Tanzania is famous for its tourism sites. Mount Kilimanjaro, the Ngorongoro Crater, the Olduvai Gorge, Lake Victoria, Zanzibar, Oldoinyo Lengai – and there are 44 more such wonders! And Tanzania wants to be even more famous as a tourism destination by diversifying its tourism products. The next five years will be an exciting time in the land of Kilimanjaro!
Talking tourism with Dr Aloyce Nzuki, the managing director of the Tanzanian Tourist Board (TTB), is a joy. He knows his subject, so he doesn’t refer to notes. He is a walking tourism encyclopaedia, so he has facts and figures at his fingertips. And his sense of history is honed. As part of Tanzania’s Golden Jubilee celebrations, Dr Nzuki is leading the Tourist Board to recreate one aspect of Tanzanian history.
On 9 December 1961 – Tanganyika’s Independence Day – Lieutenant Alexander Gwebe Nyirenda of the then Tanganyika Rifles planted the flag of the new nation and a “torch of freedom” atop the moonscape-like surface of Africa’s highest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro.
The peak on which the flag and torch stood was renamed Uhuru Peak. Uhuru is the Kiswahili word for freedom, for freedom was the cry of the African nationalists of the time who, with one voice across the massive continent, wanted to free the people from colonial tyranny.
Uhuru Peak was the most apt place for the kerosene torch to stand, for it is the highest point in Africa – 5,895 metres or 19,340 feet above sea level. That peak happens to be the pride of Mount Kilimanjaro, a mountain that rises unexpectedly from the floor of the East African Rift Valley and towers a great 19,340 feet into the sky just inside the Tanzanian side of the frontier with Kenya.
To this day, most people in Africa and beyond who don’t have a good grasp of geography believe that Mount Kilimanjaro, the cloud-swathed, perpetually snow-capped mountain, is in Kenya. Not so, believe me. You can see it from Kenya all right, but it is definitely not in Kenya! Kilimanjaro is as Tanzanian as Dar es Salaam (the haven of peace) is Tanzanian.
In 1959, a time when most of Africa was under the colonial yoke (with the exception of 8 countries – Liberia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Sudan, Ghana, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia), a fresh-faced young man of Tanganyikan origin addressed the Tanganyika Legislative Assembly and promised the following:
“We, the people of Tanganyika would like to light a candle and put it on top of Mount Kilimanjaro which would shine beyond our borders giving hope where there was despair, love where there was hate, and dignity where there was before only humiliation.”
That young man was called Julius Kambarage Nyerere. On 9 December 1961, his wishes came true. On that day – Tanganyika’s Independence Day – Lt Alex Nyirenda, with a commission from Nyerere’s newly-installed government, went up to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, and with the new flag of the new nation fluttering proudly to his left, attached the Uhuru Torch to the flagpole to symbolically shine over the country and across its borders.
The black and white photo of this historic event evokes memories of the American landing on the moon eight years later (in 1969). Perhaps the Americans stole the shot from the Tanzanians, and maybe Mrs Thatcher, Britain’s Iron Lady, was inspired even much later in 1979 when she became the UK’s first female prime minister, as she appeared to follow Nyerere’s lines on her arrival at No 10 Downing Street:
“Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope,” Mrs Thatcher said, paraphrasing the “Prayer of Saint Francis” as Nyerere had done 20 years before her.
The Uhuru Torch has since become one of Tanzania’s national icons, which symbolises freedom, hope and development. Every year, the Torch goes around the country in a race named after it, the Uhuru Torch Race.
The Torch will have a special place on 9 December 2011 when Tanzania officially celebrates the 50th anniversary of its independence. And it is here that Dr Aloyce Nzuki and the Tanzanian Tourist Board (TTB) come in.
As part of the celebrations, the TTB is organising two prime events to remind the country and the outside world of Nyerere’s and Tanzania’s commitment to peace and freedom through tourism.
In the main event, Dr Nzuki will lead the TTB in a recreation that will see 200 climbers from across the world attempt to scale Africa’s highest mountain to the peak where Lt Nyirenda stood 50 years ago and planted the Uhuru Torch.
The climbers will use four different routes to scale the mountain, 50 hikers on each route, and they will assemble at Uhuru Peak on the eve of Independence Day, 9 December.
The TTB’s second event is a Special Walk from Mwanza on Lake Victoria to Butiama in Mara Region, where Nyerere was born and buried.
Explaining why the TTB is organising the two events, Dr Nzuki, a man with a good eye for history, says: “This is the time we look at Kilimanjaro as an icon of peace and harmony, the main ingredients for successful development of tourism in any nation.
“It has been the wish of Tanzania to see the whole of Africa floating in the clouds of freedom, right from the day the country gained its independence in 1961, when the new nation placed the Uhuru Torch at the peak of the mountain to bring the light of freedom everywhere else in Africa.
“Now, as we celebrate our golden anniversary, we send again our wish to see peace prevail in the world, and reiterate the truth that Tanzania will remain Africa’s greatest tourism destination in the next 50 years.”
In the beginning
Dr Nzuki proudly tells how Tanzanian tourism has grown from a small, government-run industry in the 1960s, to one where it now contributes 17% of the nation’s GDP.
“In the socialism phase of the country’s journey from independence,” Dr Nzuki says, “the government was the main player in the tourism industry. It owned 15 accommodation facilities at the time. The terrain has now changed to where the private sector is the main player. We started from as low as 100,000 visitors a year to the current 800,000 visitors a year. The growth in terms of visitor numbers has been steady, between 5% and 9% per annum.”
