Zanzibar@60: Why the Revolution still matters


What you need to know:

  • It was January 1964, a few months after the islands had tasted the bitters-sweet tang of independence, which the winds of change tore through Stone Town and other parts of the island

Dar es Salaam. In the heart of the spice-laden air of Zanzibar, the streets are busy and radiant with colours of blue, yellow, green and black as the nation celebrates 60 years of the Revolution.

Here, history whispers loudly from coral walls and the sea hums with ancient tales as the memory of the Revolution pulses strong.

It was January 1964, a few months after the islands had tasted the bitters-sweet tang of independence, which the winds of change tore through Stone Town and other parts of the island.

The air, heavy with the scent of cloves and jasmine, turned acrid with smoke and fear as the African majority led by the Afro Shirazi Party (ASP) rose against the minority Sultan’s Arab-dominated government.

What had been offered to the Zanzibaris by British rulers’ defied common sense as it was meant to maintain the status quo.

Centuries of inequality, land grabs, and racial prejudice crashed against the fragile shores of the Sultanate.

The revolution wasn’t just about political liberation; it was a battle for dignity, for a future where the scent of clove oil wouldn’t be choked by the dust of oppression.

As some analysts say the revolution’s legacy remains a tapestry woven with both triumph and tragedy.

Eight Presidents have since served as the chairmen of the revolutionary council and presidents of Zanzibar, a chain that was kick started by the founding father of the island, Sheikh Abeid Amani Karume.

With the current regime under President Hussein Ali Mwinyi emphasizing the need for exploring new frontiers in the blue economy.

Yet, even after 60 years, the Zanzibar Revolution remains nostalgic to many of the close to two million inhabitants like Ibrahim Massoud, a shop owner at Darajani who was only five years old by then.

“To many of my age mates and even our grandchildren, the revolution stands as a testament to the power of collective action, of a people daring to dream of a different future,” says Mr Massoud.

He says though the political power was achieved there is more to be done to make the revolution complete and relevant.

“It’s a story etched not just in history books, but in the hearts of Zanzibaris, a reminder of the ongoing struggle for equality and justice at different levels of our society,” he says.

In the bustling markets of Stone Town, where vendors hawk spices and tourists marvel at the intricate carvings, the echoes of the revolution lingers.

Ms Zuena Mohammed, 52, says the changes that occurred then and what followed immediately after, made Zanzibar a better place to live in compared to the tales of grandparents.

“It was not a mere change of guard and it matters because it compels us to confront the complexities of history, to acknowledge the darkness alongside the light,” she says.

It’s a whispered memory in the rustle of palm leaves, a fleeting glance in the eyes of an old woman such as Zuena with henna-stained fingers.

To commentators like, Dr Revocatus Kabobe from the Open University of Tanzania, though there are political challenges that are still plenty to celebrate especially the spirit of reconciliation between the different political tension that have arisen now and then.

 “We can still recommend the coalition government system, which has proven to a great extent to calm down the political pressures over power ambitions that have been occurring since the 1995 multiparty politics were ushered in,” says Dr Kabobe.

He adds: “There is still a great need for political stakeholders in Zanzibar, and in particular political parties, to continue addressing issues arising from the coalition government.”

Socially, he believes that Zanzibar has achieved the dreams of the fighters after it managed to eliminate racial classes that separated the indigenous people from the Arabs. “We can mark social interactions across all races available in Zanzibar, and for sure, this attracts more tourists to visit these islands,” he says.

He adds: “Despite the fact that Zanzibar cannot be termed as a developed country, several strides have been made since 1964 to empower people economically, build economic infrastructure, and now the current move towards the blue economy spearheaded by incumbent President Mwinyi.