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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 February, 2004, 05:44 GMT
Tourism 'bypasses' Zanzibar's locals
By Daniel Dickinson
BBC, Zanzibar

The island of Zanzibar is a paradise holiday destination, but paradise can be deceptive.

Locals at a meeting
The locals want more economic benefits from the sector
Tourism is now Zanzibar's biggest industry, easily outstripping the trade in spices, traditionally the island's biggest foreign currency earner.

The sector has grown rapidly over the last decade attracting investment from around the world, but not everyone is winning, it seems.

Standing outside the House of Wonders museum in the centre of Stone Town, the capital of Zanzibar, you can see tourists in all directions, shopping at curio stalls, taking guided tours through the historic streets or lingering over cold drinks as they gaze across the azure-coloured Indian Ocean.

There are also a small group of women from the Zanzibar Fund for Self Reliance.

The group aims to boost the incomes of unemployed women by helping them to market their home made products.

Foreign funds

Huda Juma Nassor is selling children's clothes as well as cup cakes and chapattis.

She says it is foreigners who benefit most from tourism in Zanzibar.

The farmers are benefiting, they sell their crops at a higher price than what they used to do - the fishermen do the same
Vuai Mohammed
Zanzibar tourism commission

"There are a lot of Italians who own hotels in Zanzibar. But we Zanzibaris live in poverty... we don't have enough money to own or manage good hotels," she said.

"So that's why I'm trying to do my business selling from home, but I never see any tourists."

According to a report by the non-governmental organisation, Action Aid, despite the rapid growth of tourism on the island, tourism has only benefited big investors and a handful of local people.

Janet Mawiyoo, the organisation's director in Tanzania, says a lot of foreign companies have bought land and the local people are no longer accessing the sea easily.

"We are aware of a lot of people who work in the tourist industry who are not necessarily from the island. As to how many local Zanzibaris are really benefiting I think that is really questionable, ordinary Zanzibaris are really not being part of that scene" said Ms Mawiyoo.

Enclaves of wealth

The report contradicts the widely held view that tourism helps to alleviate poverty.

Tourists in Zanzibar
The report says tourism helps only the foreign investors in Zanzibar
It says that at best, tourism creates enclaves of wealth and development.

But Vuai Mohammed, the executive secretary of Zanzibar's tourism commission says the benefits are considerable.

"The farmers are benefiting, they sell their crops at a higher price than what they used to do. The fishermen do the same," said Mr Mohammed.

He says most of the development projects like the schools and medical clinics, are being taken care of by the investors who are in the villages.

Mr Mohammed notes that the people in the villages are being employed and are given priority to buy anything from the hotels.

Tourism is relatively new here, and more Zanzibaris should become directly involved as the industry grows.

But with the average wage across the island at well below $1 a day, it is clear the paradise paid for and enjoyed by tourists is yet to bring benefits to many local people.

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