(Mwanza, Tanzanias Lake Victoria lake side city / source: ExoticExpeditionsTanzania.com)
Even for East Africans, Mwanza has an exotic ring to its name and more often than not, geography classes at school notwithstanding, some would place Tanzanias lake side city somewhere else, on Lake Tanganyika perhaps or not even inside Tanzania. Thankfully, the pilots of the airlines flying there know their bearings and they safely deliver their passengers to the Tanzanian shores of Lake Victoria and to a city which is now a growing springboard for tourists too, intent to explore the lake islands and even the famous Serengeti, only two hours drive away.
But first things first. Mwanza was founded in 1892 and this year celebrates its 120th anniversary, no mean achievement for a city in East Africa, when Nairobi was only founded in 1899, i.e. 7 years later. With a total population, again unbeknown to many, of over 2 million inhabitants, this makes it Tanzanias second city after Dar es Salaam, not the political capital Dodoma, or the East African safari capital Arusha, but Mwanza claiming that honour.
(Mwanzas city centre and suburbs)
Main economic activities are, no surprise here, the fishing and processing industry Eastern and Central Africas largest fish market, Kirumba is found in the city and of course the mainstay of it all due to the good soils and favourable climate agriculture, but mining has become an important factor in the wider region around Mwanza, where with the airport a key link to the outside world exists. Mwanza is also a major transport transit point for the railway, connecting the Indian Ocean port of Dar es Salaam via Mwanza by rail ferry to Port Bell outside Kampala, which brings employment and money into the community. And finally tourism, at last, seems to be catching up too after the lake zone complained about not getting a fair share of attention by the countrys tourism marketers, inspite of some world class attractions within hours of landing in Mwanza.
It is the latter we shall focus on, leaving descriptions and explanations of the other economic mainstream activities to the business journals while letting our imagination roam across the lake to the various islands and as far as the Serengeti National Park, less than two hours drive from the city.
A sight closely associated with Mwanza if not a feature of the city, off shore in the lake are found the so called Bismarck Rocks, named after the most famous German Chancellor in the days prior to the World Wars, who served his Kaiser at a time when the notorious Berlin Conference, which divided Africa and Africans into colonial possessions, created boundaries over which modern African countries today still are in dispute. And there goes some pre-independence history. 100 years ago Tanganyika, as the mainland then was called, indeed was colony of Imperial Germany, only ceded to the British after the German navy was decisively engaged and destroyed at both the Rufiji River delta with the Koenigsberg and on Lake Tanganyika with the Graf von Goetzen, history lessons sure to re-emerge again in future articles about Tanzania and neighbouring Kenya.
(Bismarck rocks, a major feature off the Mwanza shoreline)
But these rock formations are not just found off shore but also scattered around on land, huge boulders of rocks, a sight incidentally also found in the Serengeti where these rock outcrops, which look as if they have just escaped the earth, are called Kopjes. Much myth and much history are attributed to some of those rocks by the African tribes which lived on the lake shores for time immemorial, since this part of Eastern Africa was long proven to be the cradle of mankind from which modern man evolved.
(A view across Mwanza municipality from the surrounding hills)
Some of them seem precariously shaky, as if put together by children of giants playing as with pebbles, and are much photographed of course as evidence that truly one has been to Mwanza. Local guides will be happy to take visitors to such locations, proud to show them around, as Richard Komanya did amidst a constant flow of information and details, about the city, her people and the great many things he feels every visitor should do when coming to Mwanza and the places there are to visit, no, MUST be visited.
(Do not come near me during a storm)
He works at LakeZoneDesire, a tourist company with an office on airport road just a few minutes from the terminal, where not only bookings can be made for excursions, tours, for self drive and chauffer drive car hire and hotels but where visitors find a free WiFi environment in their newly constructed tourist information centre where a quick roam on the net will reveal a wide variety of things to do and place to go to, after choosing Mwanza as a destination.
