“Ask Nyerere, because he is the one who went to Zanzibar. He is the one who wanted the union. He
must have had goals. Has he achieved them? I can not speak for mainlanders on the achievement of the union.” - Aboud Jumbe, a Zanzibari and former First Vice President of Tanzania, at
a press conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in January 1998 on the 34th anniversary
of the Zanzibar revolution, quoted by Godfrey Mwakikagile, Nyerere and Africa: End of an Era, Third Edition, New Africa Press, 2006, p. 636.
THE unification of Tanganyika and Zanzibar in April 1964 was the first political
union between independent countries ever to take place on the African continent in the post-colonial era. And it continues
to be a subject of interest among many people more than 40 years after its consummation.
It was preceded by the Zanzibar revolution which took place on 12 January 1964. Three months later, the new nation
of Tanzania was formed after the two former independent states of Tanganyika and Zanzibar surrendered their sovereignties
to a supra-national entity which came to be officially known as the United Republic of Tanzania. And there is no question
that the revolution played a major role in encouraging or pushing the leaders towards unification.
The union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar may still have been consummated had the revolution not taken place in the island
nation. We will never know.
But given the Pan-Africanist
inclinations of the leaders involved in the consummation of the union, there was a high probability that the two countries
would have united sometime at a later date.
The union was a milestone
in the history of post-colonial Africa and in the continent's quest for unity and had an impact that is still felt today,
decades after it was formed.
It influenced political
and diplomatic relations between and among countries and changed the course of history. It was even a factor in the super-power
rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It also became a major subject of intellectual
and ideological debates in and outside Africa for many years. And it continues to stimulate debate even today among many Tanzanians.
There are some people
in Tanzania including some leaders who think the union was a mistake. Some people say it was formed in hurry without seriously
considering all the issues involved. And there are those who say the union should not have been formed at all and that the
two countries of Tanganyika and Zanzibar should have remained separate entities with full sovereign status they attained when
they won independence from Britain on separate dates.
Tanganyika won independence
on 9 December 1961, and Zanzibar on 10 December 1963, although the legitimacy of Zanzibar's government which assumed power
on independence day was highly questionable since the black African majority in the island nation were excluded from power
by the Arab rulers; one of the factors which played a major role in igniting the Zanzibar revolution.
It has been a bumpy road
since independence. And many problems still lie ahead as the two partners continue to find ways to resolve their differences
and strengthen the union.
In fact, a significant
number of Zanzibaris, especially on Pemba island, would like to see the union dissolved and return to the status quo ante.
Only time will tell where
the union is headed.
Problems faced by the
union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar have also served as a warning to other African countries which may contemplate uniting under
one government, although that is a remote possibility on a continent where nationalism transcends Pan-Africanism despite professions
to the contrary.
In fact, even within Tanzania
itself, Zanzibari “nationalism” is still strong, although Zanzibar is no longer a separate country. It is an integral
part of the United Republic of Tanzania and does not have sovereign status. But that has not stopped a significant number
of Zanzibaris from claiming independent status and demanding dissolution of the union.
Some of the union's strongest
opponents are members of the Civic United Front (CUF), Tanzania's major opposition party, which has its biggest support in
the former island nation, mainly on Pemba Island, and has ties to Oman and other Gulf states.
Opposition to the union
also comes from a significant number of people who were supporters of the old Arab regime and they are mostly Arab themselves.
The union was a major
achievement. But it also has a lot of problems, some of which may not have been anticipated by the architects of this macro-nation.
Why was the union formed,
when it was, besides the desire that already existed among the leaders to unite the two countries? Were others forces at work?
Did the United States and Britain exert pressure on Nyerere to unite the two countries as Professor Ali Mazrui contends? Or
was it a Pan-African initiative by Nyerere and the leader of Zanzibar after the revolution, Abeid Karume and some of his colleages,
to form the union?
And were the two
leaders – Nyerere and Karume – equally motivated to unite their countries? Or was it Nyerere who was behind it
all? Or was it Karume who first suggested to Nyerere that their countries should unite? As Tanzania's former First Vice President
Aboud Jumbe, who had fallen out with Nyerere, bluntly stated at a press conference in Dar es Salaam in January 1998 on the
34th anniversary of the Zanzibar revolution which, among other things, provided an impetus
towards unification of the two countries:
“Ask Nyerere, because he is the one who went to Zanzibar. He is the one who wanted the union.
