On April 26, 1964, a fledgling country named Tanzania was born. Its name honors both parents - “Tan” after Tanganyika (the mainland of Tanzania) and “Zan” after Zanzibar, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean. On this first birthday of Tanzania in 1964, the founders mixed soil from the two countries symbolizing their union.
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Since then April 26 has become known as Union Day to Tanzanians and is celebrated with parades, political speeches and cultural events.
The 54th celebration of Union Day in 2018 has distinguished itself. Protests threatened to disrupt the government’s festivities, taking place for the first time in its soon-to-be new capital city, Dodoma. First, a bit more history.
Tanganyika was originally colonized by the Germans, but after World War I came under the control of the British Empire. Zanzibar was controlled by the Arab Kingdom of Oman, but it, too, was taken over by the British as a protectorate in the late nineteenth century. Both countries achieved their independence from the British around the same time - Tanganyika in 1961 and Zanzibar in 1963. (1)
The union of the two countries was the first time on the African continent that two sovereign countries had unified. They shared a common struggle for independence from the British and a belief in Pan-Africanism. (3)
In 1973, Tanzania’s first president, Julius Nyerere, made the decision to move the capital from the coastal city of Dar es Salaam to centrally located Dodoma. Now, John Magufuli, Tanzania’s current president, has announced that he will fully implement this long awaited move.
Tanzanian flags flew along every major road in Dodoma during the 2018 Union Day celebrations. Representatives from more than 70 countries attended. (6) At Jamhuri Stadium, Magufuli praised the African Development Bank which financed projects “which contributed positively to our country’s socio-economic development and transformation.” The African Development Bank has invested nearly $4 billion on water sanitation, road construction and energy. (2)
Elsewhere, a different message was being spread through social media. This was one of disunity, calling for Tanzanian citizens to take to the streets in protest. US based Mange Kimambe organized the protests over what she claims is Magufuli’s autocratic style and the government’s human rights abuses. (4)
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Seven people were arrested in Arusha for their alleged role in the planned demonstrations. (5) Although the authorities banned the protests, some still showed up in Dar es Salaam to march. Nine were arrested. Elizabeth Mambosho, the leader of the main opposition party’s women’s wing, was also detained for inciting riots. (4)
Tanzanian law allows for demonstrations but organizers must notify the police, who can then reject the plan if they believe it to instill disorder. (5) For his part, Magufuli used his Union Day speech, broadcast on state television, to call for peace.
If April 26, 1964 was Tanzania’s birthday, perhaps April of 2018 is its growing pains.