AFRICANGLOBE – Lying off the East African coast in the Indian Ocean, this semi-autonomous part of Tanzania, is interesting for a number of reasons. It is an Archipelago that has a number of small islands attached, the most notable being Unguja, which houses the capital city, and Pemba. Zanzibar may just be one of the oldest regions in Africa with respect to human habitation as empirical evidence suggests humans have lived there for some 20,000 years beginning from the time of the later Stone Age.
The island has had a unique cultural heritage from as far back as the year 1503 when it was totally owned and controlled by the Portugese, around which time slave trade had flourished greatly, till the 19th century when the British took over. Eventually, the islands gained independence from the United Kingdom as the year 1963 was drawing to a close and merged with mainland Tanganyika to form what is today known as Tanzania (a portmanteau of both merging entities). Zanzibar remains, till date, a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania and is run by the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar made up of the Revolutionary Council and House of Representatives.
Like Dubai, Like Zanzibar
Zanzibar and Dubai share some resemblances so striking that Zanzibar could become Africa’s equivalent of Dubai. Geographically, both lie on coastal areas surrounded by giant masses of water, this makes both regions excellent hubs for shipping exports and imports. Also, both areas have significant tourism potential still because of their geographical setting which supports all sorts of marine activities including fishing and recreation. They are both limited in land size and are interlinked in their oceanic role as trade hubs.
Furthermore, both nations share histories dating back to the early years of human civilization. Dubai was first inhabited by nomadic cattle herders and came under the control of other regions, mostly caliphates, from which it acquired the Islam religion. Sometime in 1833, Dubai gained some form of independence and started exploring various means to thrive economically. This middle eastern region once thrived on exporting pearls, but after the collapse of the international pearl market due to the innovation of artificial pearls, alternative income streams were, once again, sought. Oil was discovered in 1966 but the nation has successfully diversified its economy from being totally dependent on oil by developing its tourism and services sector. Today, less than 5 percent of its revenues come from oil.
Tourism Growing Fast
Zanzibar, which recently marked 51 years of independence, may be following this same trajectory. Tourism has been the fastest growing sector in the country and now accounts for somewhere between 25 to 27 percent of the island’s GDP as well as 70 to 85 percent of foreign earnings. Most businesses in the country, including fishing, entrepreneurship, banking, and entertainment, rely almost solely on tourists.
Developing this sector has created ripple effects that echo in virtually every other sector. The Ministry of Labour and Public Service estimates that 40,000 people may be indirectly employed by the tourism sector while half that number are directly employed. When these figures are analyzed vis-a-vis the total population of the island, which is just a little above one million, this sector alone accounts employs about 5 percent of the total population.
In a bid to attract more tourists, the government continue to invest in roads, airports, hotels, medical services and other similar services, this also impacts on the quality of life of the inhabitants. According to Mr Saleh Ferouz, Executive Secretary of the Zanzibar Tourism Commission, a total of about 114 tour operators have been registered to serve the increasing number of tourists. Also, there now exists 7,313 rooms in more than 7,995 hotels including guest houses. These include 26 five-star hotels, nine four-star, 43 three-star, 6 two-star and other hotels.
“Tourism is good for us. The number of tourists who visited us in 2007 was 143,282 up from only 29,211 in 1986 when efforts to promote tourism started with a lot of obstacles including little knowledge about tourists and wrong perception on the industry at that time. We just need to advertise, and improve services including security,” he said.
Beyond boosting tourism, however, the government continues to make other strategic moves, including the introduction of free education at all levels, the abolition of classes in the school system, free medical care and water supply to all. The government has also ensured better housing options for the people by constructing massive blocks of flats in various parts of Unguja and Pemba while also encouraging the citizenry to build their own modern houses.
The last 51 years could be said to be years of economic reconstruction, which will serve as a sure foundation for greater things to come. Authorities have reportedly started exploring ways of transforming the archipelago into a regional hub where business people from across East, Central and Southern Africa can do their wholesale shopping; this is very much the Dubai strategy. With plans to build a bigger and ultramodern terminal at the Zanzibar International Airport, this can happen in the next few years.
With these fundamentals in place, the nation must now focus on scaling up, leveraging its enterprising people and infrastructure to turn all its proposed plans into physical reality.
By: Emmanuel Iruobe