Published by: XCASSIA
22 August 2023
Author: XCASSA

In the history of XCASSIA’s work since 1958, very few projects can parallel the journey of the Zanzibar Domino in Zanzibar, Tanzania. Created by the architect Jean-Paul Cassia, the project's trajectory has been one marked by challenges, unwavering determination, and a steadfast commitment to its transformative potential.

The genesis of the project’s African odyssey can be traced back to January 2021, when XCASSIA first received overtures from a party captivated by its "Ha Long Bay Domino" project in Vietnam. By February of the same year, the Tanzanian Joint Venture AICL Group and Chinese financier Crowland Management Ltd. expressed interest in replicating this iconic design on the island of Zanzibar. Fast forward to August 2021, a pivotal moment in the project's evolution, as an official signing ceremony and press conference, attended by senior government officials and business leaders, marked the inauguration of the 536,000m2 "Zanzibar Domino" destination master plan located both onshore along Malawi Road and offshore around the Chapwani Islands archipelago, 15 minutes north of Stone Town. Amid the resounding excitement, it was Yussef Amour, Chairman of AICL Group, who unveiled a staggering $3 billion portfolio dedicated to the island's development, a sum that included $1.3 billion earmarked for the Zanzibar Domino. Yet, amidst the exuberance, a void remained – the notable absence of financier Emmanuel Ummo, CEO of Crowland Management Ltd., cast a shadow over the occasion.

As the news reverberated across regional and global platforms, the project's aura was momentarily dimmed by capitalization delays and a conspicuous absence of tangible developer commitments. Amid these challenges, Jean-Paul Cassia, the architect and developer behind the vision, was spurred into action. With steadfast resolve, he engaged the Honorable Mudrick Soragha, the Minister of Investment, in earnest dialogue to chart a course through the intricacies that lay ahead. A turning point occurred in June 2022, as XCASSIA's association with the Developer was severed. A testament to the project's resilience, this juncture ushered in new agreements with the government, solidifying a professional framework bolstered by the Zanzibar Government's unwavering support in the project.

Reflecting on these tribulations, Jean-Paul Cassia shared a poignant memory of his father's words, a fellow architect, who use to often say with a smile – "when you draw big projects, you will face big problems so be prepared and hang in there!" The architect's candor resonates deeply as he recollects, "It was incredibly hard to manage the realization that the Zanzibar Government and XCASSIA had been exposed by the first Developer while the global press zoomed into our work with enquiries... I had no idea what would happen next but felt comforted at the very least that a sovereign government had aligned itself with us."

Amidst these trials, July 2022 brought a fortuitous encounter with Tanzanian entrepreneurs Austin Makani and Jesse Ndambala, representatives of GRP Treasury Management Inc., a social impact financier based in Houston, Texas. August 1st marked a milestone as Kirk D. Paschal, Chairman of GRP, pledged to infuse a $1.4 billion development budget into the Zanzibar Domino via a Public Private Partnership. Jean-Paul Cassia's reflections on this juncture are imbued with a touch of philosophy, "Having survived cancer at MD Anderson Hospital in Houston, I could not avoid comparing the project being given a 'second life' just as I had back in 1979. I mean how many chances can a project like this be given while also requiring XCASSIA to take on the challenging role of the developer in the venture?" With renewed vigor, the project surged forward, underpinned by fresh agreements and capital commitments. Intensive studies and groundwork paved the way for a project launch, all orchestrated in tandem with the Zanzibar Government's visionary leadership.

Yet, March 15th, 2023, etched a different script. At a formal meeting, the Central Bank Governor and Zanzibar’s Minister of Finance scrutiny of GRP's funding commitment hung in the air. The unexpected setback, spurred a detailed due diligence collaboration between GRP's local teams, the Tanzania Government and Central Bank, fostering a hopeful yet uncertain outlook. As August 2023 dawned, the efforts of all involved culminated in a reaffirmation of GRP's funding commitment, pending the outcome of the government’s due diligence. In an unexpected twist, GRP also embraced the prospect of seeing the project financed by alternative financiers joining hands with XCASSIA and the Government.

Jean-Paul Cassia's narrative shifts once more, encapsulating the essence of this venture's journey, "Having been approached by many other funders for this project and offers to build it in other locations, we felt GRP was demonstrating a holistic view on its approach to social-impact funding and a particular courtesy towards XCASSIA and the Zanzibar Government." His words encapsulate the project's profound crossroads as he concludes, "It was time to accept GRP’s suggestions and broaden our outlook to open up the possibilities for other financing partners to back the project."

As XCASSIA extends its appreciation to GRP and its representatives, it also acknowledges the indomitable spirit of the Minister of Investment, the Honorable Mudrick Soraga, and the resolute support of President Dr. Hussein A. Mwinyi. Jean-Paul Cassia echoes the collective sentiment, "The transformative potential of the Zanzibar Domino for the enchanting island of Zanzibar in Tanzania resonates deeply within the XCASSIA team. It created a unifying vision for the island which became symbolic of Tanzania’s successful pro-business policies.”

The project's whirlwind journey was seeded in an untimely press release, but its enduring resonance has been fueled by unwavering public engagement, catalyzed by a belief in its transformative power. Jean-Paul Cassia embraces the twists and turns, "We know all projects encounter challenges, but in this case, the exposure and absence of project funding was a glaring problem. It was time to find a solution.

Amidst the ebb and flow, Jean-Paul Cassia's words linger – "First conceived in Paris 2009 around a game of dominos with my late father and two sons, then commissioned for a site in Vietnam in 2019 until the pandemic arrived, then followed by a detour in Jeddah for a site that proved inconclusive, to then be thrust in the public conscience by an unprepared Developer and finally propped up by a Texan financier whose funding remains uncertain and in the grips of the Tanzania Central bank…gosh, who knows, will there be a third and final chance to build this wonderful project one day?"

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"The transformative potential of the Zanzibar Domino for the enchanting island of Zanzibar in Tanzania resonates deeply within the XCASSIA team. It created a unifying vision for the island which became symbolic of Tanzania’s successful pro-business policies." - Jean-Paul Cassia