Today, January 12, 2017, Tanzanians mark the 53rd anniversary of the Zanzibar Revolution which wrenched the Spice Islands from Omani-Arab domination – squarely and firmly putting the Isles in African hands!
‘Zanzibar’ describes an Archipelago comprising the two major islands of Zanzibar/Unguja and Pemba, and several islets across the Zanzibar Channel off the Dar es Salaam coastline of the Indian Ocean.
Historians tell us that the January 12, 1964 Revolution wasn’t the first attempt at changing the way the Isles were run.
As part of the decolonisation processes, the Isles’ British authorities created constituencies and held elections in January 1961, in which the ‘ethnic Africans-oriented’ Afro-Shirazi Party (ASP), and the pro-Sultanate Zanzibar Nationalist Party (ZNP) each won 11 of the 22 seats in the Legislature!
This wasnt good enough for the electoral manipulators who then increased the seats to 23. Although the ‘Opposition’ ASP & UMMA Party won a majority of the popular vote (54%) in the June 1961 repeat ‘election,’ they nonetheless ‘won’ only ten ‘legislative seats,’ against 13 ‘taken’ by the pro-Sultanate ZNP-ZPPP coalition that’d garnered only 45% of the popular vote!
Electoral fraud was suspected by the ‘Opposition,’ and the resulting civil disorder claimed 68 lives! Ostensibly to maintain control, the new ‘Coalition Government’ banned the more radical opposition parties, filled the Civil Service with minions – and peremptorily sacked the African Police Officers in late-1963, replacing them with mostly-untrained, inexperienced ‘loyals’ on the eve of ‘Independence’ from British Protection, December 10, 1963!
This weakened the security forces, and added to the natives’ disssatisfaction... It also created a body of young, disaffected ‘ready-to-tap-and-deploy revolutionaries with paramilitary training and a grudge against the Sultanate!
In sum-total, the immediate cause of the January 12, 1964 Revolution was because the ethnic Zanzibaris felt under-represented in Government...
There also were underlying causes, including a sense of being racially/ethnically discriminated against, and abject pervasive poverty that didn’t seem to affect the Arabs who dominated the Government and the Economy.
So: how much has that changed post-the 1964 Revolution? Admittedly, the Revolution terminated the Sultanate in Zanzibar – and the Isles’ve been under home-grown rule in the past 53 years of ‘Independence’... But, it’s been more of Political rather that Economic Independence – in the sense of being self-reliant in terms of meaningful and sustainable social and economic self-sufficiency across the board.
According to the the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia (6th Edition, University Press-2012), ‘the economy of Zanzibar Island is almost exclusively agricultural. Chief commodities produced are cassava, sweet potatoes, rice, corn, plantains, citrus fruit, cloves (also on Pemba), coconuts and cacao.
‘There’s also a sizable fishing industry. ‘The island’s few manufactures include clove oil and woven goods. Artisans make objects of wood, ivory and metal. Lime is the only mineral resource. The main imports are foodstuffs and fuel; principal exports are cloves and copra...’
But – with extremely minor changes here and there – that was much the case before the 1964 Revolution!
Positive changes...? Seaweed farming was introduced on the east-coast of Zanzibar Island in 1989, to become a vital source of income for villagers.
Tourism is another boon, especially following formation of the Zanzibar Tourism Commission in 1987, and the Zanzibar Investment Promotion Agency in 1992 to encourage investment in tourism and other socio-economic development projects.
Then the Tanzania Horticultural Association clambered aboard a few years ago...
Indeed, there was a time in History when Zanzibar was way ahead... For starters, the Isles were once the world’s leading cloves exporter. Alas, no longer... Also, Zanzibar first introduced colour television in sub-Saharan Africa in 1973 (Mainland-Tanzania did so only in 1994)... And legalised foreign exchange bureaux long before the Mainland did so!
When commercially-viable oil and/or natural gas reserves come on-stream, we could be rewriting the Zanzibar story .