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Tanzania Celebrates 52nd Union Day

Tuesday, April 26, 2016 10:47 AM | Jane Leuchter

Union Day celebrates the formation of the United Republic of Tanzania by the two independent states of Tanganyika and Zanzibar in April of 1964, spurred by the Zanzibar revolution in January of the same year. This was "the first political union between independent countries ever to take place on the African continent in the post-colonial era"[1] and remains an influential political relation even today, sparking conversation and debate in Tanzania and throughout the rest of the world.

One note of contention among Tanzanians today is the reason behind why these two countries united. Julius Nyerere, the leader of Tanganyika, and Abeid Karume, the leader of Zanzibar after its revolution, were behind the decision to unite their independent countries. However, the motivation behind each is still unclear. According to some stories, after the Zanzibar revolution Nyerere casually mentioned the union to Karume, who immediately agreed. Others are convinced that Nyerere proposed the union after being prompted by U.S. President Lyndon Johnson, who did not want Zanzibar to become controlled by communists. A third suggestion is that Nyerere's interests happened to coincide with the United States and Britain's interests in East Africa, which led both to work toward the same goal. Whatever the true reason, Nyerere's work at uniting Tanganyika and Zanzibar has lasted beyond his death. In his obituary titled The legacy of a great African, Gamal Nkrumah writes: "It was to Nyerere’s credit that he managed to unite this most ethnically, linguistically and religiously diverse of nation-states and make it one of Africa’s most politically stable countries"[2].

Union Day is celebrated in Tanzania in a variety of ways. According to Mwalimu Grace, “People celebrate by showing different culture and swahili ngoma. The president must be there.” Ngoma in Swahili translates to both “drum” and “dance;” each is used in a variety of ways in Union Day celebrations. Grace notes that “they use different drums for tradition and for enjoyment.” In Dar es Salaam, the capital city, Union Day is celebrated with speeches and a parade, and “dignitaries from nearby countries join Tanzanian government officials in these festivities” [3]. Some celebrations include military demonstrations in addition to dancing and other traditional presentations. 

Children performing at the 49th Union Day celebrations [4].

This year’s Union Day festivities have been cancelled by president Magafuli, who has ordered that the money be used instead to expand a stretch of road from the city of Mwanza to the Mwanza airport, which should help alleviate traffic jams in the area. As part of his focus on efficiency and money-saving measures, this is the third national celebration Magafuli has canceled in order to cut “unnecessary government spending” and allocate this money to infrastructure improvement projects [5, 6].

Tanzanians are getting behind Magafuli’s leadership style, and so are we. His anti-corruption stance, his money-saving goals, and the pay cuts he’s implemented since taking office will help the Tanzanian economy and equalize income disparity.

Happy Union Day, Tanzania!

[1] Godfrey Mwakikagile, The Union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar: Product of The Cold War?

[2] Gamal Nkrumah, The legacy of a great African

[3] Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition.

[4] Shawn Mubiru, “Kids steal show at 49th Union Day celebrations

[5] Daily Nation. “Magufuli cancels Union Day celebrations to ‘save money for road project’”

[6] Mail & Guardian Africa. “Magufuli strikes again - cancels celebrations marking Tanzania's key Union Day to 'save money for road project'”

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