Nationalism Struggle in Zanzibar

15 Min Read

Nationalism Struggle in Zanzibar

Nationalism in Zanzibar: On December 10, 1963 Zanzibar became an independent constitutional monarchy under Sultan Jamshid Bin Abdullah. The politics of decolonization in Zanzibar was influenced by many factors. First, the population of Zanzibar was stratified along racial, social and even religious lines. Racial groups in Zanzibar included the Africans, Arabs, Indians and Europeans.

In 1948, the Africans formed a large majority of about 75% of the population. They comprised the Hadimu who were the indigenous inhabitants of Unguja occupying most of the southern part. Others were the Tumbatu, the Pemba and Shirazi and Mainland Africans.

The mainland Africans were mostly causal workers, dock-workers and peasantry/squatters. The Indians and Goans were numerically next; they engaged in commerce. They played negligible role in politics of nationalism. The Europeans (British) were a tiny minority, but were the colonial masters controlling the economy and the administration.

In the politics of decolonization, they assisted and protected the Arabs to whom they had chosen to hand over political power. Second, in the fertile arable land where clove and coconut plantations were established, most Africans living there were squatters. This reinforced superiority/inferiority relationship between the Arabs and Africans. Third, the British protected, nurtured and respected the Arab elite as the natural legitimate rulers of Zanzibar society.

Before the rise of political parties, Nationalist activities were organized and expressed through ethnic associations. The most outstanding associations were:-the Arab Association, 1910 the African Association, (1934 and the Shirazi Association, 1940, the Indian Association.
Nationalism Struggle in Zanzibar

The Arab Association – Was formed in the 1910s by rich and influential Arabs to press for compensation; during the 1930s, it was pre-occupied with defence against Indian creditors.Later on the association widened its scope to protect the general privileged position of the Arab community.

The African Association –Was formed in 1934 with most of its supporters from the mainland Africans. It was closely associated with TAA. It fought for the welfare of Africans.

The Shirazi Association –Was formed in Pemba in 1939. Later it spread its activities to the rest of the protectorate. It was intended to safeguard interests of indigenous Africans (the Shirazi).

Political parties in Zanzibar started to emerge in 1950s.Their aim was to capture political power from the British. But they were divided on ethnic and racial lines.

The Zanzibar Nationalist Party – This was Arab dominated party, but had an African peasant background. It has its origin in 1953 when a small group of Swahili peasants in the village of Kiembe Samaki formed a political party which they called National Party of the Subjects of the Sultan of Zanzibar (NPSS).The move was a protest against the arrest and use of violence against villagers who refused to obey colonial directives of cattle dipping and inoculation.

The party advocated multi-racial ideology and demanded independence under the Sultan of Zanzibar. Soon the Arab elite discovered the potential usefulness of the party in advancing their interests in the protectorate. Some of the members of the Arab Association like Muhisin and Amour joined and hijacked NPSS in 1955. They renamed it Zanzibar Nationalist Party and transformed it from its rural peasant base to an Arab dominated urban nationalist movement.Right from the beginning ZNP portrayed a seemingly nationalist image. Membership was open to all groups.

Shortly before the 1957 election the party called for ‘freedom now’ as its central slogan.But these nationalist gestures did not portray the real intension of the Arabs – open to all so long as the leadership came from the Arabs to guarantee the perpetuation of Arab domination in the Islands.

The Africans were recruited not to share political kingdom with the Arabs as equals, but to act as a catalyst which would hasten Arab success without affecting power structure. But although the party managed to win a good number of Africans. Many Africans, both mainlanders and Shirazi realized its hidden intensions and thus rejected it. They decided to fight colonialism in their own way.

African Nationalism – originated in early 1950s and it vacillated between militancy and retreat. This situation was influenced by colonial machinations in favour of Arab nationalism.1951-1953 African nationalism acquired a militant character. This militancy was exercised in small groups of African civil servants who became active in nationalist politics. They belonged to a small club called Young African Union (YAU) which was formed in 1951. YAU became an affiliated league of the African Association (AA).

Its intention was to stimulate AA to adopt a more militant position towards the colonial government.

YAU used its paper ‘Afrika Kwetu’ to educate and arouse African nationalist consciousness.

The YAU and AA leaders attacked the existing socio-political structure which placed the African in the most disadvantageous position in Zanzibar.

YAU attacked African domination by alien races and its denial of justice and civil rights which it enjoy.

It also attack the system in which the Africans were unrepresented in the Legislature Council and other statutory bodies and government committees.

It then called for greater representation of Africans in those bodies. It condemned the denial of education to Africans while favouring the Arabs and other Asians.

It attacked the miserable condition of poverty and ignorance in which the Africans lived. YAU also attacked the colonial government policy of treating the Shirazi and the mainland Africans as distinct groups, and thus called for unity.

The YAU and AA’s militancy was curtailed by the colonial government move to prohibit civil servants from participating in politics in 1953. AA entered a period of dormancy.

The Arabs seized that opportunity to move quickly. They used ZNP to demand immediate self-rule under the pretex of multiracial ideology. Colonial government responded to this call by calling the first general election to be held in 1956 (W.F. Coutts proposals).

