Zanzibar, a beautiful archipelago hidden in the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean, is brimming with undiscovered gems for travellers looking for a one-of-a-kind and enchanting experience. Zanzibar has emerged as a hidden gem in the area of blue tourism, with its pure white-sand beaches, vivid coral reefs, and rich cultural legacy. It has a plethora of unspoiled beaches that look like they were snatched from a postcard. Each stretch of beach offers a serene haven for relaxation and renewal, from the picturesque Nungwi Beach in the north to the hidden Paje Beach on the east coast.
Dr Hussein Ali Mwinyi, a visionary and outspoken leader of Zanzibar, reveals his passion for Zanzibar, the discovery of oil and gas, and how to grow the island nation’s economy without harming the environment in an interview with a team from the African Leadership Magazine UK, led by its publisher, Dr Ken Giami. He emphasises the tactics required for the development of blue tourism as well as what distinguishes Zanzibar as a premium tourist destination. He spoke out over the African Free Continental Trade Agreement, or AfCFTA. Dr. Mwinyi discussed his vision for Zanzibar’s youth and what they must do to be relevant on the continent.
Thanks so much, Your Excellency, for having us, African Leadership Magazine. We see you as one of the few African leaders who has a clear vision. And we’ve selected you for this African Leadership Legacy series. And you come from a rich history of patriotism, leadership, and service to the nation, right from your father. And we see that there’s a clear path, from your policies to your pronouncements. Can you tell us a bit about what growing up was like for you? What are some of those experiences that moulded you into who you are today?
As you correctly said, I’m coming from a political family. My father has been the president of Zanzibar as well as Tanzania, so I’ve grown up surrounded by political activities. So after having completed my studies, I was asked to run for parliament through my father’s constituency. So it was for that reason that I developed an interest in politics. And that is the reason that I decided to pursue the political area. And that’s the reason that I’m here today.
And, as President, you’ve been a major proponent of attracting investment, tourism, and trade to Zanzibar. What are some of the things you’ve done to create the right business environment to attract capital investment and tourism?
Well, as you know, investment is very important for any country’s growth. In Zanzibar, being an island, we are surrounded by the ocean; we don’t have much land. And for that reason, agriculture would not be big in this area because of the scarcity of land. We don’t have minerals. And since we are surrounded by the ocean, we thought the ocean should be our plant. And for that reason, we came up with a policy of blue economy to try to utilise the ocean resources in a sustainable manner for the economic growth of the country. And we put up a lot of policies, particularly policies that came up with incentives for those who would bring their capital here. So that is the reason that we have the blue economy as the main policy for our country’s economic growth. But also, because tourism contributes about 30% of our GDP, we had no option but to look into how to implement strategies and policies that would attract more tourism, particularly around fisheries. Because the majority of Zanzibaris are employed in fisheries,
It’s a bit tricky for the blue economy. Yes, you’re known for being the major pusher for the blue economy. How does that feel? What does it cover? Who are the people invited to participate? Who are the investors?
The blue economy has several sectors. Among them is tourism, which is the biggest for Zanzibar because, as I said earlier, it contributes 30% of our GDP. But fishing, as I said, is an important sector. We also have oil and gas. Zanzibar has discovered some gas, and we are hoping to start to exploit that in the near future because we have good reserves around, I would say, 3.2 trillion cubic feet already discovered. So, we are going to also be involved in oil and gas, but being an island, we are definitely required to have a major port here. I mean seaport, and we are now planning to come up with a multipurpose port in a place called Manga Pwani. And this port will be a transshipment hub. So rather than having a port that will only cater to Zanzibar, it will be a port that caters to the region. You know, containers and other cargo would be coming from Zanzibar and going to these other ports around here, like Mombasa, Da er salaam, the euro, and as far as Durban in South Africa. That’s the intention. And I think we are on the right track. So those are the main sectors of the blue economy. But we also have, together with those, marine transport and trade. Yeah, so if we are to be a hub for transshipment, it means you will need to have a lot of smaller vessels that will be plying around here. So marine transport and marine trade will be two of the major sectors of the blue economy.
