Arusha City is a Tanzanian city and the regional capital of the Arusha Region, with a population of 416,442 plus 323,198 in the surrounding Arusha Rural District (2012 census). Located below Mount Meru on the eastern edge of the eastern branch of the Great Rift Valley, Arusha City has a temperate climate.
Tourism is a major part of the economy of the city of Arusha, and the largest dollar-earning economic sector in Tanzania. The city is located on the northern safari near some of the greatest national parks and game reserves in Africa, including the Serengeti National Park, the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, Lake Manyara National Park, Olduvai Gorge, Tarangire National Park, Mount Kilimanjaro, and Mount Meru in the Arusha National Park and is thus considered the safari capital of the world.
The city of Arusha is a major international diplomatic hub. It hosts the African Court of African Union and is the capital of the East African Community. From 1994 to 2015, the city also hosted the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, but that entity has ceased operations. It is a multicultural city with a majority Tanzanian population of mixed backgrounds: indigenous African, Arab-Tanzanian and Indian-Tanzanian population, plus a small European and North American minority population. Religions of the Arusha city population include Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and Hinduism. In 2018, it was declared Arusha City would be the capital city of the proposed East African Federation due to it being seen as a neutral city that does not serve as the political centre of any of the constituent countries. The city also has significance to the whole of East Africa due to its long history of hosting important East African events and institutions.
The current site of Arusha was first settled in the 1830s by the agro-pastoral Arusha Maasai from the Arusha Chini community, south of Mount Kilimanjaro. They traded grains, honey, beer, and tobacco with the pastoral Kisongo Maasai in exchange for livestock, milk, meat, and skins. Demand for Arusha’s foodstuffs increased substantially during the 1860s when the Pangani Valley trade route was extended through Old Moshi, Arusha, and ultimately to western Kenya. Although it was not yet a town, it was a regional centre and had several urban features.
Arusha was conquered by the Germans in 1896 after the murder of the first two missionaries who attempted to settle on nearby Mount Meru. The Germans established a permanent presence in 1900 when a military fort (a boma) was built and soldiers were garrisoned there. “The boma was a solid statement, meant to impress German moral and political order on the surrounding countryside. Set on a rise overlooking the plains, the fortress-like building dominated the surrounding landscape” complete with a machine gun. Many Africans were forcibly displaced from their ancestral lands by the Germans and forced to dig lime or carry stones to construct the fort.
The British took Arusha from the Germans in 1916 during World War I. German officials left the area, the British deported German missionaries and settlers, and only a skeletal military administration of the town remained. But slowly during the 1920s, civilian administration was implemented, missionaries from the United States arrived, British and Greek settlers reoccupied the former German farms, and the town grew, especially after the British moved the regional administration from New Moshi to Arusha. The extension of the railroad from Moshi to Arusha in 1928-29 greatly increased commerce. The Great Depression soon thereafter, however, squelched commerce, and Arusha in 1940 had fewer than 2,000 residents. Growth resumed during World War II and by 1948, the population had increased to more than 5,000. A state of emergency was declared in the Arusha region in 1953 in response to the Mau Mau Uprising. Journalist John Gunther noted at the time that “a loyal tribe, the Waarusha, threatened to take violent countermeasures against the Kikuyus themselves if the British did not. The authorities arrested the leading Mau Mau conspirators, screened thousands more, and deported other thousands back to Kenya.”
Arusha has been a crucial city in the history of modern Tanzania. Official documents ceding independence to Tanganyika were signed by the United Kingdom at Arusha in 1961. Also, the Arusha Declaration was signed in 1967 in Arusha.
The Arusha Accords were signed in the city of Arusha on August 4, 1993, by representatives of competing factions in the Rwandan civil war.
The Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement for Burundi was signed on 28 August 2000 as part of a process of forging peace in that country through power-sharing and establishing a transitional government.
The January 2015 Arusha Agreement for South Sudan created a framework for the reunification of South Sudan’s ruling SPLM party, which had splintered into three creating a humanitarian crisis as fighting between factions intensified. It provided that all SPLM members who were dismissed be reinstated to their previous positions and a secret ballot system be adopted.
In 1994 the UN Security Council decided that Arusha should host the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The establishment of the tribunal with its foreign employees has influenced the local economy of the city increasing the cost of living for residents. The tribunal has downsized due to its closure in 2014, but its legal successor, the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals will continue entertaining a branch in Arusha, opening on 1 July 2012 and now near Kisongo outside Arusha town.
Arusha was officially declared a city on 1 July 2006 by the Tanzanian government.
Geography and climate
Despite its proximity to the equator, Arusha’s elevation of 1,400 metres (4,600 ft) on the southern slopes of Mount Meru keeps temperatures relatively low and alleviates humidity. Cool dry air is prevalent for much of the year.
The temperature typically ranges between low 10-20 °C (50 – 72 °F) at night and 21 to 30 °C (72 – 86 °F).
It has distinct wet and dry seasons and experiences an eastern prevailing wind from the Indian Ocean, a few hundred kilometres east. Under the Köppen climate classification system, it has a subtropical highland climate. Areas away from Arusha to the south and west are classified as tropical savanna climates.
The highest temperatures are from early December through to March/April and the low temperatures are July/August/September.
The long rain season is usually in March to early May but can go on into June at times, this is also where you have the biggest wildebeest migration in Serengeti, which is a spectacular sight. Arusha’s annual rainfall average is 1,180 millimetres (46.46 in).
When on a safari in the parks around Arusha it is therefore important to remember warm clothes as it can be very chilly in the morning hours where a safari starts, especially in the Ngorongoro crater and Serengeti National park.