The Triple Nationalism of Zanzibar's Multiracial Society and its Unrelenting Legacy on Zanzibar's Political Culture
By Salim Msoma
The title of this discussion has to be necessarily lengthy because of the need from the outset to clarify and untie the knot of the complex jigsaw puzzle of Zanzibar politics and society with her attendant polarized political culture.
The multiracial character of the isles is an outcome of her geographical location whereby regular Monsoon winds enabled immigrant communities from Arabia and the Indian sub-continent to sail across the Indian Ocean and gradually settle while engaging in trading, farming and even intermarrying with the local inhabitants over the centuries.The phenomenon of intermarriage relationships was undertaken mostly by those who came from Arabia rather than from India whose people remained closely knit around their ethnic clans.
The metamorphosis of the socio-economic groups that evolved on the islands in parallel and in conjunction with the transition from communal peasant clans to mushrooming slave societies, famously referred to as Swahili city-states, which dotted the coastline of East Africa, exhibits a remarkable transformation from collective comunalism to class differentiation of societal formations unfolding in the isles as explained by the great scholar Frederick Engels in his observation on the motion of human society. These city-state communities finally gave way to a feudal society in Zanzibar that was characterized by a landed gentry of mostly Arab ancestry anchored by Omani Sultanate hegemony.
The establishment and consolidation of Omani Sultan overlordship and her subsequent claims of suzerainty over the entire East Coast and hinterland along the trading routes up to the Manyema region of Eastern Congo during the 19th century is significant in our discussion because of the controversy that has arisen and endured to this day.
The controversy is between Zanzibaris who view the Omani presence as a form of pre-European Colonial rule that subsequently teamed up with the British to establish a kind of a dual (binary) Colonialism over Zanzibar and those islanders who argue that the Zanzibar Monarch had already become assimilated to Zanzibar culture and society by the 1960s .They insist that Omani rule ended formally in 1890 when Zanzibar was proclaimed a Protectorate of the British Empire with the Sultan reduced to a mere figurehead.This is the perception of the 19
The consequence of this controversy has been the refusal of a significant segment of Zanzibaris led by ASP under the Late Mzee Abeid Karume to recognize the Independence granted to Zanzibar by the British on 10 December 1963. This stance by the ASP followers was steadfastly supported by Mwalimu Nyerere and TANU who also viewed the Zanzibar Sultan as a relic of Arab colonialism. Dominated in this thinking, the Tanganyika TANU leadership rendered multifarious support to the ASP vision of a Republican African (Black) rule. One author, Dr. Harith Ghassany, has shown that the Tanganyika support included specific manpower (Kipungwe sisal workers from Tanga Region ) in the execution of the 1964 Revolution. More recent research indicates that a few individual soldiers of the Tanganyika Rifles(TR) army were also dispatched from Dar es Salam to reinforce the 'putsch'.
The 'Triple Nationalism' alluded in the heading of this discourse refers to the nationalism of the African Association, its partner, the Shirazi Association, forming the ASP and the nationalism of their nemesis, the ZNP/ZPPP coalition, which included under its wing, the Arab Association and a faction of Shirazis from both Unguja and Pemba respectively. While the African and Shirazi wings of ASP were united in their shared anti-Sultan (read anti-Arab) nationalism, the Shirazis were nevertheless suspicious of the role and influence of Zanzibaris of Tanganyika origin in the leadership of Zanzibar.They perceived themselves as being the genuine indigenous inhabitants of Zanzibar despite their claimed Persian ancestral heritage!
These two factions within the ASP were subsequently to develop animosity between them that culminated in the extra-judicial executions of ASP Shirazis who were accused of siding with Othman Shariff within the Revolutionary Government. Othman had formed his own platform within the ASP several years before the 1964 Revolution that he called Young African Social Union (YASU) while he increasingly challenged the leadership capacity of Mzee Abeid Karume in the ASP; it was, indeed, a fatal fratricidal conflict.
Though the ASP was the most proletarianized political party in Zanzibar, it became disoriented by subscribing to a virulent sectarian racial ideology based on anti-Arabism under the guise of opposing the Sultanate.This stance also led the party during the Fifties to offer ephemeral opposition to British Colonial rule arguing then that the Sultan's Arab rule was more inimical. It was on this basis too that the ASP established cozy relations with Zionist Israel which resulted in several ASP leaders being sent to Israel for political socialization.
In this regard, Mwalimu Nyerere and TANU encountered embarrassing moments at PAFMECA and Afro-Asian fora when ASP leaders launched a campaign calling and sloganeering for PREVENTING Zanzibar's independence from the British till the ASP had adequate trained cadres to man the Zanzibar State. Nyerere responded by proposing the famous 1959 TANU/ASP Agreement under the alleged auspices of PAFMECA that pledged to assist ASP in educated and skilled manpower while both sides promising to unite their countries once the ASP gained control of the State through elections.
However, history took a different trajectory in that the ASP was never allowed to assume leadership of Zanzibar government by way of gerrymandering during elections in favour of the ZNP/ZPPP coalitiion.
Similarly, Abdulrahman Babu was once asked the reason that made him opt to join the ZNP instead of the ASP when he returned to Zanzibar from England in 1957. He explained that he could not join the ASP at the time because it espoused an anti-independence line which was contrary to the Pan-African De-colonization Movement with which he was engaged while in London together with the famous Pan-Africanists, the likes of George Padmore and W.W. Du Bois, with whom he worked within the Freedom Committee. More importantly, Babu's ideological outlook was based on CLASS rather than on RACIAL differentiation of Zanzibar's multiracial cauldron.
As we yet again arrive at another anniversary date of the Zanzibar Revolution, we ought to be aware of its linkage with the 'Triple Nationalism' that has deformed and polarized the Zanzibar society to the extent of the latter lacking a veritable consensus on the three outcomes of the Triple Nationalism i.e. UHURU of December 1963, Revolution of 1964 and Union with Tanganyika in April 1964.
In conclusion, one may also view the reluctance of our ruling authorities to accept results of democratic elections in Zanzibar and instead unilaterally cling to power as also a manifestation of the spell of the same unrelenting legacy of the 'Triple Nationalism' embedded in our turbulent political history.
The author is a retired Zanzibari who served as a senior public official in the Tanzanian Government.