The first thing that catches you as you approach Morogoro is its strikingly beautiful location, nestled at the foot of the rugged Uluguru Mountains. In the morning, as the sun rises above the mist and bathes the town in warm tone of orange and gold, even the bus station is momentarily graced with a certain charm. In the town center, the passage of time is marked by the five daily calls to prayer from the mosques, and Morogoro is one of very few places on the mainland where you’ll see women wearing the black buibui veils which are so common in Zanzibar.
The cultural mix is completed by a thriving Indian community, a sizeable group of European and American missionaries and development workers, as well as a few Maasai warriors with their braided hairstyles, hunkered down in the town’s bars in their traditional red shuka cloths, spears at hand. The town has an instantly likable and bustling feel and an enjoyably lively nightlife too, though its lack of obvious attractions means that it receives few visitors. Morogoro Region is Tanzania’s second largest producer of coffee, cotton, sunflower oil, millet and maize, and sisal. The town’s population is growing fast, having doubled in the last decade to almost 300,000.
Morogoro’s continued existence stems from its location on a major crossroads whose importance dates from before the arrival of the Arabs. Nineteenth century Tanganyika was in a state of considerable chaos, allowing wily local leaders to carve out empires for themselves. The most unusual of these was not a tribal chief like Mirambo or Mkwawa, but Kisabengo, the leader of a group of fugitive slaves, who acquired power and eventually land through force of arms and the kidnapping of neighboring tribespeople. Kisabengo’s domain, although small, included part of the major caravan route from the coast to the Great Lakes region. His capital, a settlement near modern day Morogoro which he modestly called Simbamwenni (the “Lion King”) inevitably became an important base for traders.
When Stanley passed through in 1871, en route to his historic encounter with Livingstone, he found a “walled town at the western foot of the Uruguru mountains, with its fine valley abundantly beautiful, watered by two rivers, and several pellucid streams of water distilled by the dew and cloud enriched heights around.” Estimating the population at up to five thousand people, Stanley was most impressed by the town’s solid stone fortifications and towers.
The Germans transformed Morogoro into a military base, using it as an infamous “hanging ground” during their military conquest of Tanganyika and subsequent repression of the Abushiri and Maji Maji rebellions. After Independence, Morogoro became famous, in South Africa at least, as a major base for the African National Congress, whose fighters were trained in the Uluguru Mountains.
Spanning 100km from north to south and 20km from east to west, the Uluguru range is part of the Eastern Arc mountain chain. The great age of the mountains and the forests that cloak them, together with high rainfall, side altitudinal range and a climate that has remained remarkably stable over the ages, have all favored the development of some of the word’s richest and most species-diverse rainforests, containing eleven endemic reptilian and amphibian species and over a hundred endemic plants. Mammals include yellow baboons, blue monkeys, black and white colobus monkeys, wild pugs and duiker antelopes. But where Uluguru really comes into its own is its birdlife, which includes fifteen rare or unique species.
*Most information contained in this section is from Jens Finke, The Rough Guide to Tanzania. London: Rough Guides Press, 2006.