Tanzania: Hero Rats


Tanzania is considered one of the world’s most impoverished nations, and the World Bank and the IMF have provided funds to rehabilitate its economic infrastructure. In 2006, the economy grew by 6 percent, but the per capita income still averages only US $340 a year, and more than a third of the population lives in poverty.


Tanzania borders the Indian Ocean between Kenya and Mozambique and, including the islands of Mafia, Pemba and Zanzibar, is roughly twice the size of California. Its coastline climate is tropical and its highlands are temperate. Mount Kilimanjaro, an active volcano in the Northeast, is Africa’s highest peak at 5,895 meters (19,340 feet). Known for its year-round snow-capped summit, climatologists believe Kilimanjaro’s ice will melt completely in the next 12 years. The peak feeds three of the largest lakes on the continent: Lake Victoria, the world’s second largest fresh body of water, Lake Tanganyika and Lake Nyasa.

Natural Resources
The bulk of Tanzania's natural resources are mineral deposits of tin, iron ore, nickel, gold, diamonds and gemstones. In June 2007, the Tanzanian government announced plans to explore the country’s southern regions for gold and diamond deposits.

Agriculture accounts for half of Tanzania’s GDP, despite the fact that only 4 percent of the land is suitable for farming. Crops include coffee, tea, cotton, tobacco, cashews, wheat, corn and pyrethrum (an insecticide made from chrysanthemums). The agriculture industry employs about 80 percent of the workforce.

Colonial Legacy
The Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama’s arrival to the East African Coast in 1498 ushered in the era of colonialism. Millions of slaves were trafficked to the Tanzania coast, then onto the island of Zanzibar and finally into forced labor on plantations. Early in the 18th century, Omani Arabs wrested control from the Europeans and held the territory until the 1880s, when the area fell under German dominance. In 1919, following World War I, the territory changed hands to the British, who held mainland Tanganyika until its independence in 1961. A revolution in 1964 on the island of Zanzibar overthrew the Omani power and merged the mainland and the islands into the new nation of Tanzania.

Political Landscape Post-Independence
During the 1960s, Tanzania’s revered first President Julius Nyerere, known as "the teacher," began an era of African socialism based on the self-reliance of villages, and he established close ties with China. Nyerere aimed to restore Tanzania to a state of ujamaa, or "pulling together," by collectivizing agriculture. But Nyerere's economic policy failed to boost agricultural output, and by 1976, he had abandoned the program. Following an attempted annexation by Idi Amin's forces of the Northern Tanzanian province of Kagera, Nyerere declared war on his neighbor in 1979, eventually forcing Amin out of power with the help of Ugandan exiles.

From 1985 to 1995, President Ali Hassan Mwinyi, appointed by Nyerere, back pedaled from African socialism, relaxed import restrictions and encouraged private enterprise. His regime, often referred to as Mzee Rukhsa, or "Anything Goes," was characterized by rampant tax evasion, corruption and high inflation. In 1995, the first year of multiparty elections, President Benjamin Mkapa was elected and continued on the road to privatization, winning the support of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Under Mkapa, inflation fell and foreign debt was forgiven.

The country's first post-independence election not under the considerable influence of Nyerere was held in 2000, when Mkapa won a second term. In December 2005, Jakaya Kikwete was elected as the fourth president of Tanzania for a five-year term. He has vowed to continue with economic reform and job creation. The World Bank has agreed to commit $190 million in economic aid to the country for the upcoming fiscal year.

Population and Economy
The nation’s population of 36 million is 95 percent ethnic Bantu, which is comprised of more than 130 distinct groups. Swahili is the official language, though English is widely used for commerce, government administration and higher education. The country’s religious affiliations roughly divide into thirds between Islam, Christianity and indigenous beliefs. The nation’s literacy rate is 70 percent and roughly 9 percent of the adult population is HIV positive.

Tanzania is considered one of the world’s most impoverished nations, and the World Bank and the IMF have provided funds to rehabilitate its economic infrastructure. In 2006, the economy grew by 6 percent, but the per capita income still averages only US $340 a year, and more than a third of the population lives in poverty.

The country is relatively stable and peaceful compared to neighboring East African nations and is currently home to roughly 275,000 displaced people from the nearby Great Lakes region. In 2000, Burundi placed landmines along its border to stop refugees from leaving the conflict zone and entering Tanzania. In June 2007, the Tanzanian president Kikwete urged refugees to return to their home countries and told reporters that peace had been returned; he also disclosed plans to close Burundian refugee camps by December 2007.

