The United Republic of Tanzania today marks the 48th anniversary of the Zanzibar Revolution, nearly five decades since the minority Arab rulers were sent packing after having dominated the isles for two centuries.
The revolution, normally celebrated on the 12th of January, is a reminder of the overthrowing of the then Sultan of Zanzibar, Sultan Jamshid bin Abdullah by Sheikh Abeid Karume’s Afro Shirazi Party (ASP) and Abdulrahman Mohammed Babu’s Umma Party.
The revolution was led by a Ugandan national John Okello then residing in Zanzibar and a member of ASP.
Although there is no exact figure of the number of people who lost their lives in the coup, literature has it that hundreds of lives were lost during the process.
As we sit back home enjoying the public holiday today, perhaps we should ask ourselves these questions. How many of us know exactly what transpired on that day? How many of us know why the day is called siku ya Mapinduzi Zanzibar? Well, simple you might say. Mapinduzi means revolution.
There must have been some revolution, some government having been overthrown. Which is exactly what happened. But how many of us know exactly who overthrew who? There will be those who, being aware that Sheikh Abeid Amani Karume was Zanzibar’s first president will easily say that it was Karume overthrowing Arab colonialists. Don’t we all know that Zanzibar was ruled by Arabs?
The truth, according to literature is that both Karume and Babu, who Okello named as President and Prime Minister after the revolution, (Babu later became Vice-President) were in Tanganyika where they used to live at the time of the revolution. They had no idea of what was going on.
What I want to emphasise here is that very few of us have the details of what took place, how and why. This is not only in the case of the Zanzibar Revolution but in our country’s history in general.
I remember when I was in primary school way back in the 80s, we learned in a subject then called Siasa which is now known as Uraia (Civics) of Zanzibar politics. But it used to be so brief that I never made out something tangible out of it. What I remember is that we only used to memorise what the teacher taught us lest we failed our exams.
We memorized the years when Afro Shirazi Party (ASP) was born without having a slight idea what ASP represented. We also memorized when Zanzibar and Pemba People’s Party (ZPPP) and Zanzibar Nationalist Party (ZNP) were born etc, again without knowing who they represented.
We learned about the revolution and memorized the dates, Mapinduzi ya Zanzibar yalitokea tarehe 12/4/1964, without knowing who overthrew who and why. And we never attempted to ask for details! We are not to blame. I
sn’t that how we were brought up? Teachers used to just teach us or should I say narrate things to us and never encouraged us to ask questions. Teaching that time was not interactive at all (I hope things have changed today). So we grew up knowing that that is how learning should be done and that we only were supposed to memorise what the teacher taught (told) us in class.
This is why if you ask people to tell you about the Zanzibar Revolution, you will be surprised to learn that very few know exactly what it is all about. Ni siku utawala wa Sultani ulipong’olewa, (it’s the day when the Sultan’s rule was brought to an end), that’s the simple answer many will give you.
Very few know that that is the day Zanzibar attained it’s real independence. It is the day local African revolutionaries overthrew the mainly Arab government under the Sultan.
Zanzibar had initially attained independence from the British colonialists to which it was a protectorate on December 10, 1963. This was followed by a series of parliamentary elections which saw the Arab minority retaining power it had inherited from the former ruler of Zanzibar, the Sultan of Oman.
Unhappy with the under-representation in parliament despite winning the majority of the votes in the July 1963 election, ASP, the mainly African party allied itself with the left wing Umma party and early on the morning of January 12, 1964, under the leadership of ASP’s John Okello, around 600 to 800 revolutionaries in Unguja overthrew the Sultan and his government.
ASP leader Abedi Karume became the country’s new president and head of state while Umma Party’s Babu became Vice President.
It is this revolution that three months later led to the Union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar on 26th April, and the birth of a new country, the United Republic of Tanzania.
Again, very few Tanzanians know what led to the merger of the two countries. As used to be the case, that time we were only given briefs. Our children need to be taught the history of our country in detail or else, there will come a time when our rich history will be known by very few, and perhaps get lost forever.