Today, I have learned the following facts about Tanzania.
1. The island of Zanzibar is part of Tanzania. It’s the Zan in Tanzania. It’s true that in the past it has been a different country (the mainland part of Tanzania was called Tanganyika, hence the portmanteau) but it is not now a different country. Incidentally, if you’re trying to find Tanzania on a map of Africa, it’s on the east coast in about the middle, right after the continent cuts in and gets narrow. (Yesterday’s country, Comoros, is about even with Tanzania’s southern border but out in the ocean, being a volcanic archepelago.)
2. Tanzania has been settled by humans for at least 4000 years. Although Portugal tried to run Zanzibar as a colony starting in about 1500, it never had a great grip on the region, and in around 1600 the locals appealed to Oman for help driving out the Portugese. Oman then treated it as kind of a protectorate until about 1840, when Oman decided to be a lot more hands on – they enslaved something like 90% of the island’s population, about 1.5 million Africans. This was actually a side effect of Britain putting pressure on the Omani sultanate starting in about the 1820s to get rid of slavery. Oman figured they could be tricky and sign treates about North African and West African slavery, while making up for it with all these new East African slaves. Britain figured this out and eventually got mad enough that by 1890 they were ready to completely blockade Zanzibar. They took it over as a protectorate. Meanwhile, Germany had taken over Tanganyika. Which they had to sign over to Britain and Belgium after WWI. Anyway, the two parts achieved their independence in 1961 and 1963, and merged and became Tanzania.
3. By the way, “the spice islands” = Zanzibar
4. The Serengeti? That’s about a third of mainland Tanzania. I don’t know whether, like me, you’ve always looked at pictures of that big dry-looking grassland and wondered how on earth it supports the number of animals it does. It doesn’t look “rich” like a rainforest, if you take my meaning. WELL apparently it is much more nutrient-rich grass than the grass I have probably been around, thanks to a lot of volcanic activity stretching way back which left a lot of mineral/ash deposits in the soil. It’s, like, the Spiderman of grass.
5. Lake Victoria and Mount Kilamanjaro: in Tanzania.
6. Over 130 languages are spoken in Tanzania. There’s not an official language, although in practice it’s Swahili. It’s kind of like how the U.S. doesn’t officially say you need to speak English but most people do. But unlike the U.S., only about 10% of Swahili speakers in Tanzania speak it as their first language. About 90% of them speak something else at home.
7. Despite immense ethnic diversity within Tanzania, there’s very little inter-ethnic strife. The effectively one-party socialist government has always insisted on the idea of a pan-African identity which supercedes ethnic ties. You know, like being able to celebrate Cinco de Mayo or St Patrick’s Day without it being un-American. I obviously love this.
8. They’re very anti-gay. In surveys something like 95% of the people say homosexuality is morally wrong, which implies that a lot of gay people there either also believe this or don’t feel safe saying otherwise. Homosexual men in particular can face a life sentence in prison if they’re caught.
9. Also, it’s not a safe place to be albino, because there is a subset of witch doctors who will try to murder albino people to use them as ingredients. This is especially alarming because albinism isn’t all that rare in Tanzania. Although worldwide only 1 in 20,000 people is albino, in Tanzania it’s more like 1 in 1400. The government is fighting to turn this around, both by arresting witch doctors and by providing extra protection to people with albinism, but the situation is far from resolved.
10. At least 30% of the house of representatives has to be female.
11. Tanzania has a strong relationship with the U.S. and with Japan. They contribute more than 2000 soldiers and personnel to current UN peacekeeping efforts.
12. Malnutrition is a major problem. The only country that has it worse, as far as we know, is Burundi. A lot of the problem seems to be water supply problems and supply chain difficulties. Not easy problems to solve.
13. They’ve started building out a fiber optic network.