Zanzibar profile

  • 28 October 2015
  • From the section Africa
Map of Zanzibar and Pemba

The Indian Ocean islands of Zanzibar and Pemba lie off the east African coast.

The semi-autonomous territory maintains a political union with Tanzania, but has its own parliament and president.

A former centre of the spice and slave trades, present-day Zanzibar is infused with African, Arab, European and Indian influences.

In 1964 members of the African majority overthrew the established minority Arab ruling elite. The leftist revolution was swift but bloody; as many as 17,000 people were killed.

A republic was established and the presidents of Zanzibar and Tanganyika, on the mainland, signed an act of union, forming the United Republic of Tanzania while giving semi-autonomy to Zanzibar.

Separatist sentiments have been gaining ground on the islands.


Zanzibar and Pemba Island

Semi-autonomous islands in union with Tanzania

  • Population 1.3 million

  • Area 2,461 sq km (950 sq miles)

  • Major language Kiswahili, English

  • Major religion Islam

  • Life expectancy 58 years (men), 62 years

  • Currency Tanzania shilling

Getty Images


President: Ali Mohamed Shein

Image copyright Getty Images

Ali Mohamed Shein from the governing CCM (Chama Cha Mapinduzi) party was voted in as president in elections in November 2010.

He narrowly beat Seif Sharif Hamad of the opposition Civic United Front, who subsequently served as vice president under a power-sharing deal.

The power-sharing deal was enshrined in a constitutional amendment adopted earlier in the year to end perennial election violence.

Zanzibar has its own cabinet, known as the Revolutionary Council, and a 50-seat house of representatives. Elections, by popular vote, are held every five years.

Under the previous winner-takes-all electoral system, the opposition had no representation in government.


Image copyright Getty Images

The media in Zanzibar come under a different set of regulations to their counterparts in mainland Tanzania.

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