Kilwa, Tanzania mainland

Ruins of a grand mosque in Kilwa Kisiwani
The fort in Kilwa Kisiwani
Fish traps on a boat
Drying fish nets

Kilwa is located in the Lindi region in Tanzania, around 240 km south of Dar es Salaam. It is one of the oldest towns in East Africa, with the earliest records of settlements dating back as far as the 9th century. Initially it was a famous trading centre where Arab traders shipped ivory, slaves and other valuables from the African continent. Archaeological investigations were initiated in the 1950’s and in 1981 the ruins of Kilwa (Kilwa Kisiwani) were declared a World Heritage Site.

Data from the 2002 National Census for Kilwa district indicates that there are approximately 171,850 inhabitants in the district. The community in the modern Kilwa is generally poor and highly dependent on the coastal and marine resources for food and income. The marine fishery supports 2,267 fishers (2,110 using vessels and 157 foot fishers) and is almost entirely made up by traditional methods and gear.

The coastal area comprising Kilwa, Mafia Island and the Rufiji River delta is part of the so called RUMAKI Seascape Programme. The programme is funded by WWF with the main goal to improve socio-economic well-being of coastal communities in these districts through sustainable, participatory and equitable use and protection of their marine and coastal natural resources. In some communities this project has not been very successful in terms of implementation, this being attributed to political conflict and because many people have a negative attitude towards conservation of marine resources.

Tourism is not a big industry in this area as it is difficult to travel from Dar es Salaam without chartering a private plane, which is very expensive. However, the main road is currently being upgraded and many hope that a better road will contribute to the development of alternative livelihoods in the area.

Kilwa has several large towns. The demonstration site is Kilwa Kisiwani which is a large island in the mouth of the delta. The community is very poor, in spite of living on a World Heritage Site of tremendous heritage and scenic qualities. It is hard to understand why there is not more involvement of the community in the running of this vast and impressive World Heritage Site. After all, considering they are the direct descendants of the great kiSwahili civilization that once thrived here, and the living bearers of this globally important heritage, why can they not be the custodians and direct beneficiaries? Can the demonstration site in Kilwa Kisiwani perhaps contribute to positive development in the area through a better understanding of the linkage between heritage and possible improved livelihoods for the people?