The Travails Of The Tanganyika-Zanzibar Union

Pan-Africanism or Pragmatism ?
Lessons of Tanganyika-Zanzibar Union
by Issa G. Shivji
Mkuki na Nyota Publishers in association with OSSREA, ISBN 978-9994-

Once again, Professor Shivji has come out with a compelling book that will force all of us to scratch our heads and think, a work so powerful and so insightful that it will be well nigh impossible for anyone who will have read it to engage in any discourse about political and constitutional developments in Zanzibar, or about the nature, history and problems of the Union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar, without making reference to it.
As a historical record, it affords us a much clearer grasp of what came to pass at the various stages of the existence of Zanzibar as a nation and as part of the Swahili civilisation that has installed itself on the East African Coast over centuries. As a legal/constitutional treatise, it fine combs the major issues relating to legality, legitimacy and constitutionalism and bares the flaws that have plagued the Union because the principal protagonists in the narrative did not pay them the requisite heed. As a political commentary, the book brings to the fore the pitfalls inherent in trying to craft unity between states outside democratic processes on the one hand and, on the other, failing to comprehend fully the nature of the imperialist forces that affect our lives as Africans and impel us to unite urgently. The book is a wake-up call that tells us that all is not well with the Union and it calls for more open debate on it.
What is more, as is his wont, Shivji is in no mood for taking prisoners; along the way, he does take quite a few sacred cows to the slaughter. It is this incisiveness and forthrightness in examining historical facts that lends this book its great value as a work of singular scholarship and a distinctive contribution to our understanding of the Union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar in particular and the question of African Unity in general. In the process, he does not mince his words in dissecting the actions of all the protagonists involved in the story, from Julius Nyerere to Abeid Karume, from Aboud Jumbe to Abdulrahman Babu and others.
The book is divided into six chapters, each dealing with a thematic issue, offering descriptive accounts and analytical insights, backed by earlier works by other writers (and Shivji’s own earlier contributions) as well as personal testimonies of those still alive and able to recount the events as they lived them. It also has a rich appendix which should be a source of invaluable information for researchers. The end result is an invaluable reference document that has benefited from the contributions of a wide range of credible actors and worthy researchers.
Chapter One sets the scene by presenting a graphic description of Zanzibar during the struggle for independence and of the different ethnic, racial and class formations that vied with one another for political ascendancy. It is here that the book brings into relief the reality of Zanzibar as a sort of melting pot where groups with varied origins had already engendered a culture and civilisation and language that were, distinctly Zanzibari in particular and Swahili in general, belonging to a large religiocultural ensemble of city-states that straddled the East African Coast from Mombassa to Sofala in present-day Mozambique.
The rich tapestry of Zanzibari society thus brought together peoples who had come from as far away as Nyasaland (present day Malawi) and Belgian Congo on the African mainland and from Oman, Yemen, the Comoros, India and Shiraz in Persia. The author argues these peoples interacted in commerce, agriculture and crafts and that, even if the idyllic characterisation of social relations on the islands of Unguja and Pemba may have been exaggerated, they could not strictly be pigeon-holed into the racial hierarchy obtaining on the mainland (Europeans at the top, Asians in the middle, and Africans at the bottom.) The main argument here, and which becomes significant later on in the book, is that Zanzibariness came to be a reality, whatever the origins of those who claimed it.
According to Shivji, it was the politicians jostling for political space who ushered in the politicisation of race and ethnicity, especially as independence approached and the prospects of taking power beckoned. Thus were born the easy categorisations that sought, and managed, to place the various ethnic and racial groups into neat, little boxes: Arabs, Indians, mainlanders, etc., categorisations that would come to colour the politics of the islands to this day. Shivji shows the absurdity of such characterisations by pointing out that the first nationalist calls for independence from the British actually came from young, educated Arabs, acting not in the name of Omani colonialism but of Zanzibari nationalism.
Still, the damage had been done, and, whereas Karume and the Afro Sirazi 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.
Shivji quotes a couple of writings by present-day Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) leaders hailing from Zanzibar and holding Union ministerial positions, characterizing the leaders of the opposition Civic United Front (CUF) as agents of Arab colonialists bent on returning to re-colonise Zanzibar. It is of interest that at least two of those cited may have been, at the time of their writings, ministers responsible for the Police, and thus charged with dealing with ‘political agitators’ during troubled times on the Islands, such as during elections.
Chapter Two describes in detail what transpired during the January 12 1964 insurgency, which came to be known as the ‘revolution’, the role played by John Okello and Karume, the part played by Babu and his Umma Party cadres. There seems to be no doubt on the part of Shivji 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. It also seems that Okello must have 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 on the importance of his Umma cadres in directing the revolution, although he concedes some of them, who had trained in Cuba, might have instructed some insurgents in the use of firearms.
