A first-time traveler to Africa will experience a myriad of emotions, which will intensify as you draw closer to the departure date. I was thoroughly freaked out by my husband reading the travel advisories from the US Department of State’s website and terrifying shows like Locked Up Abroad and Creatures Inside Me. Travel to sub-Saharan Africa remains stigmatized by horrifying news coverage on current conflicts and reports of kidnapped tourists, fueling ignorance and fear. As usual the news filtered to the US from Africa is mainly adverse and negates to report on the accomplishments on the few who use diplomacy over war.
Tanzania is different. Why?
Tanzania is an oasis of peace in a conflict riddled region. Despite sharing similar characteristics with its neighboring countries, Tanzania has managed to attain independence without bloodshed or violence. Various factors contribute to Tanzania’s ethnic, political and social stability conceived by the political diplomacy and legislation created by Tanzania’s first president Julius Nyerere and his organization Tanganyika African Nation Union or TANU.
Nyerere, also known as Baba wa Taifa or “Father of the Nation,” founded TANU in July 1954 while teaching at St. Francis’ College. Their mission, “was to build and maintain a socialist state aiming towards economic self-sufficiency and to eradicate corruption and exploitation, with the major means of production and exchange under the control of the peasants and workers” (Ujamaa-Essays on Socialism; “The Arusha Declaration.”) In 1977 TANU amalgamated with the Afro-Shirazi Party (ASP), the governing party in Zanzibar, to create the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) also known as the modern Revolutionary State Party.
Most of the regions conflicts, both modern and historical, mainly attributed to the “The Scramble for Africa” in 1884 at the Berlin Conference where European countries battled for colonization and trade rights to sects of African land. Twentieth century colonial borders arbitrarily generated by European imperial powers without concern or thought for the native tribal inhabitants and animal migrations spawned inter-tribal and ethnic conflicts over the struggle for power and resources, while reinforcing the “us vs. them” mentality and hindering assimilation.
After decades of colonialism, Julius struggled to form Tanzania’s identity and focused on deteriorating the segregation between different cultures through unification of all citizens under the premise of an independence and national sovereignty. In 1961 Tanganyika established self-governance with Nyerere as the first Prime Minister, and in 1962 was elected President of Tanganyika which converted to a republic.
The Ministry of National Culture and Youth launched in 1962 to promote artistic and cultural growth in Tanzania, encouraging the various ethnic groups to collaborate and blend heritages into a new national pride. Kiswahili became the national language which strengthened political, economic and social communication along with the banning of ethnic terms. The Arusha Declaration of 1967 promoted African socialism and self-reliance which dominated political policy during Nyerere’s presidency.
Julius also played the pivotal role in merging Tanganyika and Zanzibar into Tanzania after a coup in Zanzibar ousted former Sultan Jamshid bin Abdullah in 1964. Nyerere’s strong leadership and oratorical abilities navigated Tanzania away from the inter-ethnic conflicts which destroy neighboring countries. Unlike many East African states with malevolent leaders, Julius Nyerere never exploited the conflicts of his nation to achieve power and wealth, instead he,”[manipulated]ethnic identity and the social splits that it can create as a powerful tool to mobilize people” (Erickson, 2011.)
His involvement various inter-regional causes displayed his commitment to human integrity and egalitarianism, effecting not only Tanzania but all of Africa as demonstrated in his outspoken criticism of the genocide in Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. His promotion of Pan-Africanism helped drive the anti-colonialism movement which e
Tanzania is not perfect. As with any urban population there is crime and corruption, violence and inequality. It is a glorious exception to the region’s history of instability and war, and a Western tourist can feel relatively comfortable visiting Tanzania. Petty theft is common in Arusha so keep an eye on valuables.
More people need to experience Tanzania to ease the ignorant view that Africa is a continent of chaos, and to promote the positive efforts of a few who strive for political, social and economic progress.