Some Notes on Tanzania

By Bill Turnbull W.F.
Map of the Dioceses of Tanzania based on material from AMECEA
In pre-colonial times the interior of Tanganyika, as was the case with most African countries, was ruled by various local chiefs. The Sultan of Zanzibar controlled all external trade from different centres around the country. Most of this trade was in ivory and slaves. In 1885 the mainland became a German Colony and at the end of the First World War Tanganyika came under British rule as a United Nations Trusteeship.
The Catholic Church
Christianity came to Tanzania with the early Portuguese explorers. The first Catholic missionaries, who arrived at Zanzibar, were Portuguese Augustinians in 1499 and their mission ended in 1698 due to the Oman-Arab conquest. There then was a lull until the 19th century when three different orders entered the country: the Holy Ghost Fathers (1863 in Zanzibar), the White Fathers (1878) and Benedictine Monks (1887 at Dar es Salaam).
The White Fathers were in two caravans destined for the little known interior around the Great Lakes. One group went to Lake Tanganyika and the other to Lake Victoria. They evangelized the West of Tanzania and moved into Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and Eastern Congo (former Zaire). Whereever the White Fathers work the priority has always been to establish a local church and their role in Tanzania was no exception. Rubya (Bukoba) was the first seminary to be opened in 1904 and the first four Tanzanian priests were ordained in 1917.
Church and State
Over the years the Church in Tanzania has managed to remain separate from the various governments of the day. In its early years it was helped by various anti-slave movements and European powers in the fight against slavery and many of the first Christians were in fact freed slaves. The majority of the Catholic missionaries did not come from the countries colonial rulers and so were not seen as part of the establishment.
During the move towards independence some individuals, both missionaries and local clergy, joined in but on the whole the Church remained neutral. The politicians who came to power in post independence were a broad spectrum, from the Marxist to the moderate Catholic. Tanzania developed 'Ujamaa', its own form of 'African Socialism', under the first President, Julius Nyerere, who was a practicing Catholic.* During this time there were some tensions between Church and State on such occasions as the 'Arusha Declaration', in 1967, and the time of mass nationalisation in 1970. On the whole the Church went along with the Government's social policies which were aimed at helping the poor with free education, medical care and the like.
Gradually during the 1980s the 'Ujamaa' system became weak and multiparty politics and a freer economy were introduced in the 1990s. Now with the liberalisation of the economy all services have to be paid for and the gap between rich and the poor has widened, a story which is repeated in many African countries.
Since the Second Vatican Council there have been many moves such as liturgical books being translated. As elsewhere the Mass and hymns are in the vernacular and traditional musical instruments are used as a part of 'inculturation' and rooting the faith deeper in the people's daily lives. This 'inculturation' took a great step forward with the instigation of 'Small Christian Communities' (SCC) by all the AMECEA churches (then Ethiopia Kenya, Malawi, Uganda, Sudan, Zambia and Tanzania) in 1975. The SCC took root along side the 'Ujamaa' (African Socialism) political policy of the government.
Islam was brought to East Africa by Arabs in the late medieval period. They established trading posts in the islands and along the coastal areas and spread Islam as the trade routes developed. There were no 'missionary societies' in Islam but the religion gradually grew throughout the interior as the Arab slave traders moved about the mainland. The growth of Islam in early colonial times was helped by the fact that Muslims were the only literate people in the country and so they were able to gain posts in the civil service. Because of this, and the fact that they were more active in the fight for independence, they gained a better representation in the post-independence government.
There were three occasions when the followers of Islam and Christianity encountered each other. In the 15th. century Christianity first began to meet Islam in the coastal areas and there was a clash between the Portuguese Catholic concept of 'crusade' and the Arab Muslim one of 'Jihad'. Later, in the 19th century, the two religions clashed again when Christian the missionaries fought against the slave trade. In the 1980s 'Islamic Fundamentalism' was brought into Tanzania by people who had been trained abroad. They did not hold with the role which Islam has in the country and so they preached against what they saw as Christian domination.
In general, despite these times of tension, Muslim-Christian relations have been good. On the level of ordinary people it is common that believers from the two faiths have inter-married. There are also many moderate Muslim and Christian leaders who work together to counter the 'Extremists' found in both religions.

General Facts and Figures


Independence: Tanganyika in 1961, Zanzibar in 1963. Were united to form Tanzania in 1964.

Total Area: 945,090 sq km, land - 886,040 sq km, water - 59,050 sq km

Borders: Burundi 451 km, Kenya 769 km, Malawi 475 km, Mozambique 756 km, Rwanda 217 km, Uganda 396 km, Zambia 338 km, Indian Ocean coastline 1,424 km.

People: The national language is Swahili but there are more than 130 ethnic groups and languages. On the mainland they are 99% African (95% are Bantu) and the other 1% is made up of of Asian, European, and Arab. The people of Zanzibar are Arab, African, mixed Arab and African.