What 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, suggesting that it was not necessarily informed by a well thought-out political agenda for a social revolution. The author even asserts that the revolution, while necessarily political, was not popular because a good half of the population did not support it. This part of the genesis of the uprising, as demonstrated by Shivji, was to seriously affect the conduct of affairs of state once les sans- culottes found themselves holding the reins of power. It is hardly surprising that the state that they put in place proceeded haphazardly and 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.
It is in Chapter Three that the author deals with the factors that determined the birth of the union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar. On the one hand, there was the age-old desire, expressed over and over again by African nationalist freedom fighters of the region within the Pan- African Freedom Movement of East and Central Africa (PAFMECA), including Nyerere, who had wanted their countries to enter into some kind of unity/federation even before independence. This would be the ‘pull’ factor. On the other hand, the tensions of the Cold War, especially acute at that particular time in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis, may point to another source of pressure, or the ‘push’ side of the equation. In this respect, Shivji affords us ample documentary evidence to show that the imperial powers subjectively saw themselves as standing to gain from what they saw as the neutralisation of the perceived ‘communist’ threat posed by Babu and the ‘comrades’ from the erstwhile Umma party.
When one considers the oft-repeated desire for unity in the region and the expressed anxieties by the imperial powers concerned about the implantation of a ‘Cuba’ on the East African coast, reinforced by what Shivji (and he is not alone in this) sees as Karume’s insecurity and his tenuous hold on power, it is perhaps not outlandish to conclude that ‘pull’ met ‘push’ in the move towards Union. In this context, did Nyerere, ardent pan-Africanist but also convinced anti-communist that he was, see a once in a lifetime opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, that is, rid himself of a ‘communist’ threat on his doorstep while at the same time fulfilling a long standing yearning for unity, in which case the end justified the means? This is what seems to be implied.
In this section, Shivji also sets out the basic points agreed upon by Nyerere and Karume, illustrating the surprisingly lackadaisical and non-consultative manner in which the Union was entered into, which fact would come to haunt the Union to this day. The author shows how even the promulgation of the interim constitution was done by one man, the president of Tanganyika, who did not even consult the president of Zanzibar on the matter. Shivji muses that even if Karume had been consulted, he probably would not have been able to make head or tail of it, given his feeble grasp of such legalistic niceties and his lack of competent legal personnel, whereas Nyerere was served by capable expatriate British lawyers. For Shivji, this was the ominous beginning of a long journey of non consultation and unilateralism exercised by Nyerere that incrementally eroded the identity and autonomy of Zanzibar within the Union, with dire consequences that he expounds upon later in the book.
Chapter Four takes on the state of the Union as it tried to find its feet within the general framework of the Cold war, with Western powers doing their best to limit the influence of Babu and his ‘communists’, Karume asserting his power by marginalising the Babu group and Nyerere increasingly uneasy with the growing autocracy manifested by his partner in the Islands. In short, Karume reneged on the promises made at the time of the Revolution, banned Babu’s Umma party and dispersed its cadres, mainly to the mainland. Using the Revolutionary Council, he gradually became the source of all executive, legislative, and judicial power. As to the Union, he did what he pleased, pretty much as if it had never existed. His party, ASP, was totally emasculated, all associations, including those affiliated to his own party, were banned, and up to his death in 1972 not a single party congress was called.
Nyerere watched in horror from Dar es Salaam as Karume became an embarrassing despot, clamping down on human rights, allowing people to go without basic essentials, including foodstuffs, even as his foreign reserve coffers bulged. The forced marriages saga, in which he and his chief lieutenants apportioned themselves Arab and Persian girls, most of them under age, was an outrage that Nyerere apparently had to suffer in the name of the Union. The disappearance of prominent politicians who had run foul of Karume, some of them reportedly killed in blood-chilling circumstances, was another grim matter. In addition, he refused to give young Zanzibaris the opportunity to acquire higher education, even at the University of Dar es Salaam, which should have been their right. In sum, once Karume had taken out insurance with his entry into a Union he hardly respected, he became a dangerous tyrant even as he dished out largesse to the once dispossessed blacks by building them modern houses and redistributing land.
