How the 1964 Tanzania Rifles mutiny gave birth to TPDF

Thursday September 11 2014

By Citizen Reporter

Dar es Salaam. Little is known today or even narrated in the local media, about the January 1, 1961 mutiny by African members of what was then known as the Tanganyika Rifles, which occurred three years after Tanganyika’s independence from Britain on December 9, 1961.

The British had ruled Tanganyika as a trust territory following the defeat of the country’s colonial power, Germany, at the end of First World War in 1918. Fortunately, we meet, today, retired Colonel Ameenullah Kashmiri, a man who tasted the bitter side of the mutiny and who would later play a pivotal role in helping to rebuild what has today become arguably Africa’s best trained and disciplined liberation army, the Tanzania People’s Defence Forces (TPDF).

The colonel, who prefers to shorten his first name to Ameen, was born in Tabora 79 years ago. Colonel Kashmiri is perhaps one of the few dreamers who lived to his dream; that of becoming not only a soldier, but a senior army officer.

He says the road to the fulfillment of his childhood dream started in July 1957 when the country was still under colonial rule when the Kings African Rifles (KAR) advertised for young, educated men who wanted a career in the army.

After getting preliminary military training at Jinja, Uganda, under Sergeant Idi Amin, Kashmiri was sent to the world-famous British military college, Sandhurst, where he successfully completed the Officer Cadet course and was commissioned as Lieutenant.

The commissioning would make Kashmiri the first man to hold that rank not only in Tanganyika, but in East Africa at large. The other KAR soldiers who came after him and had also been sent to Sandhurst were Elisha Kavana who had just graduated from Makerere University in Uganda, Mirisho Haggai Sarakikya who would later become the first Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) of the Tanganyika Rifles and later TPDF, and Alexander Nyerenda who would, on the stroke of midnight on December 9, 1961, hoist independent Tanganyika’s flag on the peak of Mt Kilimanjaro, which was duly christened Uhuru Peak.


Colonel Kashmiri says the unfolding of the drama which would later lead to the mutiny started a year after Tanganyika’s independence. He said after he had been promoted to the rank of Captain, he requested his superiors to facilitate a staff course at Mons in Britain, which specialized in National Service training and management.

Only senior army officers from the rank of Major were eligible for training at Mons. He recalls that, he was turned down, but curiously, not long thereafter, Second Lieutenant Elisha Kavana, an officer junior to him, applied for the same course and he was permitted to pursue it.

Until then, he says, he did not know what was going on in the Tanganyika Rifles. Colonel Kashmiri says upon his return from Mons, in December 1063, Elisha Kavana took a one month leave and visited Tabora and Nachingwea where battalions of Tanganyika Rifles were stationed.

Later, Kavana travelled, apparently for the same reason, to Nairobi, Kenya and Kampala, Uganda. Until then, Colonel Kashmiri says, nobody in the Tanganyika Rifles queried Kavana the motives of his visits within and outside the country. During this time, says Col. Kashmiri, the Tanganyika Rifles were under the command of a Briton, Brigadier Douglas Sholto, and all battalions and important military units in the country were still under the command of white officers.

However, when the mutiny was staged in January 1964, and simultaneously, in Tanganyika, Kenya and Uganda, says Colonel Kashmiri, it finally dawned on them why Kavana had visited battalions in Tanganyika, Kenya and Uganda! They realised that Kavana had done so in order to drum up support not only for the Tanganyika mutiny, but also to sell the idea of overthrowing the civilian governments of East Africa simultaneously.

Two weeks before the mutiny, he said the Tanganyika Rifles command in Dar es Salaam had received an anonymous letter that tipped it of an impending military coup in Tanganyika. After receiving the letter, he said the Commander of the Tanganyika Rifles, Brigadier Sholto, convened a meeting of all battalion commanders in the country and briefed them on the matter. He also directed all his commanders to stay alert.

Colonel Kashmiri says a week before the mutiny, he was on duty as a Field Officer, a post he says entailed going around all important military units in Dar es Salaam to inspect soldiers guarding sensitive installations that included the State House, defence headquarters and barracks.

During the time, Lugalo Barracks was known as Colito Barracks, a name that had no bearing on the history of Tanganyika. The name Colito was dropped and was replaced by Lugalo after the rebuilding and restructuring of the army after the mutiny. The name was in honour of Chief Mkwawa’s fierce battle at Lugalo against German invaders.

After visiting all important military points and sensitive institutions in Dar es Salaam, Colonel Kashmiri drove back with his driver to inspect Colito Barracks.