Tanzania’s greatest selling point is wildlife and nature. Not many places in the world can match it in this respect.
Many people around the world have seen the wondrous pictures of the thousands and thousands of wilderbeast, zebra, buffalo, and countless other animals crossing the Mara River in their annual migration from one end of the Serengeti National Park in northern Tanzania to the other side of the park across the Kenyan border which the Kenyans call the Masai Mara National Reserve.
It is one and the same park, with different names in two countries (Serengeti in Tanzania, Masai Mara in Kenya). For those fortunate enough to have witnessed that river-crossing live, it is indeed the Seventh Wonder of the world!
Every year, hundreds of thousands of tourists (mainly from Europe, America and latterly South Africa) throng Tanzania’s wildernesses to enjoy nature in its pristine form. And Tanzania has 49 such sites and wonders spread across the country, the most famous being Mount Kilimanjaro, the Ngorogoro Crater, the Olduvai Gorge, the Laetoli Footprints, Lake Victoria, Zanzibar, Lake Tanganyika, Mount Meru, Oldoinyo Lengai, Lake Natron and the Selous Game Reserve.
“We receive mainly a nature-related type of visitors,” Dr Nzuki confirms. “Currently the northern part of the country [from the city of Arusha upwards, covering Mount Kilimanjaro, the Olduvai Gorge, the Ngorogoro Crater, the Serengenti, Lake Victoria, and the other sites in that part of the country], is more active in terms of visitor numbers, and as such the industry there is more developed than in the south of the country.”
For years, the greatest enemy of Tanzanian tourism has been infrastructure, which is now gladly being addressed. In the next five years, says Dr Nzuki, all the regions of the country will be linked with paved roads, to make it easier for tourists to reach the national parks and wilderness areas.
Tanzania has 16 national parks and 31 game reserves, some as large as 5,000 sq km. In all, 28% of the country is covered by national parks and game reserves.
Good animal husbandry and conservation policies have ensured a phenomenal growth of animal populations, to the extent that today some species, such as elephants, have outgrown their natural habitats and are encroaching on human-populated areas.
There are, therefore, frequent human–animal conflicts, which are being controlled through multiple means, including hunting tourism, in which hunters from abroad pay for licences to shoot the old and infirm in the animal population.
This brings in some needed foreign exchange for the Tanzanian economy, and jobs for the scouts who accompany the hunters to make sure that the right animals are shot according to the licences held by the hunters.
“Tanzania is one of the few countries that have strict conservation values,” explains Dr Nzuki. “We try our best to protect the animal resources, because we know that for tourism to flourish in Tanzania, nature plays a very significant role.”
One of the major pluses for Tanzania is the political stability the country has enjoyed since independence. “This is a great asset, which convention and conference organisers are looking for,” says Dr Nzuki, “a destination that gives them the comfort to plan for an event two years ahead of time, and still remains stable when the time comes.
“We do get conferences and conventions going to Arusha, however, conference organisers are looking for facilities that can house up to 5,000 people; unfortunately we don’t have one at the moment in Tanzania. But the demand is there. We get these enquiries all the time, and we hope to get such a centre by 2015, most likely in Dar es Salaam.”
Tanzania has an 804km coastline on the Indian Ocean with a number of excellent, white sandy beaches as yet undeveloped. The country also has large bodies of water such as lakes Victoria, Tanganyika, Nyasa and Natron.
Dr Nzuki says there is a master plan by the Dar es Salaam City Council to develop the Dar beach front into restaurants, shopping malls, and other water-related activity. “The seafront is bound to change completely in the very near future; some work has already started,” Dr Nzuka adds.
Though Kenya is seen in some ways as Tanzania’s competitor in terms of tourism, it is also a partner in other ways. “Most visitors to this part of Africa,” Dr Nzuki explains, “want to tour the two countries for the beach tourism in Mombasa (Kenya) and the true African wilderness experience in Tanzania. So they go to Kenya and come to Tanzania for both experiences.
“But even that is changing,” Dr Nzuki continues. “In recent years, Tanzania has been receiving visitors direct from the tourist-generating markets in Europe and America. Now 60% of visitors to Tanzania come directly; the figure is up from 30% in the 1990s. They go to Zanzibar for the beach experience, and come to the Tanzanian mainland for the wildlife experience, so they get both experiences here without going to Kenya.”
In the next five years, Tanzania will diversify its tourism products to attract even more tourists, says Dr Nzuki. “I can tell you that the future of our tourism is geographical diversification. We want to open up the rest of the country, especially the national parks in the south, which means we will now be able to get even more visitors, because currently the main limiting factor is the availability of accommodation facilities.
“That factor is not in the cities, it is in the national parks because we are practising responsible tourism in the national parks. If we had wanted, we would probably have turned our national parks into cities by allowing large hotel development, but we know our visitors are looking for the true wilderness experience so we keep those places pristine to provide the seclusion that visitors are looking for.
“So we are encouraging accommodation facilities to be built in the nearest towns to the national parks, say 20km away, so that visitors can go to the parks and come back to sleep in the nearest towns.”
Part of the diversification programme includes convention and exhibition tourism as well as beach, history, ecology and culture tourism.
This year, with the Golden Jubilee celebrations in tow, Dr Nzuki projects that between 850,000 and 900,000 tourists are likely to visit Tanzania. “This is with the current level of supply of accommodation,” he says in clarification. “Once we do the diversification and increase the accommodation facilities, the numbers can easily be doubled. We have a beautiful country and very friendly people – two of the greatest assets in the tourism industry, and we should take advantage of them.”