21 AUGUST 2015
Tanzania: The Cold War Challenges of Our Union with Zanzibar
Many present day Tanzanians are presumably aware of the current challenges facing the Union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, which are known in Kiswahili as 'kero za Muungano'.
But how many are aware of the external (cold war) challenges which the founding fathers of this union had to contend with? This article will throw some light on that matter. Certain claims have been made to the effect that the Zanzibar Revolutionary Council did not ratify the Union Treaty.
However, Professor Haroub Othman, in his publication titled 'The Union with Zanzibar' states that: "Both Abdulrahman Babu and Khamis Abdallah Ameir, the two former Umma Party leaders who were in the Revolutionary Council at that 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" However, it must be acknowledged that this Union was negotiated in strict secrecy.
Not many people in the Tanganyika government, or the Zanzibar Revolutionary Council, knew what was going on. This was done primarily out of fear that the enemies of such unification (both internal and external ) would attempt to prevent its realization.
The external enemies were mainly those who are opposed to the concept of African Union, who were described by Mwalimu Nyerere in his article titled 'Nationalism and Pan-Africanism' published in September 1961, as follows:
"1 believe the danger to African Unity is going to come from external sources ... whenever we try to talk of creating larger units on the African continent, we are told that it cannot be done, and that such units will be 'artificial'! and their technique is very simple: one power block labels any move for unity as a "communist plot", not because it is communist, but because they don't like it!
The other power block labels any move to unity as an 'imperialist plot', not because it is so, but because they don't like it. The internal enemies would mainly be the sympathizers of the ousted Sultan of Zanzibar and his government, to whom a union with Tanganyika seemed like an attempt simply to annex Zanzibar by force.
The cold war challenges The union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar was consummated at the height of the cold war. There were two distinct phases of the cold war influence on Zanzibar after the revolution, and later on the Union, immediately after its formation.
The first phase was implemented before the union was formed, when both sides of the cold war divide scrambled to garner influence in Zanzibar immediately after the revolution.
Whereas the Western block worked hard to have a friendly government there as a strategic asset in the Indian Ocean; the Eastern block made great efforts to cultivate a strong communist element in the Zanzibar leadership, in order to create an ideological ally in East Africa.
The main concern of the Western block was their fear of the potential for the establishment of a communist regime in Zanzibar, turning it into a communist satellite which could serve as a beachhead for communist incursion into the African continent, dominated by either the Soviet Union, or the Peoples' Republic of China The first phase For over a month after the revolution, both the Americans and the British withheld recognition of the new government.
Thus in mid-February, the Zanzibar government declared British and American diplomats persona non grata because of this lack of diplomatic recognition.
Concerned that the absence of Western representation would make a communist takeover more likely, President Lyndon Johnson personally called British Prime Minister Alec Douglas Home to urge recognition. In the meantime, with President Nyerere's help, the United States successfully negotiated a delay in the expulsion of its diplomats, and President Karume promised not to expel the diplomats so long as there was an immediate announcement of recognition.
The fear of communist infiltration Tanganyika leadership, which was forced into a tense period of diplomatic jockeying over the fate of revolutionary Zanzibar. Tanganyika's Foreign Minister Oscar Kambona explained that the key issue for Tanganyika was to maintain local autonomy from foreign interference.
He said:"our first concern was the growing communist presence, and, second, the danger of the cold war coming in. Both Nyerere and Karume were concerned about increasing super power interference in Zanzibar, and sought to minimize it.
To accomplish this, the two Presidents agreed to end revolutionary Zanzibar's tenuous sovereignty and place it within the framework of a new sovereign state that came to be known as the United Republic of Tanzania"
The second phase The second phase started soon after the establishment of the Union, and was initially a continuation of the first phase, whereby the Union leadership had to contend continuously with activities of attempted intervention, forgeries, and planted rumours the sum total of which created serious diplomatic conflicts with West Germany (as it was then) and the United States of America.
The conflict with West Germany arose from their 'Hallstein Doctrine', which prevented it from maintaining relations with any country that recognized East Germany. Since Zanzibar had an East Germany Embassy, and Tanganyika had a West German Embassy.
By retaining both Embassies, the new United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar offended the said Hallstein Doctrine, therefore West Germany insisted that the East German Embassy must be closed, failure of which would force West Germany to withdraw its military aid.
President Nyerere refused to succumb to such threats. and West German's military aid was accordingly withdrawn. Whereupon President Nyerere summoned the West German Ambassador and told him to "take the rest of your aid as well. Tanzania will not accept aid with strings attached".
The second conflict was with the United States of America. In November 1965, three letters, ostensibly stolen from the Office of Congolese Prime Minister Moise Tshombe, were handed to Tanzania's Ambassador in Kinshasa Andrew Tibandebage, One of the letters revealed an alleged American plan "to bombard all the strategic points being used by communist China in Tanganyika, and, as a second measure, to make arrangements to overthrow the government of Mr. Julius Nyerere in the manner being studied by the Department of State".
Ambassador Tibandebage dutifully presented the said documents to President Nyerere and Foreign Minister Oscar Kambona. He quickly called a press conference in Dar es Salaam to condemn the documents and raise alarm about the alleged American plot.
This incident obviously produced a very negative impact on Tanzania's relations with the United States. There were so many other forgeries which were real.
He therefore justified the government's reaction by quoting the well known Kiswahili saying that "a man who has been bitten by a snake startles when he sees a palm lear". Such were the cold war challenges to the Zanzibar revolution, and the subsequent Union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar.