 2013. “Open data” is that provided without charge and with open access to the public, and which can be freely used, reused, and redistributed. 

Since then, other African countries, including Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, and Ethiopia, have also embarked upon their own open data initiatives.

7—According to the Global Microscope (2014) by The Economist Intelligence Unit, Tanzania is the first country in sub-Saharan Africa and ninth globally for demonstrating the most conducive environments for financial inclusion. According to the study, the country is ahead of others in financial services deepening as a wide range of institutions including banks, non-bank financial institutions, businesses and NGOs reach out to traditionally underserved populations through non-traditional channels.

Tanzania is known as being a hotbed of incredible wildlife…but here are some lesser known tidbits… 

8— Tanzania is the only country in the world that has allocated nearly 28% of its total land area for wildlife conservation, which include the World Heritage Sites. There are 12 national parks, 17 game reserves, 50 game-controlled areas, a conservation area, two marine parks and two marine reserves. 

9—It is host to the Gombe Stream Research Centre - home to the world’s most studied group of wild chimpanzees. The Gombe Stream Research Centre was founded in 1965 to advance Jane Goodall’s revolutionary findings about chimpanzee tool-making and other behaviour.

10—Zanzibar is the only place where you can find the Zanzibar Red Colobus monkey, also known as Kirk’s red colobus after Sir John Kirk, the British Resident of Zanzibar who first brought it to the attention of  the zoological science. It is now classified as an endangered species with less than 2,000 individuals. 

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