Zanzibar's women at forefront of new era

June 4, 2004

Zanzibar, which for decades sent its students to the mainland 25 miles away or to the Soviet Union, finally has two universities, one private and one state-owned.

An attempt to set up Zanzibar's first university failed in 1998. British businessman Thomas Wells' East Africa Development Company had been raising funds to build a marina, offshore banking facilities, a mosque and university in Nungwi, the northern tip of Zanzibar Island.

But Mr Wells was arrested for his part in a financial scandal that resulted in resignations from the island's government. The EADC scheme's collapse dashed hopes of a university in an area where 60 per cent of the population is under 20.

The provision of education through private funds was outlawed on Zanzibar after the 1964 socialist revolution. In the 1990s, a Tanzanian form of Perestroika opened the door to attempts to establish a local university.

When the EADC project collapsed, the Darul Iman Charitable Association was in discussions with the Tanzanian government about building a technical college in Tunguu, 12 miles from Stone Town, the island's capital.

The private college was redesignated Zanzibar University. It is primarily a business school, with a centre for small business development linked to the Euro-African Management Research Centre in Maastricht. It charges local students 800 shillings (£390) a year, and US$1,000 a year to students outside Zanzibar.

Since the university opened in 1998, faculties of law, arts and social sciences have been added.

The opening hastened a state initiative to establish the State University of Zanzibar (Suza). It opened in 1999 in converted government buildings near Stone Town. Amani Abeid Karume, the island's president, is its chancellor.

Suza has been arts based but the first science students are due to be admitted in September. Islanders receive free tuition - there are more than 300 students. Five more faculties are planned - engineering, business, agriculture, law and medicine.

For an island that has seen acute poverty since the imposition of African socialism, the arrival of a new state university is a big step forward.

There has been an unexpectedly large uptake of places among young women.

The university has 98 female and 88 male students.

"Boys can find they can make money from tourism, so they do not want to come," said Suleiman Juma, the university's principal administrative officer. "We wonder what will happen in a few years when the women on Zanzibar are better educated than their husbands."

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