Sitting midway between the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, Olduvai Gorge has been called “The Cradle of Mankind.” Prehistoric fossils of hominid remains discovered at the site date back as far as 2 million years, and modern human populations have inhabited Tanzania for nearly 10,000 years. 

Tanzania’s rich cultural history, however, has its roots around 900-1100 AD, when great Swahili city-states and civilizations rose along the coast of the Indian Ocean. These multi-ethnic and cosmopolitan societies thrived as a part of a vast trading network that included India, southwest Asia, Persia, Arabia, and even Chinese and Mediterranean cultures. 

Portuguese explorers and imperialists later took over the coast and its trading network, controlling it for nearly 200 years. Eventually, Swahili rebels and Arabs from Oman drove out the Portuguese, and the Omani Kingdom later relocated to Zanzibar in the 1840s. The notorious ivory and slave trade caravans spread rapidly over this period. The Omani Kingdom also benefited from the flourishing spice trade of Zanzibar’s islands. 

Omani Sultans of Zanzibar

By the mid-19th century, German missionaries and European explorers were making their way into Tanzania’s interior. European interests in East Africa continued to grow, and by the 20th century, German Colonial powers controlled much of the Tanzania mainland, although uprisings and revolts occurred regularly.  During the same period, the British ruled over Kenya and Zanzibar, and after World War I, they replaced the Germans as the colonial power in what was then known as Tanganyika. 

In a nationalist effort to conserve African traditions and achieve sovereignty from British rule, a grassroots African group was formed in 1929, later named the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU). A teacher and natural leader, Julius Nyerere eventually became TANU’s president and united much of the country as he advocated for peaceful change, social equality, and racial harmony. ‘Uhuru na Umoja’ (freedom and unity) is the country’s motto to this day.  

Julius Nyerere

On December 9, 1961, Tanganyika won its independence and became a republic with Nyerere as its president. After a revolution, Zanzibar followed suit, and in 1964 the two nations unified to form the United Republic of Tanzania. 

During his five terms as president, Nyerere became one of Africa’s most influential leaders and received the affectionate nickname, Mwaliumu, which means “teacher” in Swahili, indicative of both Nyerere’s previous occupation and his role as Tanzania’s first president. He further unified the country, making Swahili the national language, and he also preserved land for Tanzania’s wildlife in order “to make sure that our children’s grandchildren will be able to enjoy this rich and precious heritage. 

Since 1995, Tanzania has held democratic multiparty elections and made many economic reforms.  As a longtime peaceful and stable nation, the country has been referred to as the “Switzerland of Africa.” 

Tanzania in a Nutshell

Tanzania is located just south of the equator, along the Indian Ocean on the east coast of Africa

Tanzania shares borders with Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique.


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