Let me take you to the tourism side. As the major contributor to the GDP, it would be right to say that Zanzibar is more interested in the quality of tourism than the volume of tourists. Can you throw more light on that?
Yes, you’re not wrong. Because of the small size of Zanzibar, you don’t want mass tourism. And because mass tourism also has an impact on the climate, it has an impact on, you know, environmental changes. So, our tourism policy in Zanzibar is what we call high-value, low-volume. You know, you get very wealthy individuals to come to Zanzibar in small numbers. But we’re getting even more resources and revenues from mass tourism. And that’s the idea of having high-class hotels for high-wealth individuals with low volumes. This is good, not only from the point of view of revenues but also for sustainability because we need to preserve the environment. So, the smaller the number, the better for the environment.
I like the fact that you mentioned that it helps with sustainability. And I’m excited because, very recently, you were nominated to receive the Global Water Price Change Prize for your investment in water for sustainability’s sake. How do you feel about this hour? I want to congratulate you, but I also want to know how you feel. And what are some of the investments in water that you have embarked upon?
Being an island, we do not have enough water resources. Soit’s very important for us to utilise what we have in the best way possible. So, I’m happy that we have collaborated with partners in the Global Water Partnership, which is being led by the former president of Tanzania, and the South African part of the Global Water Partnership. And we had come up with a strategy for Zanzibar. And that strategy is what gave us the award—that we had come up with a good strategy and that we are now going to look for funding to make sure that we utilise what we have sustainably. And in that way, I can tell you one thing. We rely on groundwater here in Zanzibar. Yeah. And it’s quite costly. So, we need to have the resources, and we need to make it sustainable. There’s a lot of research in that area. There are a lot of policies and strategies. And this is what gave us the award, because we had implemented a very good strategy towards water sustainability, etc.
Well, again, congratulations. It’s a worthy award. And let me move on to peace and tourism. We know that where there is no peace, there is no security. And, of course, that goes to Unity. You’ve been known as a leader who has forged a very united front, not just locally in Zanzibar but across the nation, the union, and also across the region. What was driving your approach to sustaining peace, security, and unity?
As you said, without peace and security, there’ll be no development and no prosperity, because everything depends on peace and security. And it is for that reason that, when we came into power, the first thing we decided was to formulate a government of national unity. The aim was to bring all players to the table so that we could achieve stability in the country. And I’m happy to say that since we created the Government of National Unity, Zanzibar has been quiet, stable, and very peaceful. And it gives us now the room to use the developmental strategies that we have. I’m glad to say that so far, we have been working hard to make sure that we create strategies and policies and implement different infrastructure projects so that we gain the prosperity that people are looking for. And all this is because of the stability that we have in the country.
Again, I must commend you. It’s not every day you see that. We see you as a leader who is very strategic and very visionary. In your strategic development plan for 2026, Vision 2030, And we also realise you recently set up, in December, what you call the Presidential Delivery Bureau. This speaks to a leader with vision. What are some of your larger visions for Zanzibar? And of course, for the region going forward?
Yes, we have those policies in place. And we have the Zanzibar 2050 vision; we have Paddack, which is the Zanzibar de la Development Plan, a five-year plan; and we have formulated the Presidential Delivery Bureau in order to make sure that we deliver and not just have policies and strategies, but we actually deliver on the ground. Yeah, so that’s the reason we have those in that setup. Now, it’s quite important to have vision because you have to dream that, in the next 50 years, where do you want Zanzibar to be? And since you asked me where I’m visualising Zanzibar, as I told you earlier, I want Zanzibar to be a hub—a hub for everything, a hub for transshipment. Because, as you know, we are surrounded by the ocean, we can create a good port here. We want to be a hub for logistics, rather than people going all the way to Dubai or China. Why not have a logistics centre in Zanzibar? That’s the vision that we have. Well,
That’s a powerful vision, and it aligns again. Last year, we realised that the number of air passengers in Zanzibar had increased dramatically. It means something is happening here. I flew from Germany to Zanzibar. This is my first time. I was excited. The roads are clean. And what would you say to our other African brothers? How would you sell Zanzibar? I want to be one of your ambassadors to attract visitors here. What should be the USP? What should we tell them about Zanzibar?
