The East African country Tanzania has a large and varied population, consisting of about 120 ethnic groups with various linguistic backgrounds. Despite such diversity, Tanzanians from different ethnic groups are unified and integrated by the common national language of Swahili, contributing to the creation of a coherent national identity. The diversity of Tanzanian society contributes to a flourishing cultural and arts scene, mainly characterized by the famous Makonde ebony carvers and the Snake Dance performed by the Sukuma people in the north-central part of the country. Theater, dance and music are also increasingly being employed by churches, state agencies and development organisations to inform the public of Tanzania on issues such as corruption and AIDS.
The Tanzanian Ministry of Information, Youth, Culture and Sports is responsible for the formulation, monitoring and reviewing of cultural policy on a state level. The vision of the ministry is to develop a nation that is well informed and enriched with cultural heritage. The official Cultural Policy of Tanzania, inaugurated in August 1997, is both extensive and detailed. Amongst other things it includes guidelines as to how the Tanzanian government’s National Arts Council shall collaborate with and promote artists and various cultural activities. The document also covers the extent to which the cultural heritage of Tanzania shall be protected and promoted, whilst also mentioning how it is the basic right of every Tanzanian citizen to participate in national cultural activities. The Cultural Policy document further emphasizes the educational and tourism values of culture, and regards culture as an intrinsic part of social development.
The Tanzania Cultural Trust Fund, or Mfuko, is the most important funding agency of arts and culture activities in Tanzania. The Fund was established in 1998, through collaboration between the Swedish and the Tanzanian governments and has so far supported over 300 cultural projects or artists.
Although there exists an extensive Cultural Policy with Ministry to aid in its enforcement, cultural activities in Tanzania face several challenges. One issue is a lack of awareness by the general public of the cultural heritage of Tanzania, together with an acute shortage of working facilities and services within the cultural sector. Also, since the cultural industry was centralised until relatively recently, cultural entrepreneurship by the Tanzanian people is severely lacking. According to Mfuko, there is a general need for training, and for the promotion of cultural and traditional investments in the cultural sector. Instead, the main support for Tanzanian artists today comes from tourists, the local elite and from the diaspora.
The Tanzanian cultural diplomacy projects and activities presented in this report will mainly focus on either government-initiated or sponsored projects or activities, in which the ministry takes a large or small role.