He must have had goals. Has he achieved them? I can not speak for mainlanders on the achievement of the union.”
The union remains a highly contentious subject among many Tanzanians. Many questions are still being asked. And most
of them have not been fully answered.
It is not the purpose of this book to answer those questions, whether or not the union should have been formed, or
whether or not it was the right thing to do.
The focus of this work is on whether or not Nyerere and his colleagues on the mainland – Tanganyika – and
those in Zanzibar initiated the move towards unification. Or was it a product of the Cold War?
The Union of Tanganyika
THE union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar was the first merger of independent states on the entire continent
and the only one that has ever been consummated.
The Ghana-Guinea union formed on November 23, 1958, between the first black
African country to win independence from Britain and the first to achieve it from France, and joined by Mali in 1961 to form
the Ghana-Guinea-Mali union, was more symbolic than functional.1
In the case of Tanzania, both Tanganyika and Zanzibar renounced their sovereignties and submerged their
separate national identities in the new macro-nation.
The establishment of Tanzania from this merger is also one of the most memorable achievements of the
late President Julius Nyerere.
Tanganyika united with Zanzibar on 26 April 1964. For six months, the new country was simply known as
the Union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar. It was also officially known by its much longer name as the United Republic of Tanganyika
and Zanzibar, and was renamed the United Republic of Tanzania on October 29. Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanganyika, which
means Haven of Peace in Arabic and was founded by the Arab rulers, became the seat of the union government.
The union was preceded by the revolution in Zanzibar which ended Arab hegemonic control of the islands
that lasted for hundreds of years.
The violent uprising was led by John Okello, a Ugandan who had settled in Zanzibar, and who saw himself
as a messianic figure on a mission to free his people - blacks in Zanzibar - from Arab domination. And the role this self-styled
field marshal played in the redemption of his race on the isles became a sub-text in the unfolding drama that eventually led
to the consummation of the union. As Professor Haroub Othman, a Tanzanian of Zanzibari origin teaching at the University of
Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, explains:
“Nyerere states that he casually proposed the idea of Union to Karume when the latter visited
him to discuss the fate of John Okello. According to Nyerere, Karume immediately agreed to the idea and suggested that Nyerere
should be the president of such a union.
In a New Year’s message to the nation on 1 January 1965, Nyerere implied
that even if the ASP (Afro-Sirazi Party led by Karume in Zanzibar) had come into power by constitutional means and not as
a result of revolution, the Union would still have taken place.”2
Even though a convergence of interests - Western (especially American and British) concern that Zanzibar
was about to become “the Cuba of Africa,” and Nyerere’s Pan-African desire to unite with Zanzibar - may
seem to have helped create a climate conducive to unification of the two independent African states; the union would probably
still have been established on Nyerere’s own initiative, even if there was no “communist” threat on the
isles and independent Zanzibar - under black majority rule - was a capitalist haven, provided the leaders of Zanzibar also,
like Nyerere, had the political will to do so.
Nyerere had just failed, in 1963, to convince the leaders of Kenya and Uganda to unite with Tanganyika
and form an East African federation. And now Zanzibar provided him with an opportunity to realize this Pan-African ambition
although on a smaller scale.
And American officials themselves who were in government service under President Lyndon B. Johnson during
that time did not even claim credit for engineering the union. As Frank Carlucci, who was US consul in Zanzibar and later
CIA director and American secretary of defence, stated in an interview in 1986:
“Nyerere had to do something about the Zanzibar problem. I don’t know for a fact whether
he came up with the idea himself, or whether we gave him the prescription. Whether our urging him to do something about Zanzibar
had an effect on him....
I do know that the situation in Zanzibar was one of continuing deterioration.
In the absence of action from Tanganyika, the place would have been completely controlled by the communists.”3
The highly volatile situation in Zanzibar during that critical period provided momentum towards unification,
but at a tempo influenced even if not dictated by Nyerere....