The retired Colonel picks up the story:

We were surprised, when we came close to Colito Barracks, to note that it was enveloped by pitch darkness. Initially, we thought the electricity company which would later become known as the Tanzania Electric Supply Company, (TANESCO) had problems with its lighting system.

The blackout at Colito Barracks surprised us because such things were unknown during those days. When we arrived at the gate of the barracks, the sentry asked; ‘Who’s at the gate?’ I introduced myself as Field Officer on duty and was allowed to drive in.

Immediately we got inside, the doors of our land rover were forcefully opened and one of the soldiers called out, ‘Afenda teremka!’ I got out and two soldiers touched the sharp end of their bayonets against my waist. It was apparent that had I put up any resistance, they could have harmed me.

They told me I was under arrest and would soon be deported to my Bombay. At first I thought they were joking until they led me into a room which served as a lockup, where I found some white army officers who had also been arrested.

I was the only man who was well dressed in military uniform, the reason being that I was the only army officer who had been on duty that night. The mutiny had been meticulously planned by the disgruntled black Tanganyikan soldiers whose complaints were that despite their country’s independence, their welfare hadn’t changed.

For instance, what passed for beds consisted of blocks of cement that had pieces of wood placed on top to serve as beds. Each soldier was given two blankets, one to serve as a mattress and the second one to cover oneself with. And the food was horrible.

However, the British soldiers continued to lead luxurious lives in decent houses. Less than five Tangayikans held the ranks ranging from Second Lieutenant, Lieutenant to Captain. These were myself, Alexander Nyirenda, Elisha Kavana and Mirisho Sarakikya who was then stationed in Tabora.

While in the lockup, a fire alarm was sounded. Whenever that happened, all soldiers were required to report to the Square of Colito Barracks without fail. And that’s how some white army officers and NCOs were arrested and brought into the room in which we were.

However, two senior white officers, Colonel Brian Marciandi who was the ADC (assistant to the Tanganyika Rifles Commandant) and the TR Commander, Brigadier Douglas Sholte, were spared by the mutineers.

Apparently, after the siren of the fire alarm had been sounded, and witnessing the arrest of their colleagues, some white army officers fled with their radio call gadgets to where the present University of Dar es Salaam is located and hid there.

While in hiding, they got in touch with the British High Commission in Dar es Salaam and informed whoever was on duty what had happened at the Colito Barracks. As arrests of white army officers and NCOs continued unabated with a lucky few managed to escape the dragnet. A Company Commander, Major Callaghan, fled and hid at Kunduchi Beach for the three days that the mutiny lasted.

When the day broke, I peeped through an opening in the door of our lockup and saw that a table had been brought outside, close to our lockup, on which Oscar Kambona, a Cabinet minister in President Julius Nyerere’s government, stood.

Close to him was Kavana and other mutineers. I then heard Kambona literally dishing out ranks to soldiers, Captain Kavana being promoted to Major and made the deputy commander of the Tangayika Rifles and Sarakikya was appointed, in absentia, as the overall Commander of the Tanganyika Rifles.

To date, I have never asked General Sarakikya why he was promoted, but

Looking back, I think Sarakikya got the post over fears that because he was away in Tabora, he could have organized the Tabora Battalion against the mutineers.

Meanwhile, the mutineers collected all belongings of white army officers and NCOs at their respective houses and put them in one place ready to be transported, along with the white army officers and NCOs, to Nairobi. Since I was not yet married, my neighbours collected all my belongings and put together with theirs.

Later we were all flown to Nairobi where we were all given new clothes, suits, ties and shoes and were subsequently flown to London. Earlier, before being put on trucks for Dar es Salaam airport, there had been a dispute between the mutineers over the national status of Captain Alexander Nyarenda.

While some called for his expulsion because, being a Malawian, he was a foreigner in the army like other foreigners, others argued that he should stay, because he was an African.


Nyerere seeks military assistance from Britain

On our arrival in London, I told our British hosts that I wanted to stay with my brother who was then living and working in Britain. After a few days, the Royal British Army offered me a number of jobs at the defence headquarters, which I declined because they involved sitting in the office and doing administrative work which had included, among others, keeping records of military items in their respective stores.

I told them if they really wanted to help me, then what I wanted to do was what I had trained for at the Sandurst and practiced back home in Tanganyika and that was anything that related the infantry.

As an all round sportsman, I was a man of action full of energy and I did not therefore like the job of sitting in the office. Back home in Tanganyika, the President had holed himself up in the house of Judge Mustapha who would later become one of the senior and well known judges.

While at Judge Mustapha’s house, Mwalimu had since the start of the mutiny been toying with the embarrassing idea of seeking military assistance for putting down the mutiny in his country from the very people he had barely three years back told that after ten years, Tanganyikans would be able to do in ten years what the colonialists (in the latter case, the British) had failed to do in four decades they had ruled since taking over from Germany colonialists after the end of the First World War in 1918.