Fishing for tilapia or the giant Nile Perch on the lake tick. A visit to Saanane Island National Park, half an hour from Mwanza by boat into the lake tick. A trip to the Ukerere Island to see the Dancing Rocks, where only men are allowed to visit tick. The Bukora Sukuma Museum where dancers often perform with pythons writhing in their hands and which shows what life was in long gone days tick. Or the big one, a trip into the Grumeti sector of the Serengeti, just two hours drive from Mwanza, one of the worlds most renowned names in wildlife conservation, that too Richard Komanya and LakeZoneDesires will arrange at short notice, either as a classic camping safari or staying in one of the top of the pops lodges and tented camps, Grumeti Singita has established in that part of the Serengeti tick.
Hotels of various standards are now found aplenty in and around Mwanza, from simple, affordable guest houses to the more fancied four star hotels or beach resorts. The 4 star New Mwanza Hotel, or the Ryans Bay Hotel, also rated as a four star or the Tilapia Hotel which has sister properties in the park are ready to welcome guests but then so are a number of other places details of which can be found at the LakeZoneDesire offices, suiting anyones budget and fancies. While in Mwanza, I personally would recommend a place directly at the lake of course, after all the main geographical feature of the city and there is magic in the sunsets across the water, which extends from horizon to horizon. Restaurants have sprung up all over the city now, admittedly not as ethnically varied as say in Nairobi, but worth eating out nevertheless. Pizzas at the Pizzeria Restaurant, Indian curries and dishes at the New Mwanza Hotel, Zainabus Caf for those classic African dishes along Postal Road or vegetarian fare at Bint Maringo, and of course guests in hotels and the lake resorts have a choice of snacks, a la carte dishes and buffets, popular for lunch and on weekends for dinner.
(The Tilapia Hotel right at the lake shores)
And there are more history lessons in store, as the remnant of the Hangmans Tree are now a treasured site, but in the colonial days the scene where the rulers hanged condemned prisoners and criminals, as we know today often for the minutest of crimes. But it is part of history nevertheless of course and a monument for visitors to see and stand in contemplation. A number of other sites too are still found in Mwanza of those long gone days a hundred and more years ago, like Dr. Kochs residence which allows for sweeping views across the city of Mwanza from the hills, and all these landmarks are at Richards fingertips when asked about them.
And there is the memorial to see and pay respect to of the victims of the MV Bukoba sinking a few years ago, when hundreds drowned as the vessel went down, also now part of the Mwanza history as the marine disaster took place within sight of the city of Mwanza..
(Treasured remnant of the Hangmans Tree site of executions during the German colonial days)
Mwanza for sure does not have the magnetic pull of a Mombasa or a Dar es Salaam, but it goes to show that there are hidden treasures found in Eastern Africa. Any city with more than 2 million inhabitants in our region is BIG and that means business opportunities wait to be explored, investments to be made. As Tanzania is a member of the East African Community travel by East Africans is easy and for expatriates simple, though requiring a 50 US Dollar Visa fee on entry, even if they are residents in a neighbouring country or, as the case with me, enjoy Residency for Life. The business community in Mwanza, the hotels, resorts and the tour operators are keen to see regional visitors come over and connect with Tanzania and they hope that plenty of visitors will make the trip in the future, for both business and leisure. In fact, the option still exists to use the lake ferries and cross from Port Bell to Mwanza port by lake, while air connections route via Nairobi or soon it was learned via Kigali from within the region. Said Mr. Asif Jawad, the owner of www.lakezonedesires.com, who was extremely helpful in the research for this article and who is passionate about opening the Mwanza area up for more tourists: Mwanza is ready to welcome visitors coming to explore our part of Tanzania which has so much to offer and still receives so few visitors. There is so much to do, so many opportunities in our city for business and for leisure, let people come and see for themselves.
What else now is left, oh yes, go visit your nearest travel agent or book your flight to Mwanza online with the airline of our choice and contact LakeZoneDesires before arrival to be sure of a meet and greet service, transfer to a hotel of your choice and plenty of excursions and safaris to chose from.