Tanzania Facts - Compassion International

Compassion has been working in Tanzania since 1999. Through our work there, we gather Tanzania facts about children in poverty. These Tanzania facts and statistics provide a good picture of the reality of poverty and how Compassion is making a difference.

Poverty is a common problem in the country of Tanzania but Compassion is working to change this. The Tanzania facts tell a discouraging story, but Compassion is bringing hope in the midst of this discouragement. Our programs are changing the statistics one child at a time.

Don't let the hopelessness of Tanzania facts overwhelm you. You can make a difference to a child in Tanzania today!


Compassion Tanzania began registering children into its centers in July 1999. Currently, more than 84,000 children are assisted at more than 400 church-based child development centers.

Learn About Tanzania

Tanzania's history is intertwined with the history of numerous other people groups from all over the world. The United Republic of Tanzania is a union of Tanganyika and the Islands of Zanzibar. Tanganyika and Zanzibar achieved independence from the British in the early 1960s and united on April 26, 1964, to form Tanzania. Tanzania has more than 130 tribes with different languages.

When Arab traders arrived in the region in the eighth century, the area was largely inhabited by Bantu farmers who had migrated from the west and south, and by the Nilotes and related people groups from the north.

By 1506, the Portuguese had claimed control of the coastal region of Tanganyika but were overthrown by the early 1700s. German missionaries were the first Europeans to travel into the interior of Tanganyika in the mid-1800s, and by 1884, Germany had begun colonizing the country. However, at the end of World War I, Tanganyika became a trust territory under British control. Over the years, the Tanganyikans increased their role in their government and finally established self-government that led to their independence from Great Britain in 1961.

Zanzibar fell under Portuguese control in the late 1500s but a century later, Arabs regained the power they had lost. The spices of Zanzibar attracted traders from all over the world and in the early 1820s, Great Britain took a commercial interest in Zanzibar and also sought to end the slave trade there. In 1876, the sale of slaves in Zanzibar was finally prohibited. Indirect British rule through Arab sultans continued largely unchanged until after World War II. In 1963, Zanzibar became fully independent of Great Britain.

Tanzania was formerly a one-party state, but in 1990, the country began to change its political system. One-party rule ended in 1995 with the first democratic elections since the 1970s. Zanzibar's semi-autonomous status and popular opposition led to two contentious elections since 1995, which the ruling party won despite international observers' claims of voting irregularities. The formation of a government of national unity between Zanzibar's two leading parties succeeded in minimizing electoral tension in 2010.

In 2012, the Tanzania Constitutional Review Commission was formed, and in June 2013, completed the first draft of a new constitution.

Despite its problems with poverty, Tanzania is home to Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, and is rich in natural resources and minerals. With the introduction of economic reviews, Tanzanians hope for an increase in their standard of living.

Source: The World Factbook, 2014.


Tanzania's education system has three different levels: basic, secondary and tertiary. Basic education consists of two years of pre-primary education and seven years of primary education. Secondary education consists of four years of junior secondary education and two years of senior secondary education. Children at Tanzania's tertiary level of education spend three or more years in school.

The education system in Tanzania is viewed as the source of livelihood options. An education provides people with skills, confidence and the ability to be trained. Typically, those who are educated have better access to employment, can be self-employed, have a better chance of a consistent income and better access to health care and nutrition.


The constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, there are some limits on freedom of religion.

Muslims perceive government discrimination in favor of Christians in schools, the workplace and places of worship.

There are generally amicable relations among religions in society; however, there continues to be increased tension between Muslims and Christians and between secular and fundamentalist Muslims. In addition, on Zanzibar, some Muslims remain concerned that the 2001 Mufti Law, which allows the Zanzibari government to appoint a mufti to oversee Muslim organizations, authorizes undue government control of religious affairs. While Muslim-Christian relations are generally stable in rural areas, there are tensions in urban centers due to some Muslim groups' claims of discrimination in government hiring and law enforcement practices. There are also increasing religious tensions between Christians and Muslims. For example, during recent Muslim religious rallies in urban centers, some participants publicly criticized Christianity, offending some Christians and, on occasion, resulting in fighting.

Religion may be taught in public schools in the form of a class on religion but it is not part of the national curriculum. Such classes are generally taught on an ad hoc basis by parents or other volunteers but must be approved by the school's administration and/or parent and teacher association.

The law prohibits preaching or distribution of materials that are considered inflammatory and represent a threat to the public order.

The government has banned religious organizations from involvement in politics and politicians are banned from using language intended to incite one religious group against another or to encourage religious groups to vote for certain political parties. The law imposes fines and jail time on political parties that campaign in houses of worship or educational facilities.

Source: International Religious Freedom Report, released in 2012 by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.



