Politics and Development in Tanzania: Shifting the Status Quo

Tanzania’s leaders will need to increasingly rely on astute policy-making to maintain the country’s unique position in a region with numerous powerful national leaders, writes Adjoa Anyimadu.

Research paper Updated 18 May 2023 Published 18 March 2016
Magogoni ferry arrives at city full of commuters, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Photo: Charles Bowman/Getty Images.

Magogoni ferry arrives at city full of commuters, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Photo: Charles Bowman/Getty Images.


  • Despite its long-standing reputation for stability, Tanzania’s journey to a prosperous socio-economic future has entered a period of flux. Key issues facing the country’s new government include: shifting trends in the needs of Tanzania’s young and growing population; strengthening political opposition and destabilization of the union with Zanzibar; transparency in the country’s mineral and agricultural wealth and resources; and its unique geopolitical position between East and southern Africa.
  • Tanzania’s president, Dr John Pombe Magufuli, was elected in October 2015 and has already made his mark as a frugal leader committed to battling waste in the public sector and punishing poor performance in delivering public services. Although an early spate of sackings and cutbacks won popular support, he faces a more difficult challenge in dealing with strong and sometimes divergent dynamics within his ruling party, particularly if the priorities of the political elite contradict his efforts to combat corruption.
  • The annulment of Zanzibar’s elections, and the announcement that they would be re-run despite the objection of opposition parties and the expressed concerns of international election observation missions, demonstrates the high stakes of maintaining the political status quo on the semi-autonomous islands. Without central leadership, the ongoing political impasse could undercut Tanzania’s reputation for stability.
  • Basic development – especially in education, health, electrification, water access and sanitation – remains key to economic improvement. However, without fast implementation, the ruling party could be punished at the next polls by voters tired of unfulfilled promises. In addition, dissatisfaction of a young, under-employed population is a slow-burning but important potential challenge to continued stability.
  • The global downturn in oil and gas prices has compounded delays in Tanzania’s emergence as a gas exporter. Significant, but dwindling, opportunity remains for the development of a gas industry that could move Tanzania closer to the middle-income country status central to its development vision. This advance is dependent on clear and decisive policy-making that balances the concerns of a population, with high expectations, and the priorities of the extractive companies whose investment on the southern Tanzanian coast could be transformative.
  • Tanzania has played a vital role as a quiet but effective mediator in East and Central Africa. While the country continues to carefully balance its membership of both the East African Community and the Southern African Development Community, its leaders will increasingly rely on political dexterity to maintain Tanzania’s unique position in a region with numerous powerful national leaders.