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About Tanzania

by: Susan Wachira-Nyika, Associate Partner of Hofstede Insights

Basic Information


Currency: Tanzanian Shilling (TZS) 

Capital: Dodoma (official); Dar es Salaam (acting)

Time Zone: East Africa Time (EAT) (GMT+3)

Population: 59,734,218 (2020) [1]

Religion: 61% Christian, 36% Muslim, 2% traditional religions and 1% unaffiliated [2]

Border Countries: Kenya and Uganda (north); Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique (south); Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (west) and Indian Ocean (east)



The Republic of Tanzania is the largest East African country. Tanzania gained its independence from Britain in 1961. In 1964 it merged with Zanzibar to form The United Republic of Tanzania. 

Tanzania's climate has a blend of everything. From the ice-and snow-covered Mt. Kilimanjaro, to tropical-like weather from the Indian Ocean and the endless dry Savannah plains - home to the "big five" animals - lion, elephant, rhino, leopard and buffalo, and many other wild flora and fauna. Beaches and spice farms are a natural wonder of the island of Zanzibar. 

The soul of Tanzania is captured in the spirit of its people. Tanzanians are proud of their country and their tribal heritage. Tanzania has over 120 tribes, all with their unique, long-standing traditions and customs. As each tribe celebrates its differences, Tanzanians are unified by the love for their national language - Swahili.  The spirit of "brotherhood" - undugu is the glue that binds the whole nation together from one generation to another. The undugu spirit is also ever-present in any Tanzania diaspora community. 

Taking life pole pole (slowly, slowly) is a way of life embraced by the community. Most Tanzanians are unhurried - they artfully slow down and enjoy life. 



Tanzanians are religious. For Tanzanians, religion is interwoven into the core of their culture. Religion is the anchor of the entire society and is the basis of their cultural unity, family moral values and national identity.

The government of Tanzania provides for freedom of religious choice. Tanzanians have found a way to foster religious coexistence among its 59 million estimated population.  On mainland Tanzania, it is estimated that 40% of the population are Christians, 40% Muslims and the remaining 20% follow traditional native beliefs [2]. In Zanzibar, more than 99% of the population is Muslim.  The harmonious coexistence between and among all Tanzanians is evident in many aspects of society. In politics, since its independence, the country has been governed by alternating Christian and Muslim presidents. Tanzania's legal system combines the jurisdictions of British, Islamic and tribal law. The legal court system applies the laws according to the religious affiliations of those before the courts. The religious coexistence is not limited between Christianity and Muslim alone. Many traditional religious practices are interwoven in daily routines by Christians and Muslims alike.


Politics and the Economy

Tanzania is a democratic republic. To fully understand Tanzania's current political framework, one must study the history of mainland Tanzania and also study the history of the insular autonomous island of Zanzibar.  The modern-day political climate is deeply rooted and still influenced by its political independence (British administrative rule), post-independence ideology era, and the influence from the Arab trade.

For mainland Tanzania, the services sector contributes the highest share of GDP (40%), followed by construction (31.1%) and agriculture, fishing and forestry (28.9%) [3]. As for Zanzibar, the GDP is influenced by the services sector (51.7%), industry (18.3%), agriculture, forestry and fishing (21.2%) and other sectors (8.8%) [4].

The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically affected the labor markets, production capacity and overall productivity of all sectors. The pandemic travel restrictions have also had a huge impact on the tourism industry and the export of manufactured and agricultural goods. As a result, the World Bank projects that the economic growth of Tanzania will slow down by about 2.5% due to the COVID-19 pandemic [5].


Cornerstones of Tanzanian Culture

The Tanzanian spirit is deeply rooted in the spirit for others and the community at large; bringing the unit of families together, nurturing social cohesion, love and service. Tanzanians embody the spirit of brotherhood (community) in all aspects of life.  The spirit of brotherhood can be traced back to when the country gained its independence. Tanzanians learned to work for both the group and self. Less emphasis is paid to the tribal identity. 


Tanzania is a highly collective society with a high power distance. This means that:

  • Relationships are very important. What is valued more is WHO you know and not necessarily WHAT you know. Social networks are a primary source of information.

  • Indirect communication is prevalent. Open conflicts are avoided at all costs. Any grievances are often handled in private.

  • Those in positions of power are usually afforded special treatment and command a lot of respect. This behavior is expected and accepted by the community. 

  • Challenging people in positions of power is frowned upon. 

When in Tanzania

  • Mealtimes are a big family affair and often, food is served on a big platter for communal sharing. In such situations, remember to wash your hands, use your right hand and do not sniff your food. 

  • Learn to slow down and savor the moments in a day - pole pole (slowly slowly). Take the time to chat and socialize. Slow down and enjoy your meal. Just learn to be off schedule from time to time. 