Masks, animals, people and other items carved out of ebony or rosewood are common art forms. Also prevalent are batiks, images put onto cloth through a process using dyes and wax. Hand-woven baskets are another traditional art form.


Tanzanian music is influenced by Swahili. The music is popular in the country and even dominates East Africa. Zanzibar also has a taraab, or sung poetry, tradition.

Holidays and Festivals

New Year's Day, Jan. 1
Eid el Haj, Jan. 21: a Muslim celebration
Union Day, April 26: On this day in 1964, Tanganyika and Zanzibar became a United Republic.
Saba Saba (Peasant's Day), July 7: This festival celebrates the founding of the Tanganyika African National Union in 1954.
Independence Day, Dec. 9: Tanganyika won independence from the British on this day in 1961 and Zanzibar did so on the same day in 1963, so the day is celebrated by all Tanzanians.
Christmas, Dec. 25: A day usually spent with family and friends; most Christians attend church services also.

Visit the Compassion blog to read a post about Christmas in Tanzania.

Sports and Games

Children enjoy playing marbles, tag and soccer. Due in part to British influence, rugby is also a popular sport in Tanzania.

Typical Foods

The most popular food in Tanzania is ugali, a porridge made by boiling cornmeal. This dish is comparable to the grits eaten in the southern United States. Ugali is often eaten with stew, vegetables or meat. Goat, chicken and mutton are the most commonly eaten meats. Roasted corn is also popular and is sold on almost every street corner. Hot tea is a popular beverage and is always served when people are socializing.

Ugali Recipe
Creamed wheat or grits 
chicken broth
salt to taste

Cook the cereal in the chicken broth, according to package instructions on the cereal box and eat with stew, vegetables or meat.


Jambo (Hello)
Hujambo? (How are you?)
Sijambo. (I am fine.)
Jina langu ni ... (My name is ...)
Ahsante. (Thank you.)
Kwa kheri (Goodbye)
Bei gani? (How much is this?)

Compassion in Tanzania

Child Sponsorship Program

The program day is on Saturday for all church partners. Children typically meet at the child development center for 4 to 6 hours on Saturdays. Special talent groups and other programs (e.g., sports, choir, etc.) are conducted after school hours during the week. Older students and finalists in primary, secondary schools and vocational schools attend classes on Saturdays and come to the child development center fewer hours per week.

On a typical program day, the children arrive at 8 a.m. After prayers and a cleanliness inspection, they are given porridge or black/milk tea served with snacks, possibly an egg and bread or buns. After program activities, at about 1 p.m., the children receive a meal that may include rice and beef, beans and fruit, or ugali (stiff porridge) and beans or beef.

Parents are involved in meal preparation on program days and infrastructure construction support (e.g., making bricks or digging trenches) at the child development center.

Visit the Compassion blog to learn more about our work in Tanzania and about Tanzanian culture.

Tanzania Facts and Figures
Capital Dar es Salaam

49,639,138 (2014 estimate)

Note: Estimates for this country take into account the effects of excess mortality due to AIDS, which results in lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality, higher death rates, and lower population growth rates than otherwise expected.


Kiswahili or Swahili (official), Kiunguja (name for Swahili in Zanzibar), English (official, primary language of commerce, administration and higher education), Arabic (widely spoken in Zanzibar), many local languages Note: Kiswahili (Swahili) is the mother tongue of the Bantu people living in Zanzibar and nearby coastal Tanzania; although Kiswahili is Bantu in structure and origin, its vocabulary draws on a variety of sources, including Arabic and English, and it has become the lingua franca of central and eastern Africa; the first language of most people is one of the local languages.

Religions Mainland: Christian 30%, Muslim 35%, indigenous beliefs 35%; Zanzibar: more than 99% Muslim
Literacy rate

Definition: Age 15 and over can read and write Kiswahili (Swahili), English, or Arabic.
Male: 75.5%

Female: 60.8% (2010 census)
Percentage of population using improved drinking water sources

Urban: 78.7%

Rural: 44.1%
(2011 estimate)

Percentage of population using adequate sanitation facilities

Urban: 24.2%

Rural: 7.4%
(2011 estimate)

Climate Varies from tropical along coast to temperate in highlands
Percentage of population urbanized 26.7%
(2011 estimate)
Life expectancy Male: 59.91 years

Female: 62.62 years (2014 estimate)
Under-5 mortality rate

(2012 estimate)

GDP per capita $1,700 (2013 estimate)
Monetary unit Tanzanian shilling (TZS)
Number of people living with HIV/AIDS 1.4 million (2012 estimate)
Percentage of population living below
$1.25 a day
68% (2007-11 study)

Sources for facts: The World Factbook, 2014; The State of the World's Children, 2014