Introduction to Geography of Tanzania

Tanzania, or United Republic of Tanzania, a country in East Africa. It consists of the former British territories of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, which united in 1964. Tanzania lies just south of the Equator on the Indian Ocean. The country's greatest dimensions are slightly more than 700 miles (1,100 km) both north-south and east-west. Its area is 364,900 square miles (945,087 km2).

Facts in brief about Tanzania
Capital: Dodoma.
Official languages: English and Swahili (also called Kiswahili).
Area: 364,900 mi2 (945,087 km2).
Population: Current estimate—40,675,000; density, 111 per mi2 (43 per km2); distribution, 68 percent rural, 32 percent urban. 2002 census—34,569,232.
Chief products: Agriculture—bananas, beef, cashews, cassava, cloves, coconuts, coffee, corn, cotton, milk, millet, rice, sisal, sorghum, sugar cane, tea, tobacco, wheat. Manufacturing—fertilizer, food products, textiles.
National anthem: "Mungu ibariki Afrika" ("God Bless Africa").
Flag and coat of arms: Tanzania's flag, adopted in 1964, has a green triangle in the upper-left corner that represents agriculture and a blue triangle in the bottom-right corner that represents the Indian Ocean. A black stripe that represents the nation's people runs diagonally through the middle of the flag. Two gold stripes, that represent mineral resources, border the black stripe. The coat of arms, adopted in 1964, has a flaming torch that represents freedom and knowledge, and the ax and the hoe stand for agricultural development.
Money: Basic unit—Tanzanian shilling. One hundred cents equal one shilling.

Physical Geography

TanzaniaTanzania is a country in eastern Africa.

Lowlands fringe the coast, which is marked by several islands, the largest being Zanzibar, Pemba, and Mafia. Inland, the land rises to a vast plateau. Here the terrain is 2,000 to 4,000 feet (610 to 1,220 m) above sea level and is generally rolling to flat.

Two arms of Africa's Great Rift Valley cut through Tanzania. One branch, a deep chasm, follows the western border; the other extends northeastward from Lake Nyasa to Kenya. There are also several highland areas where the land rises abruptly from the surrounding plateau. These areas are mainly along the margins of the Great Rift Valley. In the northeast, near the Kenya border, is a volcanic region. Here snowcapped Kilimanjaro, an inactive volcano, rises to 19,340 feet (5,895 m), the highest elevation in Africa. The Pare and Usambara mountains are nearby; the Kipengere Range is in the southwest.


Africa's three great lakes—Victoria, Tanganyika, and Nyasa—are partly in Tanzania. Except for Lake Victoria, all of Tanzania's lakes lie in the Great Rift Valley. Lakes Tanganyika and Nyasa, in the west, are large, deep bodies of freshwater; those in the eastern rift, such as Lakes Natron and Eyasi, are small and saline and have no outward drainage.

Tanzania has few large rivers except during the rainy season. Those draining into the Indian Ocean include the Pangani, Wami, Rufiji, and Ruvuma. The Malagarasi, the Kagera, and other streams in the west are part of the Nile, Congo, or Zambezi river systems. Little use is made of the rivers for navigation, hydroelectric power, or irrigation.


High temperatures and a distinct rainy season (from November to May) and dry season (the rest of the year) mark the climate throughout most of Tanzania. The coast is the hottest and most humid part of the country. Dar es Salaam, for example, has average monthly temperatures between 75° and 82° F. (24° and 28° C.) and receives about 40 inches (1,020 mm) of rain each year. Because of its increased elevation, the plateau has slightly lower and more variable temperatures than does the coast. Rainfall totals roughly 10 to 35 inches (250 to 890 mm) a year, except near Lake Victoria, where considerably more rain occurs. The highlands, because of their greater height, are relatively temperate regions.

Vegetation and Wild Animals

Forests grow mainly in the highlands and along the coast. Elsewhere there are steppe and savanna grasslands; some areas are semideserts.

Within Tanzania are many of the animals commonly associated with Africa, such as the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, giraffe, and zebra. To protect them against possible extinction, brought on by the steady encroachment of humans, the government maintains numerous game reserves. Among them are Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, and Selous Game Reserve. Safaris are permitted, but only for sightseeing and photography.

The Economy

Tanzania is predominantly an agricultural country where most of the people live near the subsistence level. In an attempt to foster a more balanced economy and attain self-sufficiency, the government has adopted a socialist economy guided by five-year plans. Among the many objectives are agricultural reforms and improvements, industrialization to reduce imports, and the development of mining. Virtually all industries have been nationalized, and there are many cooperatives. Money spent by tourists, many of them attracted by safaris, provides an important source of foreign exchange.

Tanzania's basic currency unit is the Tanzanian shilling.