  • The bribery economy is a real phenomenon and is evident in many levels of society. In daily talk, bribes are also known as chai (tea) and kitu kidogo (something small). 

  • Always dress modestly. Tanzanians are very conservative, and it is frowned upon if one is dressed in form-fitting clothes.  

  • The ability to control one's anger in public is expected and valued. 

  • Daily greetings are a part of the everyday routine. Always acknowledge people you work with, or when you enter any business establishment or any room.

  • Before you arrive in Tanzania, learn to at least say "thank you" (Asante!). Knowing how to say thank you in Swahili means a lot to the local people. Learning Swahili in general is the fastest way to understand the local culture and deepen any business relationships.

  • Haggling is a way of doing business. It is also a way of daily life. If you can, avoid paying the first listed or proposed price when in the market, hiring a taxi or negotiating on any service. Haggling is also looked upon as a social dance. This dance allows people to slow down to chat and socialize, and it is the perfect excuse for total strangers just to interact. Most establishments like hospitals, hotels, bars, restaurants and supermarkets have fixed published prices that should not be haggled. However, if you need the ability to pay your bill  (hospital, some restaurants) over time (payment plans) then you can ask.  


Good to Know

Respect for one's elders is a value that is taught to children from a very young age. It is a tradition that is upheld by all tribes (subcultures). Caring for the elders is the responsibility of their children and the whole community. The tradition of respecting elders is also evident in the workplace. Junior employees are often reserved and measured when talking to senior staff. 

Most of the government roles are usually run by native Tanzanians. Fewer women hold managerial roles in the private business sector and government offices. Because of the lower status at the workplace, women will often feel intimidated by their senior managers or supervisors.  As a result of this power distance, businesswomen visiting Tanzania for business will, on occasion, run into stereotyping and discrimination. 

Punctuality is not as important. Most Tanzania's go by "Swahili time".  Expect people to join meetings in a sporadic manner. Arriving at any scheduled meeting within half an hour of the scheduled time is considered punctual and it is acceptable to be late even by an hour to a meeting. 


Body Language

  • Physical contact beyond the traditional handshake between men and women at work should be avoided. Compliments should be given with care so as not to be misinterpreted. 

  • Finger-pointing or waving at anyone is considered to be extremely rude. 

  • Maintaining eye contact in official meetings is normal and expected. On the other hand, prolonged eye contact is often taken to be an invasion of privacy or simply rude. It is very common to find women and lower-ranking staff going out of their way to avert the gaze of their superiors or Western business counterparts. 

  • Public display of affection is not celebrated at all. Whether you are traveling in Zanzibar that is largely a conservative Muslim population, or you are touring mainland Tanzania, be mindful not to display strong emotions in public. 


Dress Code

Mainland Tanzania, as well as the island of Zanzibar, is deeply conservative. When visiting or living in Tanzania, dress modestly. This applies to both men and women. Traditionally, women wear long skirts and avoid wearing clothes that are too form-fitting. 

Tanzanians take pride in being well-kept. Appearance is very important no matter your socio-economic circumstances. While in Tanzania, you will notice that men and women will have clean, ironed shirts and long pants or skirts. Men are either clean-shaven or keep their facial hair neatly trimmed.  Women keep their hair neat in ever-evolving fashionable hairstyles.  Flip flop like sandals are mainly worn around the house and are considered to be bathroom shoes and not office wear.


The Expert Recommends


Tanzania is a multilingual country. Swahili is the official national language. English (British English) is used in daily business interactions, education, and administration. Most Tanzanians are at least bilingual, speaking both tribal language (120 tribes) and Swahili.

Swahili is a Bantu language spoken by many other countries in East Africa. The language is ever-evolving and dynamic. Because of the dynamic nature, the Swahili language often develops informal casual (slang) expressions that appear and disappear all the time. New words are coined, old words gain popularity for some time and sometimes words are flipped around to playful poetry lyrics or coded messages. As you take the time to learn Swahili be aware of the evolving nature of the language. Some examples of classic street language are mambo (what’s up), or vipi (how).

Communication takes place directly and indirectly through folk tales, stories, history, beliefs, festivals, and art. Tanzania uniquely also communicates through Khanga Diplomacy. Khanga is a colorful rectangular fabric that is mainly worn as a wrapper or scarf. The Khanga normally has a message (proverb, well wishes, etc.) printed on it. The saying on the printed message normally has a profound meaning to the wearer and viewer of the Khanga saying. Historically, Khanga saying solved an important communication challenge for women, who were not heard or seen in public. The Khanga saying gave voice to the voiceless. Until today, the Khanga is still used as a way to communicate indirectly. Many women have large Khanga collections. Khangas are used in many wedding ceremonies, and Khangas make the perfect gift options. 

