Zanzibar: Africa’s tourist paradise in political stalemate

Just off the Tanzanian coast in the sparkling blue waters of the Indian Ocean, lies the Spice Island of Zanzibar, a famous tourist paradise in East Africa but in political stalemate.

Zanzibar is the largest and most known island on the Eastern African coast by its rich history associated with the make-up of modern states of East and Central Africa.

The prominence of Zanzibar dates back to the first and second centuries when the first travel guide book to the Eastern Coast of Africa, the “Periplus of the Erythraean Sea” or “Periplus of the Red Sea” mentioned the island as rich with birds and crocodiles in its rivers.

The book mentioned Zanzibar as a civilized island with cosmopolitan population living through fishing by sewn boats. After the eighth century, Arab traders began to settle in Zanzibar and built stone towns which today are part of the island’s tourist attractions.

Vasco da Gama, the famous Portuguese traveler, passed near the island in 1498 on his way, sailing to India. Zanzibar became the center of civilization on the Indian Ocean coast of East Africa which early Portuguese sailors described as a fertile island with groves of fine trees producing good fruits, rice, millet, and sugar cane.

In 1832, the ruler of Oman, Sultan Seyyid Said, moved from Muscat, the capital of Oman, to make Zanzibar his home. He signed commercial treaties with the United States, Britain, and France, thus making Zanzibar the first sovereign state in East Africa recognized across the world through diplomatic relations with other states.

Zanzibar in the nineteenth century became not only the most important town on the East African coast, but the starting point for the great European adventurers on their way to the vast East and Central Africa mainland.

Burton and Speke, the early explorers of East and Central Africa, set off from Britain in 1857 and made Zanzibar their home base. Other European explorers, including Dr. David Livingstone and Henry Stanley, followed later and made Zanzibar their base point before exploring the mainland.

With the growing power of the British navy in the Indian Ocean, Britain appointed Sir John Kirk the Consul General and agent to Zanzibar in 1873, making Zanzibar the first country in Eastern and Central Africa to open diplomatic relations with Europe.

Stone Town on the main Island of Unguja is the only functioning historical city in East Africa dating back between 150 to 200 years ago.

In the southeast of the island is Jozani Forest and Nature Reserve covering 484 acres. This beautiful forest is the last remaining habitat of the red colubus monkey. There are about 500 red colubus monkeys remaining in this forest.

Zanzibar’s warm tropical beaches, dolphins at Kizimkazi village, scuba diving, and other water sports make this island a beautiful destination on the African continent and which the famous South African singer, Sipho Mabuse, composed a song, “Oh Zanzibar: Beautiful Island of Africa.”

Tourism is the main economic activity after the downfall of spices due to a sharp drop in prices in global markets. Tourism is currently the leading source of revenue to Zanzibar’s economy, injecting 27 percent to the isle’s gross domestic product (GDP), while generating 72 percent of the isle’s foreign currency.

The island receives about 153,747 tourists per year, mostly from Italy and other European tourist market outlets.

Despite the thrilling history and beauties of this famous island, political instability and politicians’ miseries are running to make this island lose its past glories.

Zanzibar voters are expected to cast their votes on Sunday in the re-run election to elect the isle’s President and other designated political representatives after the previous election carried on October 25 of last year was nullified.