The most recent series of Tanzanian coins are a 50, a 100 and a 200 Shilingi (types KM-33, 32 and 34 respectively) each bears the portrait of an important Tanzanian statesman. These men are Mwinyi, Nyerere and Karume respectively. All but Karume have appeared on previous Tanzanian types and several different portraits of Nyerere have been used on Tanzanian coins over the years. In fact it is only a few non-circulating types of the last few years that have not included the portrait of one of these three prominent Tanzanians. So why not take a closer look at these people and their numismatic portraits.

   Firstly though - to understand the positions held by each of these statesmen, something must be said about the make-up and administration of Tanzania. The country’s full title is “United Republic of Tanzania”. The “United” in the title recognising that the country came about through the union of Tanganyika and (the islands) Zanzibar (including Pemba) in 1964. This union is strongly reflected in the country’s governmental structure. Within this structure there are two presidents. First and most importantly there is the “President of the United Republic” usually know simply as the “President”, he has authority over all matters relating to mainland Tanzania and those matters relating to Zanzibar that are deemed, by law/constitution, to be “Union Matters”. Secondly there is the “President of Zanzibar”, he has authority (through a separate government) over all matters in Zanzibar except those seen as “Union Matters”. The Executive of the United Republic comprises the President, his Vice-President, the President of Zanzibar, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Ministers.


   Ali Hassan Mwinyi was born in 1925. Mwinyi was appointed acting President of Zanzibar in 1984 following the resignation of Skeikh Mwinyi Aboud Jumbe. (That resignation made during a period when the Tanzanian government seemed to be trying to take greater control over Zanzibar.) After a few months as acting President of Zanzibar, Mwinyi became President of Zanzibar proper and held that position until 1985 when elections were held throughout the whole of Tanzania. These elections saw Mwinyi move up to the position of President of the United Republic and he held this position for ten years (two full 5 year terms) i.e. upto the time of the 1995 elections. Those elections saw the nation’s current President take office, he is Benjamin William Mkapa.

Ali Hassan Mwinyi
The coinage portrait of Mwinyi as seen on the obverse of a 1991 5 Shilingi.

   The 1986 commemorative 20 Shilingi coin celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Central Bank of Tanzania was the very first to bear Mwinyi’s portrait. (Several later commemorative coins also include this portrait). The 50 Senti, 1 Shilingi, 5 Shilingi and 20 Shilingi circulation coins of the period 1987 to 1993 (not all dates exist for each) saw great use of this portrait for circulation coinage with a total of 19 date/denomination combinations known to exist. Of these circulation coins, pieces of the 50 Senti type seem to be the hardest to get hold of.

   The first series of circulation coins to bear Mwinyi’s portrait all had the word “TANZANIA” above the portrait and the date below. The more recent and ONLY other circulation type with Mwinyi’s portrait (i.e. 50 Shilingi KM-33, 1996) utilised the same portrait as the first series but changed so as to follow the general style of the coins with the third portrait of Nyerere (see later). This 50 Shilingi type shows the portrait of Mwinyi encircled with surrounding legend...


This legend is in Swahili and translates approximately to “Brother Ali Hassan Mwinyi, Second President of Tanzania, 1996”. In this title the word “Brother” is not a religious reference but a Swahili way to address a man as means to acknowledge equality between all. Swahili is the national and the official language of Tanzania and is hence very widely used on Tanzanian coins with just a few exceptions where English is used a little on some commemoratives.

   The Swahili language is, no doubt, introduced in many places on the internet but an introduction well worth a look is:-
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE SWAHILI LANGUAGE. That page gives a straight forward history of the Swahili language and includes important references to Tanzania.


   Julius Kambarage Nyerere, was born in 1922. He became Prime Minister of Tanganyika in 1961 and President of Tanganyika in 1962. He played a major part in the negotiations which in 1964 led to the union of the independent states of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, a union which brought Tanzania into existence. Consequently Nyerere became the first President of Tanzania and held that position until his retirement in 1985. Nyerere died in London on October 14th 1999.

Julius Kambarage Nyerere - First portrait
The first coinage portrait of Nyerere as seen on the obverse of a 1984 5 Senti.