That the events in Zanzibar dictated the pace of this consensus building between the leaders of the two
countries which led to the establishment of the union is clearly demonstrated by the short time span in which the entire process
The two countries united within three-and-a-half months: the proposal, negotiations and consummation
of the union all took place within that short period. And some tough negotiations took place since some Zanzibari leaders
were opposed to the merger. As Professor Haroub Othman states:
“Discussions on the Union were conducted very secretively. From the archives, and the statements
of those who were in the corridors of power at the time, it would appear that not many people in the Tanganyika Government,
or the Zanzibar Revolutionary Council, knew what was happening.
Apart from Nyerere and Karume, the only other people who might have been privy to these discussions were
Rashidi Kawawa, Oscar Kambona, Abdallah Kassim Hanga and Salim Rashid.
What is important is that the Articles of Union, signed by Karume and Nyerere on 22 April 1964, were
subsequently ratified by both the Tanganyika National Assembly and the Zanzibar Revolutionary Council.
Both Abdulrahman Babu and Khamis Abdallah-Ameir, the two former Umma Party leaders who were in the Revolutionary
Council at the time, have confirmed that the matter was discussed in the Council and that, while there were reservations on
the part of some members, these were overcome by Abdallah Kassim Hanga who made an emotional appeal in support of the Union.
Presenting the proposal for a Union to the Tanganyika National Assembly on 25 April 1964, Nyerere based
his argument on the proximity of the Islands to the Mainland, a common language, friendship between TANU and the ASP (Afro-Shirazi
Party in Zanzibar), and common cultural traditions.
But the ultimate ground for the Union was, he said, a commitment to the
cause of African unity. Nyerere saw the Union with Zanzibar as a step towards federation in East Africa.”4
With that step, Nyerere....
The union was consummated at the height of the Cold
War, and there have been all sorts of speculations, allegations and innuendoes that the merger was externally engineered.
The implication of these arguments is that Nyerere would not have formed the union had he not been prompted,
prodded or manipulated by these external forces to do so. As Professor Ali Mazrui states in “Nyerere and I”:
“Did Tanganyika unite with Zanzibar to form Tanzania under pressure from President Lyndon Johnson
of the United States and Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas Home of Britain who did not want Zanzibar to become another communist
Nyerere bristled when it was suggested that the union with Zanzibar was
part of the Cold War and not a case of Pan-Africanism.”7
The argument that Nyerere was coerced by the United States and Britain into uniting Tanganyika with Zanzibar
to deprive communists of a base on the island nation is not....
The president of Zanzibar who formed the union with Nyerere, Sheikh Abeid Karume, wanted a complete merger,
hence a stronger union. But Nyerere refused to go that far.
He preferred, instead, to have a weaker union in which Zanzibar would continue to have its own government
and enjoy considerable autonomy virtually as a sovereign entity in a number of areas except foreign affairs, defence, immigration,
and others specifically placed under the jurisdiction of the union government.
He was concerned that if a complete merger of the two countries and governments took place, the people
of Zanzibar would feel that they had been swallowed up by Tanganyika, a much bigger country. It would not be a union of equals
since as a sovereign entity, Zanzibar was entering the union as an independent country, not as a junior partner.
Another Zanzibari leader who was strongly in favour of a much stronger union was Kassim Hanga who served
as prime minister and vice president under President Karume and was one of the leaders on the isles known for his communist
As Gamal Nkrumah, son of the late president
of Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, stated in the obituary he wrote for Nyerere, “The Legacy of A Great African,” in
“Nyerere’s presence at political rallies, remote poverty-stricken villages, academic conferences
and international forums where he pleaded the case of the South always lit up the occasion. He had a way with the words....
He was the philosopher-king, intellectual, enlightened, the polar opposite of the despotic ruler so common
in the Africa of his day. But he was also a man of the people....
Two years ago, at celebrations marking the 40th anniversary of Ghana’s independence, I met and
spoke to Nyerere for the last time. I would never have guessed that he was ill....
He was not only a man of integrity, but he also had the courage and modesty to admit to past mistakes.
I have heard him speak in London, at the Commonwealth Institute, in several forums in the United States
and at the United Nations, as well as in many an African setting.
