Overview of Mbeya – History, People, Education, Culture and More

Overview of Mbeya – History, People, Education, Culture and More

Tanzania is an African country where Mbeya is found, a city situated in the southwest area. The 2012 census revealed that the urban population of the city was 385,279. Mbeya is the main city of the region of Mbeya (population with Mbeya is about 2 million).

View of the city of Mbeya with mountains in the background
View of the city of Mbeya with mountains in the background

The city is located 1,700 metres (5,500 feet) high and stretches through a narrow mountainous valley enclosed by a range of high mountains. Colloquial Swahili is the major language, while schools teach the English language extensively.

Background of Mbeya

After the gold rush of 1906, Mbeya was established in the 1920s as a gold mining town. Later, the TAZARA railway attracted small entrepreneurs and farming migrants to the area. The British administered Mbeya and its district until 1961. This year marked the creation of Mbeya Region.

Mbeya city is now a thriving business center and metropolis for the southern areas including the neighbouring countries like Congo, Malawi and Zambia. Mbeya is well connected with an all-weather road forming a section running to Alexandria from Cape Town. Mbeya has various tribes such as the Safwa, Ndali, Nyakyusa, and Nyiha; all agricultural people. The city also boasts of being among the regions that form Tanzania’s breadbasket.

Infrastructure and Economy of Mbeya

The administration of the local government is through a Regional Commissioner and the Mbeya Urban District authority.

Mbeya receives enough rainfall with fertile soil which allows it to become the biggest producer of bananas, maize, beans, rice, potatoes (Irish and sweet), wheat, and soya nuts in the whole country. Tanzania’s free market in agricultural yield is liberalized, and Mbeya transports huge quantities of its maize to different areas of the country. There is also expansive animal husbandry, dominated by dairy cattle. Mbeya is also Tanzania’s largest producer of cash crops and premium-value export; those crops include spices, coffee (Arabica), pyrethrum tea, and cocoa.

Petroleum trucks strolling through the city of Mbeya
Petroleum trucks strolling through the city of Mbeya

There is cultivation of tobacco on small scale. Women and girls collect firewood from the mountainsides and wooded valleys. Forests are naturally abundant with bamboo, and there’re plans of teaching locals about this resourceful plant including its various uses. Some artisan miners still mine gold in the rural district of Chunya.

Mbeya is presumed to lead the areas of the Southern Highlands, explaining the presence of Mbeya Referral Hospital serving the entire areas of the highlands. The Afri Bottlers Company Coca-Cola Company, Mbeya Cement Company, Bank of Tanzania, Tanzania Breweries Limited, SBC Tanzania Ltd Pepsi Cola Company, NMB, Mbozi Coffee Curing Limited, TIB, Tukuyu Tea Company, CRDB, Tanzania Oxygen Limited TOL – KYEJO, all these have zonal representatives in the Southern Highlands. Several statutory organizations and companies also have zonal offices in Mbeya.

Education in Mbeya

Apart from the growing secondary schools, institutions of higher learning also exist in Mbeya. Among the popular ones include these five below:

  • Mbeya University of Science and Technology (MUST) originally known as Mbeya Institute of Science and Technology (MIST) – a government institution offering advanced diplomas, ordinary diplomas, and degrees in different engineering specialties. The college is situated in Iyunga area.
  • Teofilo Kisanji University -a new institution by the Moravian Church of Tanzania providing courses in business, theology, arts, educational studies, sciences, training pastors, and journalism. From 2005, it has evolved from the initial Moravian Theological College. This college is located in Soweto suburb.
  • Mzumbe University (MU) Mbeya Campus – located in the Forest area near the Bank of Tanzania. This government University offers diplomas in business and law, bachelor’s degrees and evening programs for postgraduate studies.
  • Tanzania Institute of Accountancy (TIA)-Mbeya campus providing various courses including diploma and degree in accountancy with other related courses for business operations. The college is around Tanzania and Zambia’s main road including the airport area. The institute has a postgraduate program.
  • Saint Augustine University of Tanzania (SAUT) – Mbeya Campus College is located in the forest area across to Tughimbe Hall. The University provides bachelor’s degrees in Business administration and education, diplomas in law, education, communication technology and business administration information, certificates in information and communication technology, law, business administration, grade III A including postgraduate studies.
  • University of Dar es Salaam, Mbeya College of Health and Allied Sciences (UDSM-MCHAS). This University of Dar es Salaam college provides health sciences courses.
Saint Augustine University of Tanzania Mbeya
Saint Augustine University of Tanzania Mbeya

Climate and Geography of Mbeya

Mbeya’s climate is subtropical highland (warm-summer Mediterranean, according to the Köppen climate classification), having humid summers with dry winters. Temperature generally ranges between 6 °Celsius or 21.2 °Fahrenheit during mornings in the highlands and 29 °Celsius and 84.2 °Fahrenheit during afternoons in the lowland. The weather between June and October is cold and dry. There’s heavier rainfall from December to April, with annual rainfall averaging about 35 inches or 900 millimetres.

Climate data for the city of Mbeya
Climate data for the city of Mbeya

The location around Mbeya town (particularly Tukuyu) enjoys reliable and abundant rainfall which encourages agriculture to flourish on the nutritious volcanic soils.

