By Seth Onyango, Bird Stories Agency
Zanzibar is currently undergoing an infrastructure overhaul on a scale not seen since independence, with plans to transform the archipelago, famed for its pristine beaches and narrow streets of old towns, into a megalopolis.
Shiny – and green – new towers are coming to Zanzibar as the semi-autonomous island rushes to lure investment and luxury travelers to its shores and build its economy beyond tourism, which has been a lifeline for decades.
The Burj Zanzibar, the tallest green building in the world, is the latest headline and record-breaking project slated for construction on the island.
The announcement comes just over a year after announcing the planned construction of the Zanzibar Domino Commercial Tower, a spiral skyscraper on an artificial island off the west coast of the archipelago. In September last year, Tanzanian AICL Group and Edinburgh-based investment firm Crowland Management unveiled designs for the glittering $1.3 billion skyscraper.
When completed, the Zanzibar Domino Commercial Tower, a 70-story skyscraper, is expected to transform the island and become the second tallest building in Africa after Egypt’s Iconic Tower. It will also be the most expensive stand-alone structure ever built on the continent, just $200 million less than the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, which cost $1.5 billion.
“Burj” means tower in Arabic – and the new building is to be 96 meters high. However, the tower will be green rather than glittery. Dubbed the “vertical green village,” it would be the world’s first hybrid timber structure of such proportions.
According to its designers, the tower will serve as a “mixed-use residential/commercial building in a playful beehive style with stunning sea views” upon completion – which is scheduled for 2026.
The design was unveiled to the public on October 1st in Muscat, Oman. Dutch-born architect Leander Moons, responsible for the concept, said: “Burj Zanzibar is not only an outstanding building, but a new ecosystem for the future of living.”
“The 266-unit residential tower will be located in Fumba Town, East Africa’s pioneering eco-town developed by German-led engineering firm CPS. Classified as a strategic investment and fully supported by the Zanzibar government, the growing city near the capital, where foreigners are allowed to buy, stretches along a 1.5-kilometer stretch of coastline on the south-west coast,” according to the developers.
This luxury development boom is seen as an offer by Zanzibar’s President Hussein Ali Mwinyi to recalibrate the island’s economic model.
A Bloomberg report points this out Zanzibar advertises a $2 billion plan to woo startups and shipping, explore for energy and process algae to diversify from tourism and boost its blue economy.
This is part of a five-year plan and the government will hire advisors on the financing and debt needed to fund nearly two dozen wide-ranging projects valued at an estimated $2.4 billion.
New wealth is pouring in from the Middle East (Zanzibar was ruled by the Sultans of Oman from 1698 to 1963) and foreign investors are expected to shore up the archipelago’s real estate sector.
Meanwhile, new road projects have also been planned to improve connectivity under the Road project Zanzibar Urban-West including the first flyovers since independence. Mwinyi led the signing of the road contract with China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC), which promised to complete the works within three years.
The construction of overpasses in Amani and Mwanakwerekwe will cost US$116 million. Along with the skyscrapers, the island’s new look could resemble the far glitzier Dubai.
“It is impossible to achieve development goals if we still use the bad infrastructure in the country. We have deliberately prioritized infrastructure development so that we can move forward. I’m pleased that the road upgrade has started, which includes two overpasses,” Mwinyi said.
Over the past two years, his government has approved the construction and asphalting of more than 275 kilometers of roads on the island in eight phases.
In March 2022, President Mwinyi launched an ambitious five-year program Zanzibar Water Investment Program The goal is to attract investment in the production and supply of clean and safe water.
To attract tech companies, Zanzibar is issuing work visas to relocate tech workers, which has been problematic in mature markets like Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt and South Africa. Daniel Yu, Founder and CEO of Wasoko – a B2B e-commerce platform that connects informal retailers with manufacturers of consumer goods – recently announced that he and most of the company’s tech team have relocated to Zanzibar. Wasoko is a founding partner in an initiative called Silicon Zanzibar, which aims to promote the archipelago as a destination for tech companies and their workers.
Relocating companies can also find available workspace and accommodation in Fumba Town, just 9km from Abeid Amani Karume International Airport.
“Silicon Zanzibar is re-establishing the island as a gateway to the African continent through the transformative potential of the technology industry. As part of Zanzibar’s Blue Economy master plan to promote sustainable development, the technology sector will play a crucial role in expanding the island’s economy while maintaining a low environmental footprint Silicon Zanzibar website partially.
The Mwinyi government hopes the new investments and ease of doing business will help increase the island’s appeal.