The World Bank/WBIs CBNRM Initiative

Case Received: February 6, 1998

Author: Kjersti Larsen, Noragric


A Case Study on Tourism, Economic Growth and Resource Management in Zanzibar, Tanzania

Mass tourism, a recent global phenomenon which encourages a flow of people between national and territorial borders, is the fastest growing industry in the world today. This industry has considerable impacts on community-based natural resource management and thus on livelihood security of women and men in local communities, whether these be rural or urban. One such place where mass tourism has a dramatic impact on community-based natural resource management is Zanzibar. Besides beaches, palm trees and all the attractions a tourist may look for, Zanzibar is associated with the romance of exotic urbanism, while tourism is first and foremost coastal based.

Zanzibar, a semi-autonomous polity in the United Republic of Tanzania, consists of two major islands; Unguja and Pemba with a population of approximately 760,000. Almost the entire population is Muslim and a large part of the population live within the coastal zone. Recently, in the wake of shifting economic and political structures, the islands have attracted expanding tourist entrepreneurs and tourists. Confronted with mass tourism Zanzibaris experience limited access to and control over their coastal zones partly due to the fact that there has been no institutional innovations proposed by the government that have shown able to enhance community-based natural resource management. Hence, people living in coastal zones are increasingly confronted with livelihood related problems caused by erosion, biodiversity loss and ecosystem impoverishment. Thus, the aim of this case study is to highlight some consequences of rapidly expanding tourism in Zanzibar coupled with a lack of appropriate institutional changes in order to regulate and control the use or rather, misuse of coastal zones. Thus the case presented is a 'negative case' from which important lessons can be learnt. This case illuminates the importance of legislative development to better suit the peculiarities of the coastal environment and its needs, and, thus, to more actively address problems related to the enforcement of laws.

My focus on tourism and natural resource management is due to the fact that I have conducted social anthropological field-work in Zanzibar since 1984. During this period I have observed how ongoing processes of political and economic changes have inspired tourism and, hence, consequences of tourism with regard to livelihood security and management of natural resources especially on the East-Coast of Zanzibar. Within this coastal zone where there are several small fishing communities there were in 1990 no hotels. In 1997 there were along the same coast 80 hotels which occupied and in practice, controlled access to beaches and water with the aim of securing the privacy and leisure activities for tourists. The needs of tourism and tourists were put in focus while the needs of the local population were left in the shadow. The local population becomes increasingly marginalized with regard to access and control over coastal resources necessary for basic survival.

The government of Zanzibar has recently focused on tourism as a main source of foreign exchange and thus of what is seen as a main goal, namely, economic growth. Both local and foreign private companies or individuals are encouraged to invest in various kinds of tourist enterprises. This is perceived as one possible way to encourage economic activities which will eventually enrich the state through various systems of taxation, creating work opportunities, providing incentives for trading activities, and thus improved living conditions for people in general . Hence, seen from the centre tourism may be one way to meet the growing problem of unemployment in urban areas and strengthening the state economically and in turn, politically. Within this context, tourism often means greater occupational choices for women and men , the choices of course being differentiated by gender. In the coastal zone the expansion of tourism has led to larger scale infrastructure development appreciated by people in local communities, but this has taken place without the benefit of environmental assessments.

A main problem concerning the presence of tourism in Zanzibar is, as mentioned, that no key institutional changes have been adopted in order to protect the interest of people in local communities and to make sure that people will benefit from tourism. Hence, there are no plans for how to secure the access to and control over natural resources by people living in various local communities that are now with increasing intensity confronted with the tourist industry. Furthermore, because people in coastal zones lose access to, for them, basic resources their livelihood become increasingly insecure because of a lack of well defined property rights acknowledged and protected by governmental institutions. Moreover, in urban areas an increasing number of people cannot , because of continuous rise in food prices due to continuously increasing demand from tourist hotels, afford to buy the food necessary to be food secure. Thus, although tourism represent an important element in securing access to foreign exchange for the government and some few Zanzibaris who run various kinds of private enterprises, it seems that most Zanzibaris experience increased poverty and insecurity in the wake of present day mass tourism.

Principal lessons learned from the Zanzibari case are related to the need for the development of legislation to better suit coastal environments and which recognises and protects local property rights and interests as these are confronted with national and international economic interests, for instance, through the tourist industry. At present economic growth defined as the governments access to foreign currency is the main interest that sets the agenda for political and economic legislation. In this situation the interests and welfare of people in various local communities are to a large extent ignored. In this sense the Zanzibari case is not unique. However, despite recent impacts on food security and natural resource management, healthy coastal biodiversity and ecosystems still persist together with reasonable social and political stability, although how long these will remain so will depend on the conservation and welfare measures taken by the state. Furthermore, given the fact that tourism may secure the much needed access to foreign currency it is important to acknowledge that its success is dependent on continual coastal zone integrity. However, in order to make possible community-based natural resource management , resources - both natural and material - have to be handled and redistributed through institutions that prioritise the welfare of Zanzibaris in general. Given this context it is interesting to focus on processes through which 'legislators' meet local power structures and, moreover, to what extent 'legislators' consider the importance of discovering and interacting with various local interest groups. Furthermore, to what extent is it possible to establish institutions that will be able to address 'multiple realities' and if so, can these be based on already existing informal institution within the various local communities?.