Many conditions were imposed upon the election process intended to make it practically impossible for the Africans to secure any seat. The conditions included:- Eligibility to vote would depend on whether one could speak, read and write Kiswahili, Arabic or English;That voters had to be residents in Zanzibar and had to have lived in their constituency for at least one year;To be over 25 years of age and have property worth Shs. 3,000/- or an annual income of Shs. 1,500/-, or property and income amounting to TShs. 3,000/- more; To be in continuous government employment for at least 5 years or possess certificate or medals of good performance in war.

These awkward conditions denied the vote to the African majority who suffered oppression and exploitation. The Africans protested against these extremely unfavourable conditions leading to postponement of the elections to the following year.

The Afro-Shirazi Party – As already seen, one serious weakness of African nationalism in Zanzibar was the disunity between the Shirazi and the mainlanders.

Early in February 1957, in response to formation ZNP and the scheduled elections in July 1957, the leaders of the African and Shirazi Associations met to discuss possibility of forming a joint political party to compete with ZNP.

The Zanzibar Shirazi Association Branch under Sheikh Thabit Kombo and Ameir Tojo came out in favour of unity. The Pemba Shirazi Branch objected to unity.

The result was formation of Afro Shirazi Union (ASU).This was simply a union of two parties and not a new party.The President of AA Sheikh Abed Aman Karume was elected its chairman while Sheikh Thabit Kombo became its Secretary General.

In July 1957, elections were held in Zanzibar for the first time. ASU won 3 seats (out of 6),Pemba Shirazi 2 seats, and Indian independent one. ZNP won no seat.

Following this victory for ASU, a complete merger of the party was effected. It now becomes Afro Shirazi Party (ASP).The two members of Pemba Shirazi joined forces with ASP but reinstated separate identity of Pemba Shirazi Union. The results of 1957 elections acted as a morale/ booster on the part of the Africans and supporters of ASP.

On the other hand, the Arabs realized that they had no support of the other classes, and thus could not win any elections without rigging. Thus all the subsequent elections were characterized by rigging on the part of ZNP.

Zanzibar and Pemba Peoples Party – In 1959 there developed misunderstandings in the ASP’s top leadership which led to the expulsion of one of its leaders Mr. Ameir Tojo.The two Shirazi seat winners from Pemba also resigned from party. These three people formed a new party called Zanzibar and Pemba Peoples Party (ZPPP). ZPPP was basically meant for the Shirazi who wanted to avoid the Arab domination in the ZNP and at the same time would not like African control in ASP.

In 1960, Sir Hilary Blood was appointed Special Commissioner to make constitutional proposal: the constitution passed a fully elected unofficial majority in enlarged LEGCO with a ministerial system under Chief Minister. This resulted in the preparation for election which was characterised by atmosphere of tension to the extent that Resident threatened to bar political meetings.

January 1961 Elections – Three parties contested: ASP won 10 out of 22 seats (40% of the votes), ZNP won 9 seats (35.8% of the votes) and ZPPP won 3 seats (17% of the votes).ZNP and ZPPP formed a coalition but it is only twomembers of ZPPP who joined ZNP, one candidate from ZPPP by the name of Ali Shariff refused and joined ASP.

Thus the two sides became equal. The election was repeated in June 1961 but it was characterized by rigging and fighting all over the Zanzibar. The three parties contested for 23 seats. ASP and ZNP won 10 seats each; ZPPP won 3 seats. Thus, ZPPP and ZNP coalition constituting a total of 13 seats formed the government with Mohamed Shamte, the leader of ZPPP as Prime Minister.

ASP complained about rigging and unfairness in the elections demanding its nullification. Fresh election was again called in June 1963. In this election the colonial state increased the number of seats in the areas under the influence of ZNP and ZPPP. So there were a total of 31 seats. The results of the elections were:ASP pulled 87,082 votes (54.3%) and won 13 seats.ZNP had 47,950 votes (45%) and won 12 seats and ZPPP got 6 seats only. The ZNP and ZPPP coalition got a total of 18 seats and formed the government and, Zanzibar was granted independence on 10th December 1963.The Sultan became the Head of State and Mohamed Shamte the Prime Minister.

The Zanzibar Revolution – Under the frustration of being denied their right in elections, the ASP resorted to violence techniques in order to restore African majority rule. On January 12, 1964 a successful revolution was carried out under the leadership of ASP. The Arab Sultanate was overthrown and the government of Mohamed Shamte was removed. An African government under Sheikh Abed Amani Karume was installed.

Explanation of the Zanzibar Revolution –Western writers have presented conflicting views: First, they see the potential of Umma Party with Babu’s coordination of the two arms of workers (FPTU and ZPFL) under National Labour Committee. Second, they consider Okello as the revolutionary leader who masterminded the whole move.

But more intimate information tends to show that the revolution was organized under tight control of ASP and its coordinating committee of 14 members which planned and used the unemployed and other useful individuals, including dismissed policemen.Okello, one of the members of the coordinating committee was used because of his suitable voice to make announcements, and after the assignment he played no further role.

It may be impossible to obtain the story at the moment, but gradually more eyewitness accounts may be recorded as the facts move far away from active participants.

Tanganyika’s Union with Zanzibar On 26th April 1964 Zanzibar United with Tanganyika to form the United Republic of Tanzania.

Share This Article
Leave a comment

You cannot copy content of this page