   The first of the three coinage portraits of J. K. Nyerere debuted in 1966 on the Tanzania’s very first coins, these were 5, 20 and 50 Senti and 1 Shilingi. Other types with this portrait were the 10 Senti introduced in 1977, several 5 Shilingi circulating types and a few non-circulating commemorative types. The last circulation coins with this first portrait were dated 1984. All regular types with this portrait had the word “TANZANIA” and the date above the portrait and the Swahili words “RAIS WA KWANZA” (roughly meaning “First President”) below. This portrait can be attributed to engraver Christopher Ironside (as per such sources as “The Numismatic History of the Birmingham Mint” by James O. Sweeny (1981), that, in referring to Tanzania, states “The 1966 issues were designed by Christopher Ironside”). Ironside is perhaps best known for having being the designer of the reverses for all of the initial decimal coins of Great Britain - the half, 1/2, 1, 2, 5, 10 and 50 Pence coins.

Julius Kambarage Nyerere - Second portrait
The second coinage portrait of Nyerere, its only appearance was on this coin, the 5 Shilingi of 1978.

   The second Nyerere portrait must be the hardest Tanzanian portrait to get hold of, appearing on just one type and a scarcer one at that. The type with this portrait is the 5 Shilingi of 1978, a Food and Agricultural Organisation coin marking the occasion of the “F.A.O. Tenth Regional Conference for Africa”. Why this different portrait was used for this type, who designed it and whether it had only ever been intended for use on this one type I might never know. The legends around the portrait are as per the standard types made with the first Nyerere portrait.

Julius Kambarage Nyerere - Third portrait
The third coinage portrait of Nyerere as seen on the 20 Shilingi of 1981, one of the series three coins on which this portrait debuted.

   The third Nyerere portrait first appeared in 1981 on a series of three coins celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Tanzania’s independence (20 Sh. in Cu-Ni (Silver proof), 200 Sh. in Silver and 2000 Sh. in Gold). This portrait is always surrounded by the Swahili legends “MWALIMU JULIUS K. NYERERE” above and “RAIS WA KWANZA WA TANZANIA” below. This legend roughly translates to “Teacher Julius K. Nyerere, First President of Tanzania”. “Mwalimu” is actually the title given to all teachers by Swahili speakers. Nyerere before his political career had trained as a teacher and the title “Mwalimu” stayed with him even though he went on to lead a nation. The page The Meaning of the word "MWALIMU" discusses this subject very well. Also notable of these 1981 coins is that the reverses all have, as their main feature, the Tanzanian coat-of-arms, it was the first time that this had appeared on any coinage. These 1981 coins (and hence this portrait of Nyerere) can be attributed to designer Philip Nathan (famed for the likes of the British “Gold Britannia” series as introduced in 1987). My source for this designer attribution being a collector who spoke to Nathan sometime in the past year on the subject of designs.

This third portrait of Nyerere appeared on a similar (but rather scarce) commemorative series of 1985 and, notably, after Nyerere’s retirement, on 10 Shilingi circulation coins of 1987 to 1993 and the recent 100 Shilingi, KM-32, coins of 1994.

There seems to be no sign of a Tanzanian coin to mark Nyerere’s death, a little odd to say he was of such importance to the birth of this nation. I suppose there is always a chance something will appear and perhaps with it a fourth coinage portrait of Nyerere.


   Sheikh Abeid Amani Karume was born in 1905. He became the first President of Zanzibar as result of an armed uprising and the deposing of the last Sultan, in Zanzibar during January 1964. Three months after this the union was agreed to that created Tanzania. Karume remained President of Zanzibar until his assassination on 7th April 1972. The current (since elections in the year 2000) President of Zanzibar is Amani Karume, he is son of Sheikh Abeid Amani Karume. Between them had passed four other Presidents of Zanzibar:- Jumbe, Mwinyi, Wakil and Amour.

Sheikh Abeid Amani Karume
The coinage portrait of Karume as seen on the obverse of a 1998 200 Shilingi, still the only coin to include this portrait.

   Sheikh Abeid Amani Karume appears on only the most recent circulation circulation coin types of Tanzania, it is the 200 Shilingi type KM-34 and as yet this type is only known to exist with the date 1998. The portrait, like those seen on types 50 Shilingi KM-33 and all types with the portrait as seen on 100 Shilingi KM-32, has the portrait encircled and then surrounded by the main legend, which in this case is...


...meaning “Sheikh Abeid Amani Karume  -  First President of Zanzibar” AND the date and ADDITIONALLY with “1964-1972” near to portrait these are the years during which Sheikh Karume was President of Zanzibar.

Tanzania - all five portraits.
All five portraits.

   So who might appear on a future new higher denomination coin sof Tanzania - perhaps on a 500 or 1000 Shilingi coin ? We wait and see - but very likely a past or present “President of the United Republic” or “President of Zanzibar” - there are a few to choose from.

Tanzania Tokens page

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The info above was published in the April 2003 edition of the Numismatics International Bulletin (pages 114-118, pages numbered through the year). The last image was not included.