Tanzania

Institutionalization of Ethnic Categories

Key Dates
Details/Documentation

Sources

Key Dates

  • 1920: British rule Tanganyika
  • 1961: Tanganyika independence
  • 1964: Merger with Zanzibar and creation of Tanzania

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Details/Documentation

Race

Race categories were strongly institutionalized in colonial Tanganyika but such institutions were largely eliminated after independence. However, it is important to note that the numbers of white/Europeans and Indians in what would become Tanzania has never crossed a 1% population threshold.

Race categories were counted on the census throughout colonial rule until the first independent census in 1967, but not again.

Separate Native authorities were created under British rule beginning in the 1920s (Tripp 1999: 38; Roberts 2008: 673).

We find evidence of separate representation according to race group starting in 1926, when a legislative council was formed, comprising thirteen officials and seven nominated unofficials; five of the latter were British whites and two were Indians, who in this context were also British; non-British European residents were specifically excluded (Roberts 2008: 675). Starting in the 1950s, Africans were provided “separate but equal” representation on legislative councils (Stultz 1972: 68).

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Language

We find very low levels of institutionalization of language categories in Tanzania, and particularly after independence, the state president was explicit in his attempts to try to eradicate such categories through nation-building policies and the explicit promotion of Swahili as a unifying language. Ethnic institutions were largely suppressed and crushed in the last years of colonial rule and at the onset of independence (Tripp 1999: 43). One exception concerns the distinction between Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania, which we discuss at the end of this section.

African ethnicity or tribe questions were asked on the census throughout colonial rule, and until 1973, but dropped thereafter. Language questions were asked only on the 1952 and 1958 censuses.

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Religion

Religious categories have been weakly institutionalized. Religion questions were asked between 1948 and 1973, but dropped thereafter. Although we find documented evidence of Islamic law being applied when all parties to a dispute are Muslim (Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor 2007), we have not found evidence that the state has used this category as an official distinction in regulating the administration of justice.

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Caste

None found

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Indigenous

None found

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Other ethnic, including tribe

African ethnicity or tribe questions were asked on the census throughout colonial rule, and until 1973, but dropped thereafter.

There is some evidence of the institutionalization of tribal categories under indirect rule, such as in the case of the Nyakyusa Council of Chiefs in 1933 (Tripp 1999: 39).

While efforts at forging Tanzanian national unity were largely associated with the de-institutionalization of ethno-linguistic and tribal categories, the very creation of Tanzania, the amalgamation of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, was done in a manner that institutionalized a Zanzibari category. This is a special case because it is clearly not a linguistic category (most people who inhabit Zanzibar speak Swahili; there is no Zanzibari language, though Posner identifies “Zanzibari-Swahili as a politically relevant ethnic group), and while inhabitants of Zanzibar are overwhelmingly Muslim, this is clearly not a religious category. Nonetheless, given the prior separate history and subsequent amalgamation of Zanzibar and its cultural distinctiveness, we tentatively interpret the category as an ethnic one.

And we find substantial institutionalization of the Zanzibar category, mostly in the form of autonomy: Colonial rule involved different administrations of Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania and this has persisted under independence, as Zanzibar retains its own parliament and president (BBC 2011); separate marriage and personal laws were legal until 1971 for Zanzibar, which allowed for the legalization of Muslim marriage law in Zanzibar. While the census has asked where people were born, which could be used for identifying people of Zanzibar origin, we do not treat internal place-of-origin questions as examples of the institutionalization of ethnic categories, and nowhere else on the census are people asked if they are “Zanzibari.”

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Sources

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