At the same time, more seeds of discord were being planted in such areas as the membership of Zanzibar in the East African Currency Board (EACB) and the jurisdiction of the newly formed Bank of Tanzania (BOT), both issues touching on the desire to maintain a measure of autonomy and an assertion of Zanzibari identity. (The fact that these issues were ‘resolved’ in favour of the Union government, in effect Tanganyika, has not meant that they have gone away, and they have come later to rear their heads again in unrelated issues such as membership of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) and international sporting organisations). This was roughly the situation at the time of Karume’s death, when the Union was already stretched to breaking point, and Shivji suggests in this book that had Karume lived even a little longer, the Union would not have survived.
The contents of Chapter Five will no doubt be of great interest to constitutional lawyers, who may want to mull over the Union’s legal/constitutional foundations. This section sets out to show that there was very little thorough consultation between the two partners and that whereas Tanganyika was served by competent legal counsel, as already seen, Zanzibar was not. Even attempts by Salim Rashid to enlist the services of a Ugandan lawyer, Dan Nabudere, came to naught because, according to evidence adduced by Shivji, Nabudere was apparently confronted with a fait accompli. According to the author, Nyerere, with the help of a British lawyer, Roland Brown, had seen to that.
There is indeed considerable confusion as to who among the Zanzibari leadership did and who did not know in advance of the decision to proceed with the unification of the two countries. The account in the book gives the impression of revolving doors in a comedy of errors, with characters coming and going without necessarily interacting with each other. The suggestion by Shivji is that the confusion was organised, because Karume did not want too many members of the Revolutionary Council to know what was afoot, as most of them would have opposed it. Even after reading this part at least twice, this reviewer cannot pronounce himself with certainty as to who was privy to the whole process of the signing of the Union.
Problems persisted after the signing of the agreement. While the Tanganyikan parliament met to ratify the Articles of Union, the same cannot be said of the Revolutionary Council of Zanzibar, and Shivji presents testimonies of people who should have known (eg. Jumbe and Salim Rashid) asserting that no such ratification came to pass. Shivji marshals closely knit legal and constitutional arguments in this section with a view to demonstrating that the Union was seriously flawed from its very inception because the requisite legal and constitutional steps were not followed through because, suggesting that one side to the bargain was bent on manipulation while the other just did not have the capacity to comprehend what was going on.
Chapter Six looks at the Jumbe phase, with Jumbe having taken over the leadership of Zanzibar after Karume’s assassination. Jumbe came to power almost as an antithesis to Karume. According to Shivji, Jumbe had all along not been seen by Karume as a potential threat. He rarely made his opinion known, was content to do his chief’s bidding and acquiesced in all his excesses. But he was also a more ‘educated’ man, in touch with modern tenets of governance, and therefore more to Nyerere’s liking. He wasted little time in consolidating his power by clipping the wings of the Revolutionary Council and investing more power in party structures and undertaking constitutional reforms.
He also opened debate within the party, calling for an end to the more egregious abuses that were associated with the Zanzibari leadership under his predecessor.He also opened the doors for young Zanzibaris to study outside Zanzibar, tens of them joining the University of Dar es Salaam, where not only did they acquire ‘modern education’ but were also able to mingle and exchange ideas with their counterparts from the mainland. Thus was born a new crop of Zanzibaris who would, in time, make their mark on the conduct of politics in Zanzibar and within the Union. Shivji notes the irony that it was these same ‘Young Turks’ whom Jumbe had sent to university that would, in time, become the instruments of his own political demise.
Perhaps most important in this section is Shivji’s critical look at the way Nyerere, using the doctrine of party supremacy, managed to further encroach on Zanzibar’s autonomy. From the outset, Shivji endeavours to show how Nyerere had all along acted in a manner that was detrimental to Zanzibar’s autonomy by gradually elongating the list of Union matters beyond the original eleven items, thus making laws and decisions made on the mainland even on non-Union matters applicable to Zanzibar.
The merger of the two political parties, TANU and ASP, in 1977 and the subordination of all political, legislative and economic decisions to the authority of the one supreme party, CCM, set the stage for the further dilution of the powers of the Zanzibar Revolutionary Council and the House of Representatives, which had come into being under the new constitutional dispensation ushered in by Jumbe.
In the wake of voices of discontent in Zanzibar (the economy was weak, shortages were a common feature, Jumbe’s profligacy in spending on things like a presidential jet was unpopular), many on the islands believed, rightly or wrongly, that Zanzibar was being exploited and fettered by the mainland, and that if Zanzibar had greater autonomy this would not be the case. When Jumbe, in an attempt to respond to this challenge, and perhaps to further consolidate and secure his hold on power, started consulting legal minds with a view to effecting greater autonomy by instituting a separate government for Zanzibar, he was ‘tried’ in a meeting of the National Executive Committee of CCM and forced to resign all his official positions: Vice President of the Union, Vice Chairman of the party; President of Zanzibar, and Chairman of the Revolutionary Council.
