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 German empire.
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.
A 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 gunships 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 1886-1916
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 Kilimanjaro.
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 rising.
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 previously.
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 hanged.
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 1919-1962
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 1953.
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 president.
Republic of Tanzania: AD 1964-1985
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 his vice-president.
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 failed.
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 1977
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 (Revolutionary Party).
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.