In daily casual communication, expect to use hand gestures. High-fives, clapping hands and handshakes are gestures used often. If someone cracks a joke while chatting, expect to stretch out a hand so the speaker can high-five you. 


Corruption & The Bribery Economy

The battle to stamp out corruption in the Tanzanian government is an ongoing task. Corruption is deeply ingrained in all levels of society. In government offices, sometimes processes are artificially slowed down and will be expedited once a small bribe is offered. Traffic police will expect cash-only payments on the spot as a side deal. Many pay the bribe to speed up services. The only way to avoid paying a bribe is to refuse to acknowledge the reference to the bribe request. Tanzanians will never ask for a bribe directly. If you show your ignorance of the bribe ask, you are likely to get away from paying one. Most visitors are likely to encounter corruption like references when dealing with immigration officers or police. 

The Tanzanian government is aware corruption is a social vice. The leadership team understands the impact corruption has on economic development, trust, inequality, social division and poverty. They understand the continued existence of corruption is directly related to the nationwide low wages, inadequate education and systemic bureaucracy. 



Power Distance

Tanzania has a score of 70, which means it is a hierarchical society. The less powerful in society expect and accept that power is not distributed equally. A person's status is very important. In the event a senior manager or supervisor in the office invites you to lunch, dinner or any social event it is polite to accept. Work-related problems are best handled in private so as to “save face” and avoid humiliating situations. Senior managers have to listen carefully to what is NOT being said more often than what is, junior employees will not openly show if their feelings have been hurt. Embedded in the Tanzania culture is the language of respect- there are different greetings depending on your status in the society and age. Because of the importance of status and respect, challenge discussion or disagreement are often handled in private. 


At a low score of 25, Tanzania is a collectivist culture. People in a collective society foster strong relationships where everyone takes responsibility for and protects fellow members of their group or community. In the workplace, employees are likely to first get the support of their group or colleagues when working on a proposal. Hiring of family members or people from the same tribe is common because who you know matters more than what you know. 


A low score in this dimension means society is more feminine. A feminine society is one where the quality of life is a sign of success and standing out from the crowd is not admirable. Tanzania scored a 40. In Tanzania relationships and quality of life are important (taking life pole pole) - more leisure time is preferred over the pursuit of money, conflicts are handled by compromise and negotiation, and people work in order to live.

Uncertainty Avoidance

Tanzania has a score of 50. This implies society does not show a clear preference in this dimension. Some members of society are comfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity while others are not. In general, Tanzanians are mainly agreeable (in public), family life is relaxed, people only work hard when needed, and there is tolerance for other ethics and religion affiliation (low uncertainty avoidance). On the other hand, others take a conservative approach to investing, believe and seek expert solutions, and there is an emotional need for rules even if they will not work or are not followed (high uncertainty avoidance).

Long Term Orientation

With a low score of 34, Tanzania is considered a short-term orientation society. This means the society tends to look into the past and present as opposed to looking forward into the future (long-term orientation). Leisure time is important (taking life pole pole), main work values include freedom, rights, achievement and thinking for oneself.


Tanzania scores 38. A low score of this dimension implies that its culture is more restrained than indulgent. This means that society tries to control their desires and impulses based on the way they were raised. Being thrifty is expected. Most consumers are price sensitive and will haggle and bargain for almost every service or goods. Most carry packed lunches from home or buy home cooked meals delivered directly to the office by local home-chefs. The society has strict social norms and disciplines that are greatly influenced by all the different tribes in Tanzania


For in-depth detail and  information on  Cultural Dimension analysis, and how Tanzania compares to other countries, please visit Hofstede Insights Country Comparison tool [6].


References & Interesting Links

[1] The World Bank, population total for Tanzania (2020) Retrieved from 

[2] Tolerance and Tension: Islam and Christianity in Sub-saharan Africa.( 2010, April 15th) Retrieved from

[3] The Republic of Tanzania National Bureau of Statistics (2020, November)  Retrieved from (2-23)

[4] Zanzibar in Figures (2020, June) Retrieved from,%202019%20%20%20FINAL%20(14..8.2020%20for%20printing).pdf

[5] The World Bank in Tanzania (2021, July 29th) Retrieved from 

[6] Hofstede Insights - Compare Countries (2021, August 10) Retrieved from 

Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstede, & Michael Minkov (1991). Culture and Organizations Software of the Mind. Intercultural Cooperation and Its importance for survival

Quintin W. (2009) Culture Smart. The essential guide to customs and Culture. Tanzania,, Great Britain, UK: Kuperard

Government of Tanzania (2021) Retrieved from 

Hofstede Insights - National Culture (2021, August 10) Retrieved from 


Last updated: 10.11.2021 - 17:35
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