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Facts about Zanzibar

Updated on April 22, 2014
Zanzibar | Source

Zanzibar is an island portion of the United Republic of Tanzania and a union of the former Tanganyika and Zanzibar. It merged with the African mainland country on April 27, 1964, only a few months after Zanzibar had itself become an independent nation. Zanzibar comprises the small islands of Zanzibar (640 square miles; 1,660 sq km) and Pemba (380 square miles; 980 sq km), both lying in the Indian Ocean off East Africa. Their combined area is half that of the state of Delaware.

The island of Zanzibar (also known as Unguja) is situated at 5°30′ south latitude, 39°30′ east longitude, approximately 22.5 miles (36 km) across the Zanzibar Channel from the Tanzanian port city of Bagamoyo. Nearly 53 miles (85 km) long and 24 miles (39 km) wide, it is the largest coral island on the African coast. It is gently rolling land, with Masingini Ridge (390 feet; 120 meters) as its highest point. Numerous bays, reefs, and islets are found along the western coast, while the eastern side is much more regular, with Chwaka Bay the only significant coastal indentation. A fringing reef guards the eastern shore for nearly 50 miles (80 km).

Zanzibar map
Zanzibar map | Source

The smaller island of Pemba, approximately 35 miles (56 km) northeast of Zanzibar and 40 miles (65 km) from the mainland shore, is 42 miles (68 km) long and 14 miles (23 km) wide. Also a coral island, it has an irregular coastline on the west and a straight one, accompanied by a fringing reef, on the east. Although its elevation does not exceed 300 feet (90 meters), Pemba is much more dissected than Zanzibar.

Both islands experience a tropical monsoon climate with two marked rainfall and temperature periods. The two maximums of rainfall are the long rains in March, April, and May, and the short rains in November and December; the other months are dry, although they are rarely without some precipitation. The annual rainfall approximates 60 inches (1,525 mm) on Zanzibar and 80 inches (2,030 mm) on Pemba.

Beautiful Zanzibar Island
Beautiful Zanzibar Island | Source

Although the seasonal temperature range for the year is small (only 6 F degrees, or 3.3 C degrees, at the town of Zanzibar), there is a marked difference in sensible temperatures brought on by a shift in monsoon winds. At the end of the long rains, the southwestern monsoon winds bring fresh, relatively dry air into the islands from the South African landmass; temperatures average as low as 76° F (24.5° C) during July and August.

The beginning of the short rains brings a shift of winds from the northeast. These antimonsoon winds, having blown out of Asia, sweep over the Indian Ocean and arrive below the equator both hot and moist. Average temperatures rise to between 82° and 85° F (28° and 29.5° C) by February and, joined with the high humidity, make a most enervating climate. This tropical, moist climate results in an abundance of indigenous and cultivated vegetation.


The combined population of Zanzibar and Pemba was 981,754 according to the 2002 census. The racial composition of the islands is heterogeneous. The major groups are Africans from the mainland, Arabs, and Asians. Although the Africans make up the majority of the population, economic and political power has traditionally rested with the Arabs and Asians.

The Africans, mainly Bantu in origin, are divided into two distinct social groups: the Shirazis, who are descendants of the original inhabitants of Zanzibar and Pemba, with some claiming to be descended from Persian immigrants; and the mainland Africans, who are descendants of peoples from mainland East and Central Africa or more recent settlers from these areas. The Shirazis comprise approximately 61% of the total population of Zanzibar and Pemba; the mainland-African group, 21%. Economically, the Shirazis are traditionally fishers or farmers on private or community lands, while the mainland Africans have been town laborers or squatters on plantations. Both African groups are almost entirely Muslim.

Zanzibar City
Zanzibar City | Source

With a population of 205,870, Zanzibar city on Zanzibar Island is the only major settlement on either island. The high population density of both islands is indicative of the fertile soils and intensive cultivation. These conditions are manifest on Pemba and in the central and western sections of Zanzibar, where there are heavy demands for labor on the large Arab- and Indian-owned clove and coconut plantations. High rural densities are also apparent on many small African farms growing fruit and vegetables as well as cloves.

Zanzibar and Pemba once accounted for most of the world's production of cloves, but they have subsequently been surpassed by Indonesia and Madagascar. Disease reduced clove production on Zanzibar, so that Pemba accounts for the majority of the total output. Falling prices have also encouraged producers to investigate alternative crops. Nonetheless, with annual production totaling 12,500 tons, cloves and clove products generate well over one-half of the value of the country's exports.

The coconut is the other cultivated agricultural product of note. Although older in the islands' economy than cloves, the production of coconuts is much less important. Products such as copra, coconut oil, and oil cake account for under 20% of the exports.

Cattle are numerous on both islands. Industry is limited, much of it being concerned with the processing of clove and coconut products. Shipping remains a major activity, however. Though by no means as important as it was 100 years ago, the old port of Zanzibar accommodates millions of tons of shipping annually, not including 3,000 dhows. A free port, the first in the East Africa region, was established in 1998 to encourage use of the facilities.

The price of cloves on world markets began a steady decline in the 1970s, leading to a serious long-term deterioration in Zanzibar's terms of trade. Starting in 1986, Tanzania launched a program to liberalize its economy and encourage private investment. Zanzibar's tourism sector, in particular, benefited from foreign investment.


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      Tanzania Safari 

      4 years ago

      Nice information for Facts about Zanzibar


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