Ras Mkumbuu, Tanzania (Pemba, Zanzibar)

Wesha community meeting
Ruins on Ras Mkumbuu
Piles of empty shells on the beach indicate the extent of the mollusc harvesting activities

The Zanzibar Archipelago consists of two main islands off the coast of mainland Tanzania - Unguja and Pemba (the lesser known of the two). Ras Mukumbuu is a slender peninsula that protrudes from the centre of the west coast of Pemba into the Pemba Channel. The west coast of Pemba has numerous islands, bays, and lagoons. The shores are covered with dense mangrove forests, depleted here and there, but some locally driven mangrove planting initiatives have been quite successful. Rich coral reefs surround the islands, with a high diversity of both fish and corals.

Run-off from land makes the water in the bays around Ras Mkumbuu quite murky and the high sediment load makes these areas less suitable for coral growth. Nonetheless, the area is extremely rich in marine resources. Here, like elsewhere in Pemba the people are highly dependent on the marine and coastal resources for their livelihoods. Communities collect shells, molluscs and other marine resources at low tide. This seafood is the main source for protein in the area. Subsistence farming includes cassava, mangoes and other crops.

The area is very rich in heritage. At the end of the peninsula the ruins of one of the largest and most impressive mosques of around the 10th century in East Africa can be found. Oral history has it that there once was a city that disappeared into the sea when an earthquake occurred a long time ago, and the fishers speak of the ‘houses under water’. A fault line is clearly visible under water but thus far, no tangible evidence has been found to prove this legend.

The DLIST demonstration site consists of two Shehias (a local level administrative units), namely Ndagoni and Wesha. The population is a mixture of Arab and African origin ancestors, and is commonly referred to as the Wapemba ethnic group. Recent local estimates indicate that Wesha has a population of 4176 (2022 males and 2154 females) while Ndagoni is inhabited by 4863 people (2406 males and 2457 females). Both Wesha and Ndagoni form part of the Ras Mkumbuu demonstration site.

Poverty occurs at debilitating levels on the peninsula. Will making the Ras Mkumbuu area a demonstration site help to create new livelihoods based on its outstanding heritage values and natural qualities of the environment? How can this be done? How can one work with heritage assets when people struggle to feed themselves on a daily basis? Already other donors have started to participate in the demonstration site, and participatory planning that is enriched by expert input may help to show the way in this demonstration site.