Dar es Salaam literally translates from Arabic as “residence of peace”. Indeed, Dar es Salaam’s history is defined by external influences, including its Arab foundation, as well as its indigenous African heritage. The original, tiny fishing settlement on Africa’s East Coast was originally known as Mzizima, meaning “Healthy Town” in Swahili.
However, with the rise of the Omani Sultans in Zanzibar, which even replaced Muscat as the Omani capital in 1840, Mzizima was drawn into their reign with the construction under Sultan Majid of a new city to be called “Dar es Salaam” that would eventually grow to replace the fishing village in 1862 with what is today the largest city in East Africa. Under Sultan rule, Dar es Salaam played a major part in the lucrative spice and slave trades centered on Zanzibar, just North-East of the Dar es Salaam coast. Thanks to its coastal position and fledgling harbor close to Zanzibar, Dar es Salaam’s history of rapid growth is tied closely to its ocean going trade with Zanzibar as a global hub. Zanzibar remained the center of power and commerce in the region.
However, as the British established control over Zanzibar in the late 18th Century Dar es Salaam really came into its own with the arrival of the German East Africa Company who used the city as their administrative and commercial hub for all of colonial German East Africa. The construction of the Central Railway Line also gave Dar es Salaam a kick-start for industrial expansion and an influx of South Asian traders saw the population and economy diversify yet again.
With the seizure of German East Africa by the British following the 1st Word War, this part of Dar es Salaam history saw it become the commercial and administrative center of “Tanganyika” which would become the mainland of modern day Tanzania. Under the British, new areas such as Oyster Bay sprung up to house European colonists while places like Kariakoo emerged to house the local African population. The city in this period grew away from the center extensively.
Again, The post-World War II era saw another rapid population and economic growth in Dar Es Salaam history. This, coupled with the global trend of decolonization, led to the formation of Tanganyika’s political identity and ultimately independence in 1961. With the union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar in 1964 to form the United Republic of Tanzania, Dar Es Salaam continued to serve as the capital despite Zanzibar’s historic position as the Swahili capital.
But, in 1973 the Tanzanian government decided to relocate its political capital to Dodoma, closer to the nation’s physical center in an effort to prevent over-centralisation and disparity between the national regions. However, with the end of socialist economic policies in the 1980’s Dar es Salaam history was again subject to a rapid economic growth with an influx of rural migrants. Incredible growth in the last 15 years has seen Dar es Salaam rise to be considered one of Africa’s leading cities alongside the likes of Nairobi and Johannesburg, boasting a highly developed central business district with skyscrapers and cable bridges. While the political move to the official capital Dodoma continues, Dar es Salaam history still defines it as the political heart of Tanzania and, one of the fastest developing cities in all of Africa, Dar (as it is commonly known) is unlikely to be overtaken as Tanzania’s commercial and cultural capital.