Kigoma is the most northernmost town on the Tanzanian shores of Lake Tanganyika, bordering both Burundi and the Congo (formerly Zaire), and the lake has officially been declared a Free Trade Zone. The lake is the central focus of the town, and the multitudes of colourful boats clustered along the sands of Kibirizi beach ply a mellow trade between the villages and towns on each of its shores. Such a situation has made it a historical port for trade, exporting local goods, foodstuffs and palm oils, and salt from Uvinza for over a thousand years.
The most prominent people in the region are the Ha, said to have been considered so loyal and hardworking by the first colonial settlers that they were sought after to work on their new plantations. The down side of this for the Ha was that they were therefore discouraged from developing any cash crops of their own, and consequently afforded little economic leverage when the settlers left.
In the late nineteenth century Kigoma became the first landing stage for Europeans on Lake Tanganyika. Sir Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke arrived on its shores in 1856, on a commission from the Royal Geographical Society to find the source of the Nile. In 1886, journalist Henry Morton Stanley came here in search of the missing missionary, explorer and scientist, Dr David Livingstone, although the two men actually met a few kilometres south in Ujiji. The house where Dr Livingstone stayed in Kigoma still stands.
It remains however, a serious undertaking to reach Kigoma overland by road, and the railway link from Dar es Salaam is the most reliable overland route, culminating in an impressively elegant triple-storey railway station, built by the Germans in 1915.