Mountain Parks and Wildlife in Mbeya

Mbeya’s surrounding area has been referred to as the “Scotland of Africa”. Its hills are arrayed in bracken and heather, but botanically are tightly related to the Fynbos (fine bush) from Western Cape Province in South Africa than the Highlands of Scotland. Loleza Mountain is the nearest peak to Mbeya , which towers over and behind the town. Mbeya Peak is some distance away but visible.

Mount Rungwe is the highest peak in Mbeya region’s wider area and dominates the sky for various kilometers around. It has 10 or more dormant volcanic domes and craters. Towering above the tiny town of Tukuyu, at 9,711 feet or 2,960 metres, Rungwe is the highest peak in southern Tanzania and follows some of the peaks in the country’s north including Mountain Kilimanjaro (19,341 feet or 5,895 metres) and Mountain Meru (14,977 feet or 4,565 metres).

A catchment forest reserve gazetted in 1949 surrounds Mountain Rungwe. This reserve includes upper montane forest, montane grassland and montane forest, with few amounts of heath and bushland at the upper altitudes, found in low underbrush on streams including at the montane forest edges. The forest inhabits various significant forest wildlife such as the vulnerable Abbott’s Duiker. The forest is taken to be an essential bird area, having two vulnerable species. The most prominent creatures are Colobus monkeys and Rungwe bush vipers.

Also ecologically significant are the Poroto Mountains in Mbeya’s southeast. In 2005, a new large monkey species, the Kipunji, was found living in Mbeya’s southern highlands from the south to the west. Scientists have not yet closely studied the region.

The Kitulo Plateau, is  popular for its display of native flora and an orchid is currently part of the established Kitulo National Park.

Area forests and reserves continue to face encroachment and degradation. Nevertheless, there has also been massive tree and forest farming, which guarantees the local supply of firewood. Some illegal trade in orchid bulbs exists, which is believed to be putting the lives of some species in danger.

Transport in Mbeya

Road Links

Mbeya is accessible by road using the A-7 highway coming from Dar es Salaam, Paved roads exist connecting Mbeya city to the other towns such as Tukuyu via Uyole, Chunya to Tabora via Isanga and Tunduma through TANZAM highway.

Mbeya Railway Station
Mbeya Railway Station

Railway Station

There’s a railway station that serves Mbeya near the A104 or through the TAZARA railway line from the city (about 600miles, two-night passenger trains every week).

Airport

Mbeya links to other parts of Tanzania by air via Songwe Airport, which started operation in December 2012. It’s among four of Tanzania’s major airports. Fastjet and Auric Air fly to Dar es Salaam from Songwe.

Tourism in Mbeya

The rains usually begin in October until around May, succeeded by a cold and dry spell from June to September. Traditional tourism is not a big contributor to the local economy as well as not having any visible months where tourism peaks.

The city is in the Rift Valley with a warm-summer Mediterranean climate according to the Köppen-Geiger system. The town has a cooler and mountainous climate that attracts mostly locals from different areas of the country as well as foreigners for game-watching and fishing trout. The local government has started trying to diversify tourism beyond viewing animals and wild game and has put money in producing quality mapping and establishing a local tourist center.

The establishment of well-designated hiking trails enables hikers to reach high areas including bio-diverse highlands, however, the trails require proper mapping. For confident hikers, various routes exist in the Poroto Mountains near the tiny town of Tukuyu.

Kiwira God's bridge
Kiwira God’s bridge

Some noteworthy local tourist attractions include:

  1. Mbozi meteorite
  2. Ruaha National Park
  3. Kitulo National Park
  4. Mwalalo Water Falls
  5. Lake NyasaKisiba/Masoko Crater Lake
  6. Rift valley viewing point

Additionally, the city has different cave and rock painting sites. The Antiquities Department hasn’t yet documented most rock sites to offer insight into the old cultures of the surrounding local communities.

Mbeya also has a huge number of passengers passing through from Dar es Salaam Port to Lusaka/Malawi that usually stop for food or overnight lodging.

Culture and Sports in Mbeya

Mbeya City FC represents the city in the Tanzanian Premier League (TPL) owned by the City Council while the Tanzanian Prisons Service-owned Prisons FC is based in Mbeya while Edward Sokoine Stadium hosts their home matches.

Sokoine Stadium also hosts home matches for Ihefu club from Mbarali district promoted to the TPL during the 2020-2021 season.

Famous People from Mbeya

  • Godfrey Mwakikagile -prominent author and Africanist.
  • Christopher Mwashinga -a prolific Tanzanian poet and author. He originally comes from Igawilo in Mbeya. He went to Igawilo Secondary School in Mbeya for his O’ Levels. Mwashinga lives in the United States today.
  • Fadhy Mtanga – a prolific blogger, author, and poet. Additionally, he is a famous photographer. He resides in Mbeya.
  • Davis Mwamunyange – Tanzania People’s Defence Force’s Chief of Defence Forces  (CDF).
  • Professor Mark Mwandosya- former minister of transport and communication and academician. Additionally, former Member of Parliament (MP) for Rungwe East constituency current Busokelo.
  • Robert Mboma- former CDF.
  • Tulia Ackson Mwansasu- current deputy speaker and former deputy Attorney General.
  • Harrison Mwakyembe- a former minister of sports and academician.
  • Joseph Mbilinyi alias Sugu- businessman, musician, and former urban MP Mbeya.
  • John Mwakangale- freedom fighter and TANU leader.
  • Noela Msuya – Tanzania’s Director of Child Support.
  • Mary Machuche Mwanjelwa – MP special seat from 2010.

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