We have the best tourist destination in Zanzibar. And our tourism here relies on two major areas, unlike most tourist destinations, where they have a single area. In Zanzibar, we have what we call-ocean tourism,” or rather, coastal tourism. Yeah, because of the beautiful sea that we have and because of the white, sandy beaches that we have. That is one that you cannot find in many places, I can tell you that. But on the other hand, Zanzibar has history; we have heritage; you know, this is what gives us an advantage over other areas like the Maldives and others here; when you come to Zanzibar, you can enjoy the history, the culture of the people here, the heritage that we have, you know, Stone Town, and so on. So, in a nutshell, I would say we are offering the best tourist destination in the region. But for those who are interested in investment, Zanzibar offers the best incentives when it comes to investment. So, if you come to Zanzibar and want to invest in any of the sectors that I mentioned, you are likely to have the best tax incentives compared to most of the other areas in the region.
Wow. It’s a beautiful feeling. And you have made me a believer in Zanzibar today. Zanzibar has been described as a crossroads of cultural influence, where Africa meets Arabic history with some Indian flavour that is odd with European thought. It makes Zanzibar a confluence of thoughts. How have you been able to harness international partnerships with this level of history and heritage for the benefit of Zanzibaris?
Like I said, in the history of Zanzibar, there used to be Europeans here. And then there used to be Arabs. But then, after our revolution, we were a country that embraced all the other people from everywhere—you know, Europeans came; Indians, as you said, came. So, most of the time, Zanzibar is a multicultural area, you know, so we have all those cultures together. And I think it gives us a unique position in the region.
Also, everybody feels at home. Yes, we see you as a statesman, not just for Zanzibar but for your vision and your strategic leadership. And I’m excited; it’s already been noticed internationally, like the UN awards you’ll be receiving. And you have a view that is highly respected in Africa. I can tell you that because I’ve been privileged to move around. What’s your vision for African leadership? What do you think of the leaders of Africa? What’s your take on African leaders?
Well, the most important thing, as we’ve said earlier, is peace and security. I think all African leaders should thrive to make sure that our continent is peaceful and stable, both politically and economically. That is the only way we will prosper. And I’m glad that the African Union now comes with a lot of political and economic policies, like the free continental trade area, that will make a huge difference when we actually implement those policies. And the only way we can do that is, first of all, that we must have security; all of the continent has to be secure, stable, and political, and then we must make sure that we have the necessary infrastructure. You know, it’s very difficult now to send anything from Zanzibar or Tanzania to any African country; we would rather send it to Europe because it will be faster and cheaper. Yeah. So it’s the infrastructure that we need to make sure that we create, and then I think Africa will prosper.
Last question for you, Your Excellency. I see a lot of young people around you and your government. And on social media spaces, you’re one leader that has a lot of youth support, who we know used to always attack their leaders. How have you been able to draw the youth close? What are your programmes for young people and also for women, who are the other minority groups in Africa?
Well, I’m a believer in youth, and I think, given the chance, they can do wonders. And that’s the reason I accommodated a lot of youth in my cabinet. There are a lot of youth in different positions in the government, and women as well. There are a good number of women who are actually doing a tremendous job. So, I believe that we can do a lot by using the youth in government in other areas, but also, because of the demography and the population that we have in Zanzibar and in Tanzania in general, the majority are youth, we need to have a special type of strategy to make sure that we are responsive to their needs. You know, they have a lot of needs, including education, employment, and so on. So sometimes it’s difficult to absorb all the graduates into government; we need to make them able to be self-employed. You know, so it is these strategies that we’re coming up with to make sure that they employ themselves; we make sure that they are able to get a good education so that they can, you know, have prosperity in their lives. So it is necessary because of the demographic.