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Territorial Claims


The geographical area falling under the jurisdiction of Zanzibar is what is referred here as its territory. It is usually defined by a set of coordinates and geographical descripitions and agreed internationally by world bodies. For Zanzibar, the term, "territory" is used with caution due to the kind of relationship that exists between Zanzibar and the United Republic of Tanzania (URT). As it was indicated in the history section, Zanzibar has experienced a unique history. The Omanis categorically called it the Sultanate of Zanzibar and the British came with the "British Protectorate of Zanzibar".

After the union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar in 1964, which formed the URT, Zanzibar is simply referred by the same name in English but in Swahili you might here "Tanzania Visiwani" or simply "Visiwani" which means "Tanzania Isles". Therefore, although Tanganyika ceased to exist, "Tanzania Mainland" has taken its place parallel to the use of "Tanzania Isles". The use of the Tanzania Visiwani instead of Zanzibar in Swahili is viewed by Zanzibaris as a tactical step toward a complete union with only one government. So far so good, as the name "Tanzania" has silently replaced "Sultanate" and "Protectorate" used by the former colonial masters.

Zanzibar ceased to be a state after the union agreement of 1964 and, in principle, it lost some of its territorial claims. Although, it is widely known that Zanzibar is made up of the islands of Unguja, Pemba and surrounding small islands and islets, as an autonomous part of Tanzania whose land area is surrounded by the sea, its control should in principle extend some distance out of its shores. The question is, where are the borders of Zanzibar? To answer this question, members of the Zanzinet Forum had some discussions and came up with some ideas but an expert opinion was lacking. On this page you can read the contribution of Zanzinet in solving this puzzle. We hope the authorities will come up with a much stronger response at some point but for now this is what we know.

The Law of the Sea

For countries bordering seas and oceans, territorial claims on the use of adjacent waters is governed by "The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)". Before UNCLOS, use of seas and oceans was governed by the 17th century agreement refered to as "freedom-of-the-seas doctrine", which gave an individual country powers over a narrow strip of land adjacent to its shores. Oceans and seas out of that defined by the doctrine was free to be used by all other countries.

In the early years of the 20th century, the freedom-of-the-seas doctrine was found to have major weaknesses as a result of the increasing use of the seas for commercial fishing, toxic-waste dumping, oil exploration and extraction, and movement of amphibious vessels by the militarily powerful nations of the world. Consequently, a number of countries declared their intentions of using the continental shelf and went on to declare an area of 12 neutical miles from the shores as part of their territories.

Further problems in the 1960s and 70s arising from the quest of individual countries to prospect for oil and minerals from the sea led to the establishmentof UNCLOS. Discussions went on for a long time and the final treaty was signed in 1982. UNCLOS covers many aspects but two most relevant issues for Zanzibar are the territorial sea (TS) and the "Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)". Territorial sea starts at the line of low tide outward into the high seas to a distance of 12 neutical miles. EEZ goes outward from the edge of the territorial sea into the outer sea for a distance of up to 200 neutical miles depending upon the presence or absence of other countries. EEZ can be used by a country for fisheries, mineral extraction, and even constructions as long as such structures do not impede movements of other harmless vessels.

Territorial sea (TS) and EEZ for Tanzania

Tanzania declared its terriotorial sea and EEZ in 1989 through the act called "The Territorial Sea and Exclusive Economic Zone Act". This act, which is extended to Zanzibar was under the Minister of Foreign Affairs. It has five sections and mentions, among the authorized officers, members of the "Kikosi Maalumu Cha Kuzuia Magendo (KMKM)". Other officers include police, fisheries and customs personnel. The act also includes all other Tanzanian laws for fisheries, shipping, minerals, petroleum and use of natural resources within the TS and EEZ that shall be enacted by the parliament and the House of Representatives for that purpose.

Tanzania has sea boundaries with Kenya, Mozambique and Sychelles and in order to settle border disputes, it concluded agreements with Kenya in 1976, Mozambique in 1988, and Sychelles in 2002. Baselines for measuring territorial seas were Ras Kigomasha on the northern tip of Pemba island for the talks with Kenya and the eastern edge of Mafia island for talks with Sychelles. The EEZ for Tanzania and Sychelles was determined by dividing equally the area between the two countries.

The fact that negotiations with Kenya and Sychelles involved areas under Zanzibar's control one would have expected that Zanzibaris are well informed of the developments. Indeed there is an indication that Zanzibar was somehow represented at least during the negotiations with Kenya. However, there appear to be a lack of transparency on this matter and the participation of Zanzibar was, to our opinion, only a symbolic gesture of territorial recognition rather than a serious act of consultation.


Whereas much of the discussion focuses on the present situation after the union with, the then, Tanganyika, there is evidence that Zanzibar during the colonial administration had well defined borders. For some documents, please visit a historical website on German imperialism that displays some of the agreements between the Sultan of Zanzibar and Western colonial powers. From the same document, we observe that Zanzibar leased its Tanganyika coastal strip to Germany on the 28th April 1888 and its Kenyan coastal strip was leased to the British sometime in 1895.

When Zanzibar united with Tanganyika in 1964, Tanzania became the legal custodian of all the areas that Zanzibar had inherited from the colonial agreements. In principle, external borders of Zanzibar were dissolved into internal boundaries and Tanzania had to act quickly to fill the void. But the dissolution was never announced and what remains is only speculation. If Zanzibar was a sovereign country, it would have full claims to a narrow strip of the sea surrounding its land (territorial sea) and following the declaration of the Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ), it should have a claim of a vast area of the Indian Ocean on its eastern boundaries. However, as part of URT, much depends on the perception of authorities on the significance of such an issue.



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