History

In 1862 Sultan Seyyid Majid of Zanzibar alighted on the Zaramo fishing village of Mzizima as the location for his new summer palace. He named it Dar es Salaam (Haven of Peace), a name that reflected its isolated location on a broad natural bay, making it perfect for the new trading depot he envisaged. Yemeni Arabs from the Hadrumat were invited to plant coconuts inland while Indian merchants contributed to the fledgling economy.

Majid’s sudden death in 1870 brought an abrupt end to the development, as his succeeding brother, Barghash, had little interest in the new port. So it wasn’t until the late 1880s, when the German East Africa Company established a trading station, that the city really began to evolve. By 1887 Dar was the capital of the new German protectorate. The colonial administration was moved from Bagamoyo and the construction of a railway line accelerated the city’s growth, facilitating trade with Central Africa via Lake Tanganyika.

As the city grew, social and political awareness grew too. Ironically, WWI was to prove the catalyst for the revival of African institutions such as the Tanganyika African Association, which was sanctioned by the postwar British administration in 1922. This organisation ultimately merged with the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) to form the basis for the nationalist movement, which achieved independence for the country in 1961. Since then Dar es Salaam has remained Tanzania’s undisputed political and economic capital, even though the legislature and official seat of government were transferred to Dodoma in 1973.

In the newly independent Tanzania, Dar fared poorly. President Julius Nyerere favoured a socialist economic model, and one in which urban areas were de-emphasised in favour of rural investment. As Tanzania’s primary city, Dar es Salaam languished while a newly nationalised labour market and centralised government spawned Byzantine levels of bureaucracy and corruption. Still, the close ties of friendship between Nyerere and China started to pay dividends when socialism was abandoned in favour of liberalisation in the 1990s. Since then Chinese investment has transformed the city from a quaint colonial backwater into a high-rise metropolis and Beijing is now Dar es Salaam’s biggest trading partner. Investment is focused on large-scale projects such as roads, bridges, railways, apartments and pipelines. Most notably, though, there is significant investment in the new city of Kigamboni over the bay, where the future of Dar es Salaam lies in a 20-year, US$11.6 trillion project set for completion in 2032.