Tanzanians are this week celebrating fifty years of the popular revolution in Zanzibar of January 12, 1964, which paved the way for the creation of the United Republic of Tanzania three months later. The significance of this revolution cannot be over-emphasised and is in fact greater than the gaining of independence from Britain on December 10, 1963. In order to appreciate this reality Tanzanians need to keep reminding themselves that Zanzibar was a victim of twin-evils of foreign domination: on one hand was British colonialism and on the other was the absolute political and economic supremacy of Arab colonialism. For Zanzibar to be truly independent these two colonialisms had to be dismantled and proper de-stratification of society conducted. Former Cabinet Minister of Tanganyika, J.S. Kassambala stated at an All-African Conference on Co-operatives, in Moshi, November in1962; “Political independence without economic freedom is but an empty shell.” This is a timeless and universal truth which the Zanzibar revolutionaries acknowledged and acted upon on January 12, 1964.
The collaborative and far-sighted policies of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) and Zanzibar’s Afro-Shiraz Party (ASP) (and later Chama Cha Mapindunzi (CCM) after the merger of the two Parties), have enabled the United Republic of Tanzania to enjoy the best race relations and peaceful co-existence of any country in the African continent for the last fifty years – the country is effectively colour blind. This reality however, does not cancel out the fact that Tanzania is predominantly a Black country – a sub-Saharan African State.
For over 76 years the Germans and the British colonised Tanganyika, while the Arabs colonised Zanzibar for over 200 years. This past also does not make Tanganyika either British or German and nor does it make Zanzibar an Arab state.
In Persian the words Zangi Bar or Zanzibar stand for “the Negro Coast”, while in Arabic zanj means land and Barr means black, again Zanzibar translating into, “the land of the black people”; the Portuguese chronicles of the early 15th century describe Zanzibar as being peopled by moors, meaning black people. And those who named the country “land of Blacks” were obviously foreigners themselves; they were in fact Arabs who were settlers, not natives, in Zanzibar. Sultan Sayyid Said may have moved his principal commercial and political operations base from Muscat in Oman to Zanzibar in 1840, but that did not make Zanzibar his country.
A black person being able to speak Arabic and subscribing to the Islamic faith does not make him/her an Arab; similarly for a Black person to convert to the Catholic religion and become fluent either in Italian or Latin does not make him/her an Italian. There is however a growing young generation of Tanzanians who are mixing up these notions and as a result they lose perspective on Tanzanian nationalism and statehood. The country needs to reappraise its History and Civics syllabuses and should seriously consider making History a compulsory subject up to “A” levels.
Decadence is gripping Tanzania today; and our leaders need to remind themselves that it was decadence that destroyed the Roman Empire – seemingly the most powerful and invincible at its time. The death of a civilisation is always a process and not an event, and these hankerings for our “Unzanzibari” and our “Utanganyika” are all tell-tale signs of our civilisation being in a steep decline.
What modern Tanzanian nationalism guarantees is that no citizen who has decided to make this country his or her home shall be defined either by skin pigmentation, religion, or national origin; and this is the credo that the United Republic of Tanzania has preached and lived over the last fifty years. It is the precept and practice of this credo which has made the 126 nations or tribes of this country into one people. And to quote Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s rhetorical question on this subject:
“We have fought our battle against the injustice of the colonial system which qualified the ‘rights’ of individuals according to the colour of their skin. Are we now to turn around and deny that principle ourselves by discriminating against those whose skins are not black?”
The combined 276 years of European and Arab domination are a shameful period of our history and no right – thinking person should look back to those years with any sense of pride or nostalgia, as the period is clearly characterised by contempt, humiliation, exploitation and a denial of black peoples’ humanity. The ports of Zanzibar and Bwagamoyo (named ”here I lie down my heart” by slaves traded there) are littered with relics of this painful era.
But after 50 peaceful years of Unity and genuine independence there are people who have decided to forget where we come from and are flirting with backward notions of “Utanganyika” or “Uzanzibari” as if they were badges of honour rather than the bankrupt and retrogressive ideas they really are. This country has made many breakthroughs in the last fifty years, but there remains much still to be done. Leaders who have run out of fresh ideas, other than hankering back to colonialism, should gracefully step down and make way for younger people with new ideas and energy. The building of a nation is a long and tireless task that cannot be accomplished in one generation which means no individual, no matter how talented, can be indispensable to the life of any country. The glorification of “our Utanganyika or Uzanzibari” is retrogression, not progression, and has nothing to offer our nation.
Pick anybody shouting loudly for “Uzanzibari or Utanganyika” and ask them what have they personally failed to achieve in life due to lack of Uzanzibari or Utangayika; and they will not be able to answer. These anti-Union elements are simply misguided demagogues playing on the fears of unsuspecting people. They need to be exposed for what they really are – people without vision, or a viable agenda other than the reconstitution of our ugly past, even at the cost of destroying the way of life which has served this country since independence. These people are a danger to themselves and to country’s peace and stability and do not deserve our serious attention or respect.
In conclusion, let me make the following remarks: Firstly, the Union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar is the best thing that has ever happened to Tanzanians, indeed the best thing that has ever happened to Africa; actually it is the only living symbol of Africa’s continental aspirations towards unity. Secondly, it is a historical fact that, even after the trade in slaves and slavery itself were abolished, and even after the gaining of independence in 1963, black people in Zanzibar were not truly free; it is the Revolution and the Union that have brought real independence to Zanzibar’s Blacks. Thirdly, it is crucial that we reassure the descendants of the perpetuators of yesterday’s crimes that we have forgiven them, but we are not going to allow our children and grandchildren to forget what happened. Fourthly, our failure to address openly the uncomfortable history of race relations in Zanzibar prior to the Revolution and Union is giving self-serving demagogic elements the chance to mislead people about the “good old days” which are all lies.