Although Nyerere lived up to the vow he had made to the British during his country’s independence day, it was now difficult to face the same people for assistance. After what had happened in Dar es Salaam, especially to the British army officers in the Tanganyika Rifles, word had not only reached the British government, but also the top British military brass and had already prepared for action in case Nyerere invited them.

Mwalimu finally swallowed his pride and requested the British government for assistance. An aircraft carrier, HMS Centaur that had at the time anchored at Aden, motored to Tanganyika’s coast with a number of helicopter gunships and troop carriers on board.

By the third day of the mutiny, the aircraft carrier was already in the Indian Ocean off the East African coast. And in the morning of the fourth day, both Dar es Salaam residents, and in particular, the mutineers who had, for three days, terrorized the city, witnessed what some people had until then only seen in films.

Four helicopters that hooked land rovers, which hang precariously under their bellies, flew into the city and descended to the ground. Commandoes from troop carrier choppers alighted and straightaway run to a waiting vehicle that sped off into the city in search of armed mutineers.

Meanwhile at the Colito Barracks, helicopter gunships flying over tree tops and armed with bazooka machineguns, strafed at all sentries of the barracks, sending mutineers in disarray. By midday, the mutiny was over. For several days, the newly, installed administration at the Colito Barracks received, from surrounding villagers, weapons that had been abandoned in their farms by mutineers who found both weapons and uniforms too heavy to carry with them as they ran to where God knew!

In March 1964, while still living in Britain, I was asked to report to the defence headquarters in London and was shown a telex message from the Vice-President, Rashid Mfaume Kawawa who was then also the Minister for Defence of the Tanganyikan government. It stated that since I had been set away by the mutineers and not the Tanganyikan government, the army in Dar es Salaam still required my services.

The British sought my opinion. I told them they already knew my answer, that I wanted to go back home. However, I requested them to tell the Vice-President that since I had applied for a three-month military commanders’ course and had had a positive response, I wished to complete the course and return home thereafter.

The Vice-President agreed. I flew back to home after completing the course and was received at the Dar es Salaam airport by Alexander Nyirenda.

At the Army Headquarters which was then located at the Magogoni, Colonel Sarakikya appointed me to the military rank of Assistant Adjutant and Quarter Master General (AAQMG) which nowadays is referred to as the Chief of Logistics and Engineering (CLE) which I would revert to later after the restructuring of the TPDF and modernizing of the army.

My work in the new army was both daunting and challenging because it literally involved the rebuilding of a modern army, almost from scratch, complete with its new structures that were in the form of building new barracks, revamping others, purchasing new equipment and armaments that included, among others, artillery pieces, tanks and military trucks.

It is important to note that during this time, countries under British rule or protectorate ordered their military supplies through a British company, the Crown Agency. Therefore orders would be channelled through Crown Agency and the company would secure whatever a country needed.

However, because of problems we sometimes encountered, in getting military supplies promptly and adequately, we later decided to devise our own systems of getting whatever military hardware we wanted from countries other than through the British company.

For instance, during the time, standard military vehicles in East Africa were the three-ton British-made Bedford trucks.

I sought Bedford trucks from Britain and was told they were only producing a few units for the British army and that they would usually sell to developing countries like Tanganyika when they had surplus.At this point, I approached the permanent secretary in the ministry of defence, Mr Bernard Mulokozi, and told him the need for the country to look for suppliers of military trucks elsewhere instead of continuing to depend on the British company which had failed to deliver.

Following my discussion with Mr Mulokozi, I flew to Sweden, in search of trucks for the TPDF and was told they were still working on a prototype which would come out of their assembly line five years later! Of course, it would have been ludicrous for us to wait for five years.

At this juncture, I decided to go to West Germany’s Mercedes Benz truck manufacturing plant in Stuttgart. This time I was accompanied with four other officials from the TPDF and the Ministry of Finance and we were this time lucky to get what we wanted. At the Stuttgart Mercedes Benz factory, company officials demonstrated to us the use of various military vehicles including what we wanted for our use.

We placed the order of 460 Mercedes Benz trucks and 150 Trailers which would be delivered a few months later through the DT Dobie Mercedes Benz branch in Dar es Salaam. The West Germany Mercedes Benz trucks cost us at the time a whopping 34m Deutsche Marks which was quite a sum during those days.

My work as Chief of Logistics and Engineering at the time was made very easy by the presence, in the army, of a very hard working and understanding chief of defence forces, Sarakikya, and a very supportive commander-in-chief, President Mwalimu.