The effect of this event has come to spawn new dissensions among Zanzibari politicians and commentators of varying political persuasions. Particularly resented is the practice of CCM imposing on Zanzibar leaders ‘made in Dodoma’. Matters were not helped by the repeat of the same when, in 2000, the party once again chose as candidate for the Zanzibar presidential election who had failed to get the endorsement of the Zanzibar caucus of CCM. It is easy to speculate that if this practice is not tempered, these dissensions may one day come to a head with dire consequences for the Union. Already, the removal of the president of Zanzibar as automatic vice president of the Union has created a lot of rancour among many Zanzibaris.
In the conclusion, Shivji returns to the origins of the Union and the role played by the imperial powers to bring it about; at the same time, he brings into sharp contrast the contending views held by Nkrumah and Nyerere. On matters internal to the Union, he recaps his presentation of the secrecy in which the negotiations for the Union were shrouded and the weakness of the consultative process undertaken, which informed the disgruntlement expressed during the constitutional debate of the early 1980’s, which indirectly brought about Jumbe’s downfall. Shivji insists, with reason, that for a union to have legitimacy, and therefore sustainability, it must be anchored on the consent of the people affected and involve the equitable distribution of power. Nyerere, according to Shivji, did not allow this to happen, and he punished Jumbe when he tried to raise the issue.
Worse, Nyerere’s successors did not take any steps to rectify the situation; instead, they reversed even those progressive gains he had registered in furthering the aims of the Pan-African agenda, leading to the current state where the country has slid back into narrow nationalisms based on race, ethnicity, indigenousness and culture, even as we are witnessing elsewhere a resurgence of African nationalism and Pan-Africanism. He concludes, with a quote from Nyerere:
Africa must unite. This was the title of one of Kwame Nkrumah’s books. That call is more urgent today than ever before. Together, we the peoples of Africa will be incomparably stronger internationally than we are now with our multiplicity of unviable states. The needs of our separate countries can be, and are being, ignored by the rich and powerful. The result is that Africa is being marginalised.
Issa Shivji has to be congratulated on this tremendous contribution to the debate on Pan-Africanism in general and the Union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar in particular. This work that must surely qualify as his magnum opus (for now, that is, as there is no telling what he might come out with in the future.) There can be little disagreement with what he posits as the overriding urgency of the unity of African states if the continent is to survive in the hostile world of imperialism, now under the guise of globalisation.
The position he takes on the great debate between Nkrumah and Nyerere (African Union Government now vs. a step by step approach) has been with us for quite some time now and the jury seems to be still out. Shivji’s new role as the first Mwalimu Julius Nyerere Professor in Pan- African Studies will undoubtedly afford him ample space to guide us in further deliberation on this matter, as there is much to be said for both sides of the argument.
The calls for unity we hear from individuals like Muammar Gaddafy come across increasingly as quirky, quixotic and capricious, unable to inspire serious consideration. Yet the yearning for unity among our peoples, our common recognition across the African continent that we share a common history and a common destiny, the realisation that we must either unite or perish in this world of adversity, must impel us to make that unity a reality. Forms may be debated but the principle remains unassailable.
Concerning the Union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar, politicians, researchers and those who want to know where we came from, where we are and where we might be heading to, will want to read this book. To be sure, this book will not be popular with our rulers, and I suspect it was not intended to be, because it raises too many issues that will make them uncomfortable.
Now CCM seems to have settled into the practice of picking Zanzibar’s leaders in Dodoma, without regard for the views of the Zanzibaris themselves. Need we say that this does not augur well for the future of the Union? Did not someone say that doing the same thing, the same way, over and over again and expecting different outcomes, is a sign of insanity?
Will Shivji’s book stir a political hornet’s nest? Maybe, but the sting of the hornets thus disturbed may prove the medicine we need to cure an otherwise more painful ailment. Some readers may find his treatment of some leading characters in the narrative objectionable, and these objections may come from different sources, but maybe that is something we all should learn to live with.
Shivji’s handling of the role played by Mwalimu may be found by some to be a trifle iconoclastic as he shows him to be a scheming Machiavelli with few scruples when pursuing his political ends. Lese-majesty? Let the reader be the judge. We have the misfortune of never having had the opportunity to read Nyerere himself on a number of issues discussed in this book, or even to have had Nyerere interviewed seriously by an African writer of Shivji’s stature. Also, those who lived through those heady days and have a first-hand story to tell are getting old and may not be with us for long. But Shivji has given anyone who thinks they can add something to what we already know (or even dispute what Shivji is saying) a solid starting bloc.
This book is a masterpiece, a must read.




Pages  5-4

Africa Review of Books / Revue Africaine des Livres

Volume 04 N° 02,​ Septembre 2008

Platform created by : BAKIR Ilyes & DEKHIR Abdellah Merouan


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