According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Tanzania reports its soil to be mine-free, but it has declared a stockpile of nearly 24,000 anti-personnel mines. The country destroyed the first third of the stockpile in 2003, and has reserved nearly 800 to be used in demining project training.

Sources: BBC, CIA World Factbook, CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, globalsecurity.org, and allAfrica.com


Located on the east coast of Africa, on the Indian Ocean between Tanzania and South Africa, Mozambique is roughly the size of Texas and enjoys 2,500 miles of stunning coastline. The topography of the country is mostly coastal lowlands with high plateaus in the northwest and mountains in the west. The population is nearly 20 million, mostly concentrated in the north-central provinces, and it is 99 percent ethnically Bantu. Portuguese remains the official language, but Swahili is widely spoken. The country’s literacy rate is roughly 48 percent.

Nearly 90 percent of Mozambique’s arable land remains uncultivated while 75 percent of the population engages in small-scale agriculture. Crops produced include cotton, cashews, sugar cane, tea and tropical fruits. Poverty remains widespread in Mozambique, where more than half the population lives on less than $1 a day and more than 20 percent of the population is unemployed.

Like most of the east coast of Africa, Mozambique was long a Portuguese colonial slave-trading outpost. The country was held under Portuguese rule longer than Tanzania, its neighbor to the north, and achieved independence in 1975. Before that, Portugal had occupied the African nation for more than 400 years.

Post Independence and Civil War Era
Samora Machel, who had led the first guerilla attack against the Portuguese, assumed the presidency and nationalized all plantations and property. He began accepting overseas aid, much of it from the former Soviet Union, and welcomed revolutionaries opposed to the white regimes of Rhodesia and South Africa to train in Mozambique. But his actions created a highly fractious and violent atmosphere for the young socialist state. The first decade of Mozambique’s independence was crippled by internal conflict, prompting 1.7 million refugees to flee to neighboring countries. In 1986, Machel was returning from a meeting in Zambia when he died in a plane crash. Investigations into the cause of the crash remain inconclusive.

Joaquim Chissano, Machel’s successor, began talks with competing rebel forces and a U.N.-sponsored peace accord was signed in October 1992. Since then, most of Mozambique’s refugees have returned. After the resettlement, the economy rebounded in the 1990s. Despite the devastating floods of early 2000, the economy strengthened, and the government projects an economic growth rate between 7 and 10 percent to 20012, assuming that foreign investment continues to pour in and the country’s agriculture, transportation and tourism sectors continue to revive. In 2002, a severe drought struck the central and southern parts of the country, again battering the economy. Today, Mozambique relies on foreign assistance for most of its annual budget, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has reduced its foreign debt to manageable levels. In February 2007, Chinese President Hu Jintao visited the country, promising interest-free loans for agriculture, health and education.

Chissano stepped down in 2004 and Armando Guebuza, a wealthy businessman, was elected president vowing to continue the economic reforms that have encouraged foreign investment. As the minister of the interior in 1975, Guebuza had played an integral role in Mozambique’s independence struggle, ordering the expulsion of Portuguese citizens from the country.

Legacy of Landmines
Between 1977 and 1992, close to a million people died in fighting and famine, and the ongoing presence of landmines has led to thousands of amputees. Mines still threaten the lives of half a million people in rural Mozambique, 15 years after the end of its civil war. Neither government forces nor rebel troops left behind accurate maps of mine fields, and large swaths of land are still untouchable because of the danger. The government has set 2009 as the deadline to clear all known minefields, and officials suspect that more than 500 hazardous areas still require attention. A single landmine can block access to up to 8 hectares of land, and more than 100,000 landmines have been removed from Mozambican soil. But it is impossible to know how many thousands remain. The tedious sifting continues, meter by meter.

According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, more than 7 million square meters of land was swept for mines, making the area safe for 841,000 people in 2003 alone. The mines destroyed were produced in far-flung countries: Austria, East Germany, China, Brazil, Belgium, UK, France, South Africa, Rhodesia and others. Mozambique signed the mine-ban treaty in 1997, and the National Demining Institute was established in 1999 with a goal to be “mine-impact free” by 2015.

In 2006, a U.S. State Department project completed a 2-year mine-clearance operation along the Sena Railway, which connects Beira, the main port city, with the mineral-rich interior. Rebel forces had littered the tracks with mines during the civil war, making it impassable. Now, government officials say, the railway will enable the extraction of 10 million tons of high-grade coal annually, as well as reserves of gold, copper and diamonds.

Sources: BBC, CIA World Factbook, CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, allAfrica.com, and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.


-- Zachary Slobig



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