An index to this series appears at the first post.
Just as we cannot tell the history of St. Petersburg without Peter the Great, to tell the history of Dar es Salaam without Majid bin Said, first Sultan of Zanzibar, would be impossible. In 1862, Mzizima was a fishing village beside an extensive harbor, populated by Swahili who had moved down from Somalia and Zaramo inhabitants who had come from further inland. By 1879, many partially-completed city blocks had been constructed along the waterfront to form the nucleus of Dar es Salaam, the “harbor of peace.” What would inspire the Sultan to invest so heavily in constructing a city from scratch?
From village to city
Zanzibar’s economy thrived on two sources: transit trade and plantation agriculture. The area that became Dar es Salaam incorporated the largest natural harbor in close proximity to Zanzibar. The Sultan saw that a well-developed port could further boost the flow of goods from Sub-Saharan Africa into Zanzibar. As his reign progressed, the attractions of a second home away from the constant strain of the court at Zanzibar also became apparent. Sultan Majid passed away in 1870, however, leaving the sultanate to his brother Barghash, who had contested Majid’s selection as Sultan. The second Sultan of Zanzibar was much more interested in developing the infrastructure of Zanzibar than he was in building a city on the continental coast. A French missionary visited the city site in 1886 and had this to say:
Situated on the shore of its harbour, like an Arab woman in rags in the home of her former husband, Dari Salama appears to mourn its isolation and poverty. To the left, the palace of Said Majid is still to be seen, half concealed by mass growth… (Brennan and Burton, pg. 18)
Because Natasha and I had found a hotel close to the ferry terminal, we were quite close to the oldest structures in Dar es Salaam. The “Old Boma,” constructed in 1866-1867, stands just opposite the ferry terminal. Many British colonies in Africa constructed bomas as a single building housing government offices and police startions. The building currently houses an organization dedicated to architectural heritage. When I see the walking tours they made available, I really wish we had signed up for one or more! Sultan Majid’s palace has been demolished, but an ancillary structure, possibly built to house his harem, evolved in time to house the “White Fathers” organization in 1922.
Rebirth at the close of the 19th century
These older buildings were subsequently joined by two substantial churches that were for years the tallest buildings in the city. A building that was once a mission has been repurposed as some sort of government building. Quite close by we found St. Joseph’s Cathedral. The foundation stone was laid in 1898, and the construction was completed in 1902. Just a couple blocks away one finds a rather different kind of church. German missionaries constructed a Lutheran church at roughly the same time… and they used a Bavarian Alpine style! It’s quite a striking departure from the Catholic design.
Carl Peters, violent colonizer
If the Sultan of Zanzibar had turned his back on Dar es Salaam, what led to this growth boom at the end of the nineteenth century? At this point we must introduce Carl Peters, a German colony builder who was largely responsible for the creation of “German East Africa.” Representing his “Society for German Colonization,” he toured what is now Tanzania through 1884 securing “treaties” with leaders throughout the region. He returned to Germany to found the German East Africa Company. He attempted to convince an initially unwilling Otto von Bismarck to grant him an imperial charter to transform these pieces of paper into an actual German colony.
The influence of Carl Peters on German East Africa was highly aggressive, first in the sense that he single-mindedly pursued more “treaties:” “most of [the Society’s] funds were absorbed by financing treaty-gathering expeditions” (Perras p. 113). In the second sense, Carl Peters actively advocated for the use of violence to maintain control of the local citizenry. He was apparently fond of asking “Haven’t you shot a negro yet!?” It was in connection with Carl Peters’ efforts to achieve leverage in this region that Emily Ruete (sister of Sultan Barghash) returned to Zanzibar with a German fleet. Peters’ heavy-handed aggression led to a late 1880s rebellion against the German East Africa Company which was overcome through use of the German military. After that involvement, it was clear that the colony would be officially supported, and an 1890 treaty swapped territories between British and German areas in East Africa to reduce the tension between the two (Perras p. 168).
In other words, the last decade of the nineteenth century brought the “Scramble for Africa” to what is now Tanzania. What the Sultan of Zanzibar had started at Dar es Salaam would be expanded upon by the Germans. The church buildings I showed above reflect this area passing from Sultanate to German control. World War I, however, brought a substantial shift in power. The Treaty of Versailles stripped Germany of its African colonies, and France and Great Britain were the recipients (apparently returning the inhabitants to self-rule wasn’t a popular idea– that would wait until the independence movements long after World War II).
Today’s Dar es Salaam
In 2009, the World Bank estimated the population of Dar es Salaam as 2.7 million. Tanzania has become the second most populous country in East Africa (after Ethiopia) with 40.4 million people. The city is the economic centre of the country, even if the capital is the much smaller Dodoma. In 2012, Tanzania’s national bureau of statistics reported that Dar es Salaam had reached 4.4 million out of 45 million; people continue to migrate to the city from the countryside to find work.
The Dar es Salaam skyline has been changing dramatically in recent years. The Tanzania Ports Authority (2015) and PSPF Commercial Twin Towers (2014) are the only buildings in Tanzania to exceed 150 meters in height. The PSPF is the Public Service Pensions Fund for the country, while the Tanzania Ports Authority is a parastatal organization to manage the busy port of Dar es Salaam. These are just the most visible examples, though; the tallest seven buildings in Tanzania were all constructed since 2010, and all were in Dar es Salaam!