To me personally, Nyerere was always the attentive father figure, never missing an opportunity to remind
me that my own father’s vision for a united Africa was the only way forward.
With his wit, humour, sharp intellect and disarming sincerity, Nyerere was always a winning personality.
But, to say that he was an uncontroversial character would be a grave mistake.
From the beginning of his political career, Nyerere was widely seen as a moderate, and that at a time
when more militant African leaders prevailed.
As early as the late 1950s and early 1960s, official US documents, now declassified, interestingly reveal
that America’s Central Intelligence (CIA) regarded him as the only ‘responsible’ African leader. Nyerere
himself was clever enough to realise that such a revelation was no compliment....
His greatest achievement is undoubtedly the successful unification of mainland Tanganyika with the Indian
Ocean island of Zanzibar (and Pemba).
The United Republic of Tanzania was born in 1964 out of that union with an overwhelmingly Muslim island-nation
whose closest historical, economic and political ties were with Oman in particular and the Arab Gulf countries in general.
Zanzibar was for two centuries the Omani official seat of government and the official residence of the Sultan.
In contrast, Tanganyika...had a more mixed population, equally divided between Christians and Muslims.
It was to Nyerere’s credit that he managed to unite this most ethnically,
linguistically and religiously diverse of nation-states and make it one of Africa’s most politically stable countries.”14
It is true that the United States denounced Zanzibar as “the Cuba
after the January
1964 revolution led by John Okello who toppled the Arab-dominated regime and transferred power to the predominantly black
majority and their allies including a number of Arabs, Iranians (originally from Shiraz in Iran), and others.
But it is also true that the people who led the revolution were not interested in substituting one master
for another - capitalist or communist - and their uprising was not communist-inspired. It was an expression of indigenous
aspirations triggered by the racial injustices the black majority suffered at the hands of the Arab-minority regime to whom
the British transferred power at independence on December 10, 1963.
The communist threat in Zanzibar was overly exaggerated. Even the leaders who could have established
communism on the isles dismissed this threat. They were explicit in their intentions and would not have shied away from acknowledging
that they were going to establish communism in Zanzibar - which would been an open secret, anyway, sooner rather than later.
They included Abdulrahman Mohammed Babu, the most prominent leader with communist leanings on the islands
and whom the CIA followed closely, as it did all the other leaders. According to one of the declassified documents in the
US Archives written by the American ambassador to Nigeria, Averill Harriman, to President Lyndon B. Johnson and Secretary
of State Dean Rusk on March 25, 1964:
“In long talks with Prime Minister Abubakar (Tafawa Balewa) and Foreign
Minister (Jaja) Wachuku,...both minimized concern I expressed for Communist takeover in Zanzibar, assured me that Karume was
sensible and Babu was primarily African nationalist and would not permit Communist takeover. When I pressed Wachuku, he firmly
insisted he could guarantee Babu whom he had personally known a long time.”16
The preceding telegram was followed by other reports on the potential for
communist penetration of Africa during the early years of independence in the sixties. Ambassador Harriman himself in another
report to President Johnson on October 28, 1964, about nine months after the Zanzibar revolution and just one day before the
Union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar was renamed Tanzania (on October 29, 1964), conceded: “Not a single new African nation
has succumbed to Communist domination.”17
Officials in the Johnson Administration were convinced that communists had
played an active role in the Zanzibar revolution on January 12, 1964, according to released documents contained in the 850-page
volume of Foreign Relations of the United States
1964 - 1968. As one US
State Department background paper, February 7, 1964, asserted:
“There was obvious communist involvement in Zanzibar.”18
Yet, the same officials admitted that disturbances in other parts of East
Africa - the army mutinies in Tanganyika, Kenya, and Uganda in January 1964 - around the same time did not appear to be communist-inspired.
In fact, President Nyerere himself resolutely maintained that there was “no evidence whatsoever to suggest that the
mutinies in Tanganyika were inspired by outside forces - either Communist or imperialist.”19
But there was a common logic that linked the mutinies to the Zanzibar revolution.
The revolution was an African uprising against....