Population: 31,270,820 (July 1999 est.), 8,500,800 (28.%) are Catholics.

Religion: On the mainland Christians 45%, Muslims 35% and traditional beliefs 20%. On Zanzibar more than 99% of the people are Muslim. Other religions are the Baha'i, Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist.

The Catholic Church

Dioceses: 29 in 4 Metropolitan Provinces (Dar es Salaam, Tabora, Mwanza & Songea). The highest Catholic population are in Mbinga 85%, Sumbawanga 70%, Bukoba 67%, Mahenge 61% & Moshi 57%.

Bishops: First Tanzanian Bishop was Laurean Rugambwa (1952) who was also the first African Cardinal (1960). All dioceses have local Bishops - the last missionary Bishop resigned in 1989.

Local Priests: 1,264

Men Religious: There are 34 congregations with 642 members, 108 of whom are Tanzanian.

Women Religious: There are 1,577 in International missionary congregations in Tanzania, 905 of who are Tanzanians - some of the Tanzanians are working in other countries. There are 18 diocesan congregations with 6,533 members.

Catechists: 11,221

Seminaries: 23 minor seminaries, major seminaries at Kibosho, Ntungamo (for philosophy), and at Kipalapala and Segerea (for theology) where students from the different dioceses are taught. Songea Province has one major seminary for philosophy and theology.


Mwalimu - Teacher and Mentor

Dr Julius Kambarage Nyerere died in London on the 14th. October, 1999. Nyerere was an extra-ordinary man who had a great influence in Tanzania and throughout Africa. He lived out what he preached and was no doubt influenced by his Catholic faith since his Baptism when he was 20. Nyerere met Fr. Richard Walsh, an Irish White Father, when he was teaching at St. Mary's, Tabora, and they were close friends until Fr. Richard died in 1979.
Arusha Declaration and Ujamaa - The core of Nyerere's socialism is summed up in the 'Arusha Declaration on Socialism and Self-Reliance'. This became the foundation on which a united Tanzania was built and was meant to give all people equal status by stopping exploitation, through social ownership and control of the means of production, self-reliance, hard work and good leadership. The form of African Socialism that was put into practice was called Ujamaa (Swahili for 'familyhood') and many reformers in Africa and in the West welcomed the theory. The aim of Ujamaa was to make the people and country self-reliant through a combination of traditional values of cooperation with Western socialism. Ujamaa entailed putting people into 'communes' so they could have access to education and medical facilities, and to make collective farming, based on the Chinese model, possible. This resulted in nearly ten million people being moved. It was believed that once an agricultural basis was formed industrial development would follow. The whole process, especially the communal farming, was not popular with many Tanzanians and led to resistance. A fall in productivity and of commodity prices, less foreign aid and an increase in debt lead to economic problems.
Ujamaa began to crumble in the late 1970s and was abandoned in the mid-1980s leaving the country poorer than before. 'Self-reliance' never became a reality as Tanzania depends on foreign aid. Nyerere's belief in Ujamaa was no doubt misguided but his intentions were purely to improve the lives of Tanzanians and not for his own advantage. Despite being an economic disaster Ujamaa did help raise health and education standards. Along with the imposition of Swahili as the national language and the one-party state, Ujamaa also helped to unify the country wiping out ethnic divisions and gave Tanzania years of peace.
African Unity and Liberation - From the 1960s right up to his death Nyerere played a leading role in pan-African politics. He helped build African unity and towards the independence of many countries. When there were conflicts in surrounding countries Nyerere opened Tanzania's borders to refugees from Mozambique, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, and Uganda. Nyerere was instrumental in founding the 'Mozambique Liberation Front' (FRELIMO) on the 25th. June, 1962. In the 1960s he allowed them and the 'African National Congress' (ANC) to have camps in southern Tanzania. From there FRELIMO guerrillas attacked over the border and the ANC fought against the apartheid regime's activities in Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). In late 1978 Ugandan troops invaded Tanzania. Nyerere's response was to send troops into Uganda the following year and to overthrow Idi Amin and replace him with Milton Obote.
The Future - Nyerere's death comes at a crucial time for Africa - especially for Tanzania and Burundi. In recent years there has been tension within Tanzania over Zanzibar's future. Some wish to separate from the mainland but through Nyerere's influence in Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), the ruling party, the country has remained united. Without the Mwalimu the future is not so certain. Similarly with Burundi. Nyerere had been involved with the peace talks at Arusha since 1995. Without his stabilising influence these talks are even more precarious.


Sources - 'Historical Dictionary of Tanzania', Second Edition, 1997.
'The Tanzanian Catholic Church' by Fr. Method M. P. Kilaini (PhD) on the
Tanzania Episcopal Conference web site at;
Various AMECEA documents including 'AMECEA in Brief, 1998',
and their web site at;
Tanzania from 'The CIA Factbook, 1999', at;
'Ethnologue', 13th Edition, Editor Barbara F. Grimes, 1996,

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