Last Updated: Thursday, 30 July 2015, 14:54 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - United Republic of Tanzania : Overview

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2007
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - United Republic of Tanzania : Overview, 2007, available at: [accessed 1 August 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Tanzania borders Kenya and Uganda in the north, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Malawi in the west, and Mozambique in the south. It encompasses large portions of Lakes Victoria, Tanganyika and Nyasa, and has a long coastline along the Indian Ocean. The islands of Zanzibar (Unguja and Pemba) are just offshore, to the north of Dar es Salaam. Zanzibar and the coastal lowlands are hot and humid, while the higher central plateau has a climate and soils more suitable to farming. Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest peak, sits amid the north-east highlands. The mountain and the country's famous wildlife parks make Tanzania a favoured destination for tourists in Africa.


Main languages: Swahili/Kiunguja (official), English, Arabic (widely spoken in Zanzibar), 120 others

Main religions: Mainland: traditional beliefs 35%, Islam 35%, Christianity 30%, Hinduism; Zanzibar: over 99% Islam

There are more than 100 ethno-linguistic groups, including Barabaig, Hadza/Hadzabe, 800 (Ethnologue, 2000) and Shirazi and Zanzibar Arabs 985,000 (2.9%).

[Source for demographic data: unless otherwise stated, CIA World Factbook 2006, with exception of figures for the population of Zanzibar, which are taken from Tanzania's 2002 Population and Housing Census. This does not provide information on ethnicity, language or religion]

Tanzania features rich ethnic diversity with around 120 linguistic groups. Most Tanzanians are agriculturalists but there are several pastoralist groups (notably Maasai and Tatoga) as well as small numbers of hunter-gatherers.


A millennium of Arab and Persian settlement on the islands and the coast, as well as the ravages of the slave trade in which Zanzibar played a prominent role, have left a major fault line in Tanzanian society between the mainland and Zanzibar. Tensions between Christians and Muslims have also emerged in what has traditionally been a fairly tolerant and politically secular society.

Despite these recent tensions, Tanzania has largely avoided the severe internal conflicts of many of its neighbours, as well as the corresponding development of politics along ethnic lines. Tanganyika (mainland Tanzania) gained independence in 1961 and Zanzibar (the offshore islands of Unguja and Pemba) in 1963, the new government in Zanzibar being overthrown almost immediately in a revolutionary uprising. The countries merged to form Tanzania in 1964, while retaining separate administrations and separate versions of one-party rule. Differences exacerbated by despotic practices in Zanzibar were reduced when the ruling parties were merged and a new constitution promulgated in 1977. However, the dual administration was largely retained. In 1992 opposition parties were permitted and elections were held in 1995.


After independence, President Julius Nyerere's Arusha Declaration of 1967 proclaimed a socialist policy that notably included the establishment of ujamaa (communal) villages. The government forcibly implemented 'Villagization' from 1974 with disastrous consequences for the peasant economy and society. The policy also incorporated a system of pervasive political control which may have contributed to the stability of the country, though without significantly ameliorating economic problems and mounting indebtedness.

From 1986 the Tanzanian government adopted liberal economic policies proposed by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, greatly increasing inequalities in Tanzanian society, as well as resentment against the rich, often identified with the country's 250,000-strong Asian community.

All ethno-linguistic groups in Tanzania could be considered 'minorities'. Though ethnic factors can play a role in political opportunities and resource allocation at a local level, only a few groups face acute or systematic disadvantage or discrimination.

Nyerere stepped down as president in 1985, and was succeeded by Ali Hassan Mwinyi, although he remained chairman of the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) party until 1990. Following the amendment of the constitution in 1992, the CCM no longer held a formal monopoly on power. Yet elections in 1995, 2000, and 2005 have all shown significant democratic shortcomings, particularly in Zanzibar.

Benjamin Mkapa served as president from 1995 until the election of his CCM successor Jakaya Kikwete in December 2005. Under Mkapa and Kikwete, economic liberalization has accelerated. Although economic statistics have improved, most Tanzanians still live in extreme poverty, worsened by the ravages of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples

In south-western Tanzania in May 2006, the government began the eviction of hundreds of pastoralists from riverbeds in Mbeya in order to prevent further environmental degradation caused by their cattle. In early 2007, President Kikwete issued firm instructions to his Minister of Natural Resources that the Ihefu Wetland area of the Usangu Game Reserve had to be cleared immediately of the 400,000 cattle it had been accommodating because of the danger they represented to the water flow into the great Ruaha River, which serves the vital Mtera Dam. As chronic drought thought to be caused by global warming parches East Africa, Tanzania's pastoralist peoples are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain their traditional way of life.

In November 2007, the Hadzabe hunter-gatherers close to the Serengeti plains in Tanzania scored a rare victory to preserve their way of life. According to reports in June 2007, the Tanzanian government struck a deal to lease the land, which was traditionally occupied by the Hadzabe, to a safari company from the United Arab Emirates. Although the deal supposedly included the development of roads and education facilities, the Hadzabe – who number around 1,500 – were not consulted on it, and were reportedly opposed to it. Following a campaign by indigenous activists, Survival International reported in November 2007 that the safari company had withdrawn from the project.

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