...from all available evidence, it is clear that communism - or any form of external involvement or manipulation
- was not a factor in the army mutiny in Tanganyika or those in Kenya and Uganda; three inter-related incidents in a chain
reaction that almost plunged the three countries into chaos during those fateful days in January 1964.
Probably more than anything else, even more than salary demands, the mutinies were inspired by black
nationalism and were a military expression of indigenous political aspirations. And so was the Zanzibar revolution, although
it transcended race and included some Arabs and Persians in the vanguard in the quest for racial justice....
Although it is true that American policy towards Africa during the Johnson Administration (and preceding
and future ones) was one of communist containment, there was little evidence to show that communism was gaining ground anywhere
on the continent. Hence Ambassador Harriman’s observation as early as 1964 that - “not a single new African nation
has succumbed to Communist penetration”; and the conclusion, in the same year, by the US State Department that:
“There is no hard evidence at this time that the trouble
in East Africa (the army mutinies) was part of an inter-related communist plot to take over the area.”21
A plausible explanation for American involvement in “facilitating” the establishment of the
union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar may lie in the fact that the interests of the United States with regard to Zanzibar coincided
with those of Julius Nyerere who had always wanted all the countries in the region (including Zanzibar) to unite, and therefore
the American government - at best - did not interfere and try to block the union from being formed; but not in the fact....
And there's no question that there were leaders in Zanzibar who also wanted the two countries to unite
for reasons which had nothing to do with pressure from the United States and Britain. They supported unification not because
they buckled under pressure from the two Western powers but because they had their own reasons for supporting the merger....
....some of the Zanzibari leaders - whom the Americans and the British wanted to contain or nuetralise by bringing
them under the control of Nyerere's “moderate” leadership as opposed to their radical views as communists –
were some of the strongest supporters of the union themselves.
In fact, they strongly
supported the move probably far more than some of the leaders in Tanganyika did.
Among them was Kassim
Hanga, prime minister and vice president of Zanzibar under Abeid Karume, who made an impassioned plea to the other members
of the Zanzibar Revolutionary Council on the imperative need for unity with Tanganyika.
Another strong supporter
of the union was Abdulrahman Mohammed Babu, who was known to be a communist and whom the Americans wanted to neutralise because
of his status as the most prominent and most influential communist leader in the government of Zanzibar.
Kassim Hanga was another
communist or someone with well-known communist ties and sympathies. And it was his arguments in support of the union which
swayed the other members of the Revolutionary Council who were opposed to it.
Now, why would Hanga and Babu support a union, which
they knew the Americans and the British also desperately wanted in order to neutralise them as a political force, if they
did not have their own reasons for supporting the merger?
Were they also pressured
by the Americans to support the merger? And did they want to help the Western powers to destroy them? Or did they support
the union because, like Nyerere, they strongly believed in African unity?
Would Hanga have made
an impassioned plea for unification of the two countries if the Americans and the British were not a factor in the calculus
in terms of encouraging the merger for their own reasons?
He probably would have
done so, since he wanted the two countries to unite for reasons which had nothing to do with the Americans and the British
or with securing Western interests in the region as the Americans and the British wanted when they encouraged formation of
This is not to discount the possibility or the fact
that the Americans and the British did....
And there's no question that there were leaders
in the Zanzibar Revolutionary Council who wanted the two countries to unite, the most prominent being Hanga and Babu.
Were some of the other
leaders in the Zanzibar Revolutionary Council, besides Hanga and Babu, who supported the union also pressured by the Americans
and the British to support the merger, although they knew that the Western powers did not like them and wanted to neutralise
them as a political force?
Why would they support
a union which would serve Western interests against theirs?
Did Hanga, as prime minister
of Zanzibar, make an impassioned plea for unity because he was allied with the Americans and the British and they told him
to do so since they wanted the union? Did Babu and others support the merger for the same reason – and because of pressure
exerted on them to support unification of the two countries?
It's clear that they supported the union for other
reasons which were different from the reasons given by the Americans and the British when they supported the merger.
Babu, Hanga and other
leaders in Zanzibar supported the merger because....