Most of Tanzania is too dry or otherwise unsuited to farming, yet agriculture supports the vast majority of the people. Most farming is done on small plots, sustaining individual families, and on lands of cooperative ujamaa villages---settlements promoted by the government. Cash crops, though increasingly produced on small farms, are grown primarily on large commercial farms, most of which are owned and run by the government.

The main subsistence crops include corn, cassava, sweet potatoes, sorghum, rice, millet, and plantains. Coffee, cotton, sisal, cashew nuts, cloves, tea, tobacco, and pyrethrum are the chief cash crops, and together account for the bulk of the nation's exports. The herding of livestock, especially cattle, is widespread in Tanzania. Much grazing land, however, is made unusable by the tsetse fly, which transmits fatal diseases to humans and domestic animals. Almost all the livestock is of poor quality.


Manufacturing industries play a relatively small---but growing---role in the economy. Most industrial enterprises operate on a small scale and either process cash crops for domestic and foreign markets or produce basic consumer goods. The textile industry is of particular significance. Industries considered essential for further economic growth are increasing in number; they include petroleum refining and the making of chemicals, cement, fertilizers, and farm implements. The government has been primarily responsible for the growth of manufacturing.

Dar es Salaam is by far the leading industrial center. Other cities, however, are experiencing industrial growth under a government plan that discourages further growth in Dar es Salaam.

Mining, Forestry, and Fishing

Diamonds are mined in Tanzania and are a leading export. Other gemstones, gold, and salt are also produced. Large deposits of iron ore, coal, and other minerals are known but remain inaccessible.

Forests, consisting largely of hardwoods, make up one of Tanzania's chief resources. They provide wood, lumber, and such products as bark extracts, palm kernels, and gum arabic.

The fishing industry is only slightly developed, but offers great potential in the freshwater lakes and along the coast.


Modern transportation facilities are inadequate or lacking throughout most of Tanzania. Railways, leading westward from Dar es Salaam and Tanga, are the chief means of transport. The Chinese-built Tazara line, completed in 1975, connects Dar es Salaam's port and the copper belt in Zambia. Hard-surfaced, all-weather routes make up only a small part of the road system. In much of the country, the only roads are dirt tracks.

Ocean shipping is conducted primarily through the port at Dar es Salaam. There are also smaller ports, including several on the great lakes, which have regular steamer service. Air Tanzania is the national airline. Most air service, including that of foreign air lines, is through the modern terminal at Dar es Salaam.

The People

About 99 per cent of the people are Africans, members of some 120 different groups of predominantly Bantu origin. Most of the few non-Africans are Arabs and East Indians, but there are also some Europeans. Most of the Africans live in rural villages. The non-Africans inhabit the towns of the coastal regions.


In 1988 Tanzania had a population of 23,174,336, including 640,578 on Zanzibar and Pemba. The population density was about 48 persons per square mile (19 per km2) overall, but much of the dry interior is virtually uninhabited.

Tanzania's largest cities are Dar es Salaam, with a population of 1,360,850; Mwanza (223,013); Dodoma (203,833); Tanga (187,634); and Zanzibar (157,634).

Language and Religion

Swahili (a Bantu language) is the official language and the second language of many groups that speak other Bantu dialects. English is widely spoken in the coastal areas.

From 30 to 50 per cent of the mainland Tanzanians are animists. Of the remainder, about half are Muslims and half Christians. Most of the inhabitants of Zanzibar are Muslims of the Sunni branch.

Education and Culture

Primary and secondary schools are maintained by the central government, local authorities, and voluntary groups (mainly mission schools). Most of these schools are government-supported, either wholly or partially. Facilities for vocational, technical, and teacher training are also provided by the government. Higher education is available at the national university at Dar es Salaam (founded in 1961) and several colleges.

The government has placed great emphasis on expansion of the educational system and on adult education programs. The literacy rate is 75 per cent, one of the highest in Africa.

Tanzania has a rich tradition in music and dance. Oral literature in the form of myths, folk tales, and poetry is also highly developed. Wood carvings and painted leather shields are notable Tanzanian handicraft items.


Tanzania is a republic under the interim constitution of 1965 and its amendments. Executive power is vested in a president, who is elected by the people to a five-year term. The president appoints a vice president and the ministers, all of whom form the cabinet.

The Tanzanian legislature is the one-house National Assembly. It is composed of representatives from both the mainland and Zanzibar; about half are elected by the people for five-year terms, the others are appointed by various public officials. Zanzibar has its own regional assembly. Tanzania has only one legal political party, the Revolutionary Party of Tanzania.

Judicial power rests with an independent judiciary. The Court of Appeal has final jurisdiction in all civil and criminal matters on mainland Tanzania. (Zanzibar has a separate court system.)