Lying on the East African coastline with a large natural harbour, Dar es Salaam, the ‘Haven of Peace’, was given its name in 1866 by Majid bin Sayyid, Sultan of Zanzibar. Under German rule, the settlement became the administrative and commercial centre of the colony, a position it maintained after the First World War under British trusteeship. Colonial rule imposed a racially segregated settlement plan on the city, with the best areas reserved for Europeans, followed by areas for Indians.
Africans were assigned densely built and unserviced areas separated from others by a green belt. The city became a centre for commerce and light industry, and later a nerve-centre for the nationalist movement, with a series of strikes and boycotts accelerating the transition to Independence in 1961. Some of the Arabic, German and British architecture can still be seen in the city centre. However, the six-room, detached, single-storey Swahili houses predominate.
Today, Dar es Salaam is Tanzania’s largest city by far, being almost three times as large as its second city, Mwanza. Driven by rural–urban migration and endogenous population growth, its urban area doubled in size between 1990 and 2014, concentrating around the major roads that extend like fingers outward from the central business district. The city has an average population density of only 5,000 per square kilometre (though this varies by sub-region). The population is both comparatively youthful and predicted to rise from today’s approximately 7 million, to more than 50 million by 2060, which will make Dar es Salaam one of the largest cities in the world. Such growth will undoubtedly place further strain on the city’s infrastructure and service systems.
As the commercial and industrial capital of the country, Dar es Salaam hosts a much higher concentration of trade, services and manufacturing than elsewhere in Tanzania, contributing 17% to the national GDP. Its central business district is the largest business area of the country, and home to the central bank, stock exchange, largest business towers, and transportation hubs. In recent years, partially thanks to its unique geopolitical position between Central and Southern Africa, the central business district has become a source of merchandise for countries such as DRC, Rwanda, Zambia and Malawi. Yet a striking feature of Dar es Salaam’s economy is its informality. Informal markets, including in land, are integral to its economic dynamics, and any attempt to overcome problems of urban poverty must grapple with this.