​History and Politics

The unrecorded history of Tanzania dates back millions of years, as evidenced by the Leakeys' discovery of four-million-year-old, humanoid footprints at Laetoli, just south of Olduvai Gorge. That amazing discovery was followed by one even more incredible - a 1.75 million-year-old jawbone of an extinct species of man. Marking a pivotal period in Tanzania's history, the mid-19th century saw European missionaries and explorers penetrating deep into the heart of the country. Johann Ludwig Krapf and Johannes Rebmann (German missionaries) were the first to reach Mt. Kilimanjaro in the 1840s. Sir Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke mapped out large areas of the country on their quest to find the "source" of the Nile River. As news reports from missionaries and explorers began to reach Europe, the territory became part of the larger "scramble for Africa", with European powers racing to gain colonial control of strategic areas.

By the late 19th century, most of what is now Tanzania came under the direct control of the Germans. The early 20th century brought heavy German colonization to the area, as well as modern transportation, health care, and western education. After the German defeat in World War I, the League of Nations mandated administration of the country to the British. The British opted for an indirect approach to ruling the country, promoting the establishment of indigenous political institutions and leaders while retaining de-facto political control by co-opting key figures in the local power structure.

The formation of the Tanganyika African National Union in 1954, headed by Julius Nyerere, effectively ended British administration of the country. Just seven years later, Tanzania peacefully gained its independence from Britain with Nyerere as its first president. Tanzania's island neighbor, Zanzibar, became independent in 1963, and a year later the two nations united to form the United Republic of Tanzania.
On October 29, 1995, Tanzania held its first democratic elections. Today, Tanzania is often used by the leaders of other African nations as a neutral meeting ground, giving it the unofficial title "Switzerland of Africa."

Despite the fact that there are over 130 tribal groups in Tanzania, tribal conflict is uncommon and the country has managed to avoid the internal political upheavals that have plagued other African nations.