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Tanzania: Stable, Poor, Beautiful
Like most African countries Tanzania is full of seeming contradictions: hope and despair, weakness and strength, dark and light that make Africa so delightfully – African.

In a recent online edition of The Daily News, Tanzania’s government-owned newspaper, a columnist reports a politician’s insistence that she is the victim of juju – witchcraft cast to hinder her chances at re-election. The paper warns street kids to stop hitching rides on the back of city buses and reports that one-third of students in Tanzania’s secondary schools failed their exams due to inadequate teachers and supplies. Another article remarks that in Africa, fat is considered good and in the western world it’s not, so it’s funny that most Westerners are fat.


Skimming the paper’s top stories can help us begin to understand – just a little bit – this East African nation bordered by the Indian Ocean, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and several other nations. It is that unique African blend of modern and superstitious, progressing but not always, weakened by its circumstances and history but strong in spirit and pride.

Tanzania was born as a nation when Tanganyika and the island of Zanzibar joined together in 1964. The area had been part of German East Africa prior to the First World War, when it landed in British hands.

Independence came in 1961, a relatively peaceful transition compared with some. A system of one-party rule began, with Tanzania onside with the then USSR, China and East Germany. The socialist experiment failed and left behind one of the least developed countries in the world.

Today, Tanzania has an elected president in a political system that some say is still corrupt but stable compared with that in much of Africa. During the 1990s Tanzania accepted more than half a million refugees from wars in neighbouring Burundi and Rwanda.

Tanzania is home to big things: Mt. Kilimanjaro (Africa’s highest peak); Lake Victoria (Africa’s largest); Lake Tanganyika (Africa’s deepest) and Gombe National Park (big in the fame department thanks to Jane Goodall and her chimpanzees).

Big challenges as well: The United Nations Human Development Report – the bottom end being a who’s who of poverty – ranked Tanzania 151 out of 182 countries. Malaria, one of the most easily prevented diseases in the world, is a leading killer in Tanzania, along with HIV/AIDS, which the World Bank has said set Tanzania back decades in its economic development.

Its economy depends on agriculture, accounting for 85 per cent of Tanzania’s exports into an international economy that typically favours the buyers, not the African sellers. Agriculture employs almost 80 per cent of the population, who often work their small plots with traditional farming methods that are not geared towards sustainability or efficiency. Tourism brings in dollars with treks to the famous Serengeti, the wildlife park that Tanzania shares with Kenya.

The religious pie in Tanzania is divided mainly between Christians, Muslims and those who adhere to indigenous belief systems. An internal study done on religious intolerance in Tanzania revealed that most adherents coexist reasonably well. The Tanzania Evangelical Fellowship ( was formed in 1993 with the goal to mobilize and empower evangelical churches and mission agencies. It has grown from 23 members to 53, and is a member of the World Evangelical Alliance.

Like most African countries Tanzania is full of what seem like contradictions of hope and despair, weakness and strength, dark and light that makes Africa so distinctly – and for those who love her, delightfully – African.

Canadian Connections 

  • AIM's Lake Victoria Islands project (text, video) in Tanzania has trained 57 community health workers, providing 12 island communities with regular health clinics, health and sanitation education, treatment for over 4,000 HIV-positive community members, and the hope and restoration available only in Jesus Christ.
  • Tanzania’s Datooga ethnic language group has about 200,000 nomadic people. To provide an understandable and culturally relevant Bible for Datoogans, the Bible Society in Tanzania, the Evangelical Lutheran Church and consultants from the United Bible Societies are completing the ongoing translation work of Isaiah, Numbers and 2 Chronicles. They’re also reviewing five already translated O.T. books so that the Datooga people may have God’s Word in the heart language of their hearts.
  • cbm Canada supports three vital projects in Tanzania. Two eye hospitals serve over 30,000 eye patients annually while cbm’s CCBRT Kilimanjaro CBR program provides both ophthalmic and orthopaedic services for over 1,000 people.
  • Church of God in Western Canada (Anderson, Indiana) works with three residential missionary couples, 253 congregations, Bible School at Babati, vocational training, child sponsorship.
  • Compassion Tanzania began registering children into its centres in July 1999. Currently, more than 52,200 children are assisted at more than 200 church-based child development centres near the city of Arusha and another town, Babati, 62 miles to the southeast. Compassion Tanzania is growing quickly to reach out to a constantly growing number of Tanzanian children living in poverty. We strive to illustrate God's love for them and provide them with numerous opportunities they might not have otherwise.
  • Global Aid Network (GAiN), the humanitarian partner of Power to Change, is drilling deep water wells in the Muslim-dominated Lindi region of Tanzania. The Water for Life Initiative provides health and hope for those suffering from water-borne diseases and dehydration, and has introduced thousands of people to Jesus Christ. Since May 2008, GAiN has: drilled 29 productive wells; showed the JESUS Film to 33,344 people; seen 1,977 people accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour; planted 23 new churches that now have 890 new members.
  • Mission Aviation Fellowship transports teams of doctors and nurses to six remote villages each month in Tanzania while evangelists minister to spiritual needs.
  • SIM (Serving In Mission) is an interdenominational mission who, plant, strengthen, and partner with churches, evangelizing the unreached, discipling and equipping believers. SIM ministers to human need through projects such as HIV/AIDS, health, water and food sustainability, education, media, and emergency relief.
  • World Vision works on over 100 projects throughout Tanzania. With 26,000 children in Tanzania dying from preventable causes such as malnutrition and malaria, World Vision has been working on initiatives to improve the survival and growth of children under the age of five. World Vision's Enhance project seeks to improve the quality of nutrition and diet, facilitate access to essential health services and distribute life-saving items to prevent the spread of disease including bednets, antibiotics and immunization supplies.
  • Canadians serving with Wycliffe Bible Translators are helping further Bible translation for nine related languages in Tanzania's Mara region

Originally published in Faith Today, March/April 2010.

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