Zanzibar is opening up real estate for non-residents with opportunities to spur the blue economy. The spice island beckons with unspoilt beaches and new tourism bravado.
NOT JUST FOR ITS UNTOUCHED beaches and swaying palms, Zanzibar, the sunny archipelago off the coast of Tanzania lapped up by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean, may now also be known for its opportunities.
New regulations are set to allow non-Tanzanians to invest
in property and own businesses for the first time with greater ease; with tax breaks on offer to investors establishing businesses within Strategic Investment Projects on the island and 99-year leases with residence permits.
According to the World Bank, Tanzania is projected to reach 4.5%- 5.5% growth in 2022 and average 6% over the medium term as exports and domestic demand recover, assuming pandemic conditions ease. Agriculture, mining, and tourism contribute to the economy.
The new interest is attested by some of the real estate players on the island. Grant Anderson, the CEO of Blue Amber, a resort and Strategic Investment Project in Zanzibar, says Zanzibar actually is rife with opportunities for young South African entrepreneurs.
“And so the people there are now wanting goods and services and professional services more and more every single year. Houses are being built, there’s a requirement for furniture and healthcare and everything like that,” says Anderson to FORBES AFRICA.
“It’s just this massive, untapped resource that by African standards is amazing because it’s a safe investment; there’s no sort of security risks, there’s no political risks, it’s very stable.”
Anderson, a conservationist first and foremost, is heading up development at the resort with sustainability in mind. The project is installing solar panels, and looking to use synthetic grass for the golf course on site to reduce the use of water and fertilizers that would otherwise run off into the sensitive reefs on the island.
He says normally a golf course would incur $50,000 in maintenance monthly, but synthetic grass cuts those costs in half. Buildings will be constructed 30 meters from the shoreline, in order to protect the turtles, and 10 meters away from the coral heads.
Turtles use the beach to deposit their eggs, and the eggshells provide nutrients that nourish dune vegetation, helping prevent coastal erosion.
Tourists like South African freelance writer and publicity strategist Alice Draper, who visited Zanzibar in December last year, say the best part is the strong sense of community on the island.
“Coming from South Africa, Zanzibar just felt so safe,” Draper says.
Part of the plan is also creating self-employment opportunities for youth through agribusiness, but it is not easy. Says Sinthia Habib, training officer at the Zanzibar Technology and Business Incubator: “Among the challenges are poor technological
knowledge and skills, lack of startup funds for youth to be able to make large production with good machines and high branding which could allow their product to access the big hotel market and be transported out of Zanzibar. In a nutshell, it is expertise, fund capital and some policy regulations and bureaucracy.”
The coast presents plenty of opportunities though to develop the ocean economy.
Ali Sharif, the Executive Director of the Zanzibar Investment Promotion Authority (ZIPA), said at a news conference in December last year that the small islands, or islets, will be leased to developers for investment opportunities and to promote the blue economy.
The phase one of the small island program that rolled out in 2021 included Chumbe Island, Changuu, Bawe, Pungumbe, Kwale, Misali, Pamunda A and B, and Chapwani Island, bringing in a capital investment of $261.5 million. The islets of Sume, Popo, Kwata and Miwi in the Unguja South region are also for rent. In Pemba North, so too are Fundo, Njao and Kashani, and in Pemba South, Jome and Matumbini Islands. The islands range from a few to hundreds of hectares.
Chumbe Island is most notable among them. A commercial operation with a conservation approach, it’s a zero-impact environmental project with solar power water heating, composting toilets, vegetative greywater filtration and rainwater catchment. The bungalows intentionally have no Wi-Fi, remaining off the grid, and all the products are sourced locally.
Most staff have worked there for 15 years, and 41 of the 43 employees are locals, reports Diane Koerner, a conservationist on the island, to FORBES AFRICA.
Chumbe initially invested $1.2 million into the island. The direct input into the economy of Zanzibar has been $8.6 million, and the revenue generated remains within Zanzibar. The annual turnover has been $527,000, over the last 10 years.
Koerner explains that it is the first privately-managed marine protected area in the world. Though it is run entirely off the proceeds of tourists, it has put fishermen as well as 8,000 children through marine conservation and sustainable management programs, free of charge.
It’s often the first time children have gone snorkeling and seen the wonders of the coral reef.
“So it’s really one of the rare properties and projects in Zanzibar, I would say where it’s really ecotourism at its purest form, and where the
focus is really to have a few people enjoying the environment or learning and having this very immersive experience,” Koerner explains.
“And through the protection of the islands, so nearly 30 years, we have managed to really create this biodiversity hotspot. We have one of the most thriving, healthiest coral reefs in the whole of East Africa. We have had species that have grown in population that have returned to our ecosystem, because it has been so well-protected.”
The coral reefs are patrolled round the clock, and its protection has replenished fishing as well as seen a return of reef sharks – a sign of a flourishing ecosystem, Koerner reveals. She says having nearby villagers in their advisory committee is important, as is educating school children. It’s crucial for influencing the next generation of policymakers and tourism stakeholders, she adds.
“The fact that a limited number of people visit the island really allows that you can experience nature in its purest form.”
Zanzibar recognizes that the islands have intricate ecosystems that are already home to fishing and agricultural communities. Therefore, potential developments require a holistic approach and careful planning. Sharif has said that the customary practices of the locals will still be allowed on the rented islands.
So, the next time, if you wish to see a coconut crab on Chumbe Island, it’s a short boat trip from the main island. In the near future, you may also play golf by the waters at Blue Amber.
The scene will change, but hopefully not the scenery.