A Glimpse of Dar-Es-Salaam
While this could be the end of the story about Dar es Salaam, the picture would not be complete without a brief dive into the city’s history. In addition, it is now even more interesting to know what causes Dar to be not only the most populous city in Tanzania and all of East Africa, but also one of the fastest-growing cities in the world
The Heart of Swahili Coast
Dar es Salaam lies in the heart of the Swahili Coast . The main activity that made the port important was trade. This is only logical since there have always been sea trade routes along the eastern coast of Africa. The northern territory of the East African coast is part of the maritime Silk Road.
Trade relations with Arabs and Asians strongly influenced the Swahili culture in many different aspects: language development, the rapid growth of education, access to vital resources through trade, extreme wealth for local elites, borrowing of religious practices, and new types of craftsmanship. These phenomena rapidly developed among the Swahili Coast peoples giving them a tremendous advantage over the continental African population, which continued to live a more traditional way of life, usually involving hunting, cattle breeding, and farming. The coastal peoples put themselves above the continental Africans, considering the latter to be uncultured (which explains, in some respect, the participation of the Swahili peoples in the slave trade with “their fellows,” i.e., Africans from the mainland).
The biggest influence on Swahili culture was that of the Arab world, which greatly enriched the local language and furthered the religion of Islam. Thanks to excavations in ancient Swahili towns, we know that stone mosques were built here as early as the 8th century AD. The influence of Indian and Persian cultures is noticeable, and the fact of the influence of German culture and later the British culture (colonial period) is undeniable, as well.
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City Founding and Colonial Capital
Until the middle of the 19th century, the small fishing village of Mzizima (“Healthy Town”) stood by the bay that now surrounds the metropolis that is Dar es Salaam.
In parallel, on the neighboring island of Zanzibar, there was a struggle for liberation from Oman, which succeeded in the 1850s. After wresting Zanzibar from the clutches of the Omani Empire and becoming its first sultan, the ruler Majid ibn Said decided to strengthen his position and build a city on the coast of Africa. Thus a new city, called “Harbor of Peace” or “House of Peace” was constructed, what we callDar es Salaam.
The rapid development of the city as an important port as well as a starting point for the new Tanganyika Railroad was greatly influenced by the German Empire, which from 1884 began to colonize East Africa. Following the defeat in World War I, Germany ceded the territory of its colony to Britain and Belgium. Thus, Dar es Salaam came under British influence, becoming the capital of Tanganyika. After World War I it was considered as a League of Nations Mandate Territory and after World War II as a UN Trust Territory.
A large number of people came to the city during British rule from British India, as well as from Britain itself and partly from other parts of Europe. Most of them settled in the Oyster Bay area (aka Coco Beach, where the city’s best beach is located). That is what made the area Europeanized and furthermore, attractive as a tourist destination.
The Capital of Independent Tanzania
After World War II, the city started to grow rapidly. When Tanganyika gained independence and was united with Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam began a new growth spurt, becoming the capital of the United Republic of Tanzania. The city slowed down its development slightly during the period of the socialist experiment (the Ujamaa of Julius Nyerere), as the government encouraged people to stay on their land and farm together. The era of rural lifestyle had definitely passed, so, the Ujamaa was forgotten in the 1980s, and the coast was flooded with young people in search of a better life.
In the 1990s, another attempt was made to balance the overpopulated Dar es Salaam and to encourage relocation to rural areas of Tanzania. In 1996, the capital was officially relocated to the city of Dodoma, which is in the center of the nation. Virtually all government offices, embassies, and businesses refused to move to the underdeveloped city and remained by the Indian Ocean coast. Thirty years later, we can see that Dar remains the most developed city in the country and the de facto capital in terms of culture, economy, and even politics.
Dar es Salaam, a Universal Hot Spot
The megalopolis’ rapid development is best evidenced by the Tanzanian National Bureau of Statistics’ report:
- in 2002, Dar’s population was 2,487,288 people;
- in 2012, it amounted to 4,364,521 people;
- in 2020 (preliminary calculations are outdated since there was no new census), this number reached 5,401,814 people (but we already know from indirect data that reality is far ahead of projections – according to the UN, in 2020, the city had 6,702,000 people).
In all likelihood, Dar es Salaam will remain the most populous city in East Africa, at least until the middle of the 21st century. It means further rapid development of all infrastructure – Dar authorities have a bulk of development plans, which are already successfully implemented). The city is going to become even more attractive and convenient for tourism because Tanzania lives by tourism and will invest in this industry.
AAll indications are that Dar is surely worth visiting on a Tanzania holiday, particularly if you plan to head to the nearby Zanzibar resorts. The 21st century is going to change Africa beyond recognition, and it’s already happening. So it looks like a trip to the Capital of the Swahili Coast should definitely get a visit!