Triassic to mid-Jurassic core samples of the Mandawa basin, southern Tanzania (western coast of the Indian Ocean), were geochemically analyzed in order to constrain source rock potentials and petroleum generation prospects of different stratigraphic formations within the coastal basin complex. The samples were collected from the Mihambia, Mbuo and Nondwa Formations in the basin. Geochemical characterization of source rocks intersected in exploration wells drilled between 503 to 4042 m below surface yielded highly variable organic matter contents (TOC) rated between fair and very good potential source rocks (0.5 to 8.7 wt%; mean ca. 2.3 wt%). Based on bulk geochemical data obtained in this study, the Mandawa source rocks are mainly Type I, Type II, Type III, mixed Types II/III and Type IV kerogens, with a predominance of Type II, Type III and mixed Type II/III. Based on pyrolysis data (Tmax 417 to 473oC; PI = 0.02 to 0.47; highly variable HI = 13 to 1 000 mg/gTOC; OI = 16 to 225 mg/g; and VR values of between 0.24 to 0.95% Ro) we suggest that the Triassic Mbuo Formation and possibly the mid-Jurassic Mihambia Formation have a higher potential for hydrocarbon generation than the Nondwa Formation as they are relatively thermally mature.