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Eastern Africa News Network

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The Royal Tour Tanzania: Exclusive Peek Behind the Scenes in the Epic Adventure

Peter Greenberg’s occasional PBS series, “The Royal Tour,” features heads of state acting as Greenberg’s tour guides to their countries.

The shows include well-known tourist highlights but also connect the leaders’ personal stories to that of their nations, providing a more intimate view of the destination.

In the past, kings, presidents and prime ministers have acted as Greenberg’s co-hosts, but he’s never had a leader-guide quite like Samia Suluhu Hassan, the president of Tanzania and featured leader/tour guide in “The Royal Tour: Tanzania.”

(President Samia Suluhu) Hassan — or ‘Mama Samia,’ as she’s widely known within Tanzania — came to office following the death of the previous Head of State, John Magufuli.

The Country

Tanzania is big, about the size of France and Germany combined. The country comprises more than 120 tribes, including some that have a strong patriarchal social structure and don’t believe a woman should occupy the top spot.

“You have to accomplish twice as much as a male to be recognized,” Mama Samia Suluhu tells Greenberg during the program.

The Royal Tour

I accompanied Hassan and Greenberg for a few days of the shooting last September and had an opportunity to observe, up-close, her interactions with everyday Tanzanians, the film crew and Greenberg. She inspired affection in them all.

Hassan speaks to Peter Greenberg about the country’s progress against poaching in a secret warehouse that holds more than 49,000 elephant tusks confiscated from poachers. (Photo by Karen Ballard)

Many Americans associate Tanzania with safaris and, perhaps, Mount Kilimanjaro, but the first half of “The Royal Tour” explores parts of Tanzania that expand viewers’ understanding of the country.

It begins in Dar es Salaam, the country’s de facto capital, which is undergoing rapid development, with skyscrapers and major infrastructure projects in various stages of development.

But then it moves to a Unesco World Heritage Site, the still-bustling settlement of Stone Town, on the Zanzibar island of Unguja.

Tanzania in the spotlight

Peter Greenberg’s “The Royal Tour: Tanzania” offers a complex and holistic look at the East African nation. And he’s never had a guide quite like Samia Suluhu Hassan.

Travel Weekly
Stone Town of Unguja

The contrast is striking; unlike Dar es Salaam, with its wide, often car-clogged avenues, Stone Town is a warren of narrow streets and alleys with a pronounced Arab and Indian influence.

Many of the extraordinary, ornately carved doors on residences one passes, however, are a reminder of Stone Town’s sordid past: It was the site of the largest slave and ivory market in East Africa, and its unique character, though charming today, was defined and created by wealthy slavers.

(Samia Suluhu) Hassan was born in the more sparsely populated Zanzibari island of Pemba. As the show shifts locations there, the narrative becomes more personal.

The President brings Greenberg and viewers to the modest home she grew up in near the beach village of Kizimkazi as well as to the mosque and school she attended. 

Explaining how her village shaped her and her approach to government, she says that it was there that she first learned about her rights as a woman, including the right to be educated (she eventually received a postgraduate diploma in economics from the University of Manchester).

They look in on a class in the primary school she had attended and where her father had been head teacher; she tells the pupils that any of them can grow up to be president.

Zanzibar president Hussein Mwinyi and Greenberg in an underwater hotel room at the Manta Resort. (Courtesy Peter Greenberg Worldwide)

At a nearby beach, the President of Zanzibar, Hussein Mwinyi, leads Greenberg to a boat for “a surprise” while Mama Samia remains on land.

Their offshore destination is the Manta Resort, an ecolodge with a difference: Its bedroom is a submarine, sunk into a blue hole within a coral reef. Fish look in from every direction.

The next stop is not something that tourists can visit — in fact, its location is secret.

It’s a warehouse filled with more than 49,000 elephant tusks that have been confiscated by the government from poachers.

It’s an emotional segment, interspersed with disturbing still shots of elephants that had been killed and mutilated. But it also serves to underscore how serious the country is about its antipoaching efforts. Some 2,300 poachers have been arrested in the past six years, and, President Samia Suluhu Hassan tells Greenberg, poaching has been reduced by 90 percent.

Travel Weekly
Kibo and Mawenzi Peaks of Kilimanjaro from up above (Tanzania Times)

The next scene, while beautifully shot, also has a sobering side. The pair circle above the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro from an airplane.

Those whose mental picture of the mountain includes a large glacier covering much of its summit will be in for a shock: Due to climate change, the snow has shrunk to cover only a small portion of the mountaintop.

From the highest point in Africa, the tour moves to one of the lowest — and another look at a Tanzanian site that, alas, is not available to visitors: the country’s Tanzanite mines.

The blue gemstone, first identified in 1967, is found only in Tanzania, and only in one area that is less than four square miles. The stones themselves are mined three miles below the surface.

They’re rarer (in fact twenty times rarer) than diamonds, depite being less expensive.

It is expected (or maybe feared) that the mine will be exhausted in 20 years.

The show closes with images of Tanzania that will feel familiar to most people as Greenberg and Hassan visit the popular safari areas of Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park. Greenberg says his goal in Ngorongoro is to see the Big Five: elephant, lion, leopard, rhino and Cape buffalo.

President Samia Suluhu and Peter Greenberg rides the famous ‘War Bus’ in search for the Big Five in Ngorongoro Crater. (Photo by Karen Ballard)

The crater, whose intact rim is 11 miles wide, has the highest density of large predators on Earth. It’s home to 25,000 large animals and more than 500 bird species (including ostriches and flamingos).

After finding hippos, warthogs, giraffes, zebras and antelope, Greenberg’s Big Five wish is finally granted.

Elephants weren’t hard to find, but the pair also spotted one of only 5,000 black rhinos left on Earth (the species has been slaughtered by poachers interested only in their horns), a solitary leopard and a pride of lions within sight of a buffalo herd. 

Serengeti Shall Not Die

Hassan and Greenberg catch up with the wildebeest migration in Serengeti, viewing it in part from a hot air balloon, and also visit a Masai village, where Greenberg tries his best to join in a dance with young men leaping straight up, repeatedly and rapidly.

What makes the “Royal Tour” series different from most tourism-related programing is that, aside from presenting an informal and personal side of a leader, it presents a 360-degree view of a country.

Poaching, climate-change, slavery and endangered species are not, in most instances, topics that tourist boards want to dwell upon, but they’re important to get a full understanding of Tanzania.

By the end of the presentation, it’s likely that viewers’ interest in visiting the country will be higher than before they had watched it.

Even Tanzania’s familiar aspects are enhanced because everything is shown from the personal perspective of the country’s leader.

Although the show premieres this week, most PBS stations will be airing it several times in the coming months. If you have clients who are considering a trip to East Africa, you may want to share with them local viewing times.

After premiering in the United States, it is now time for the 'Royal Tour Tanzania' documentary to be unveiled in Tanzania. This takes place in the Northern Tourism Circuit, precisely in Arusha City on the 28th of April 2022
In addition to adventures in the wild, the Royal Tour also features tradition events such as this Maasai Dance (Photo by Karen Ballard), the Taarab Classic Music, which Mama Samia describes as the Isles version of Jazz and of course the popular fish market in Bagamoyo.