He Manipulated Zanzibar
The East African, 30 June 2008
his compelling new book, Prof. Issa Shivji is in no mood for taking prisoners. Instead, he takes some very sacred cows indeed
to the slaughter as he dissects the actions of the protagonists involved in the story of the Union between Tanganyika and
Zanzibar - from Julius Nyerere to Abeid Karume, to Aboud Jumbe, to Abdulrahman Babu and others.
anti-colonial forces in Africa were agitating for independence, different ethnic, racial and class formations vied with each
other for political ascendancy.
in particular was a melting pot where groups of varied origins had created a culture, civilisation and language that were
distinctly Zanzibari in particular and Swahili in general, belonging to the larger religious and cultural ensemble of coastal
city-states that dotted the East African coast from Lamu and Mombasa to Sofala in present-day Mozambique.
rich tapestry of Zanzibari society brought together not only people from the African mainland, from as far away as Nyasaland
(present day Malawi) and Belgian Congo, but also from Oman, Yemen, the Comoros, India and Shiraz in Persia, - who interacted
extensively in the fields of commerce, agriculture and the crafts and who, though the idyllic characterisation of social relations
on the islands of Unguja and Pemba may have been exaggerated, could not strictly be pigeonholed into the racial hierarchy
obtaining on the mainland (Europeans at the top, Asians in the middle, and Africans at the bottom). A unique Zanzibari identity
thus came to be a reality, whatever the origins of those who claimed it.
was the politicians, in jostling for space in the public consciousness, who ushered in the politicisation of race and ethnicity,
especially as Independence approached and the prospects of acquiring power beckoned. Thus were born the easy categorisations
that sought, to place the various ethnic and racial groups into the neat little boxes -Arabs, Indians, mainlanders, etc -
that have coloured the politics of the islands to this day.
Karume and the Afro-Shirazi Party, ASP, accused the Zanzibar Nationalist Party, ZNP, of being Arab feudalists acting at the
behest of their masters in Oman, the ZNP suspected Karume and the ASP of being Trojan horses for the mainland. The bad blood
created in that epoch poisons Zanzibari politics to this day.
has been written about the January 12, 1964 insurgency that came to be known as the Revolution, and of the role played in
it by John Okello, Karume, and Babu and his Umma Party cadres. Shivji has little doubt that Karume did not take an active
part in the events of that Saturday night, and that he may have been kept at a distance for his own safety.
also seems that Okello played a more significant role than that ascribed to him by some ASP stalwarts - that he was chosen
to make those bloodthirsty radio broadcasts because of his voice! Shivji also discounts claims made by Babu about the importance
of his Umma cadres in directing the revolution.
is beyond dispute is the direct participation in the uprising of the so-called Committee of 14, including Seif Bakari, Saidi
Natepe and Saidi Washoto, representing the lumpen character of the uprising, which was not necessarily informed by a well
thought-out political agenda for a social revolution. Indeed, Shivji asserts that the revolution was not in fact a truly popular
one because a good half of the population did not support it.
This aspect of the genesis of the uprising was to seriously affect the conduct of affairs of state once les
sans-culottes found themselves holding the reins of state.
is hardly surprising that the state that they put in place proceeded haphazardly without a clear direction, while wreaking
havoc on people’s basic rights, instilling fear in the populace and dealing with real or perceived opponents in the
most brutal fashion.
was the stage set for the birth of the union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar. On the one hand, there was the heartfelt desire,
expressed over and over again by African freedom fighters within the Pan-African Freedom Movement of East and Central Africa,
including Nyerere, to enter into some kind of unity/federation of their countries even before independence — giving
rise to the school of thought that sees the Union as the child of this emotional “pull.”
on the other hand, the realities of the Cold War, especially acute at that particular time in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile
Crisis, point to another source of pressure on the “push” side of the equation, and in this respect Shivji affords
us ample documentary evidence to show that the imperial powers wanted the neutralisation of the perceived “communist”
threat posed by Babu and the “comrades” from the Umma party.
the oft-repeated desire for unity in the region and the anxieties expressed by the representatives of the imperial powers
about the implantation of a “Cuba” on the East African coast, reinforced by....
Mwakikagile, The Union of Tanganyika
and Zanzibar: Product of The Cold War?