For centuries, and perhaps aided by the Monsoon trade winds, there
has been trade links between the coast of East Africa and the people of
Arabia, Persia, India and as far as China. The dates are not known for
certain but as early as the 1st century AD, Zanzibar and other coastal
settlements in East Africa had established trade links with its nothern
neighbours of the Indian Ocean.
Contrary to some scholars,
who allege coercion as being the norm of the time, Arabic travellers
of those days had no political ambitions. They were living in harmony
and some of them inter-married with their hosts hence consolidating the
bonds even further. The arrival of Islam in the 8th century strengthened
the relationship and brought East Africa much closer to Arabia.
While the contacts with Arabia continued unabated for many centuries
after the first arrival of arabic settlers, things changed to a great
extent upon the arrival of Persians (Iran) by the 10th century. The
Persians, who started with Hassan bin Ali Sultan with his six sons as
mentioned in the Kilwa chronicles or with Darhash bin Shah from the
Pemba chronicles, settled in many coastal settlements and formed the
Zenj empire. They immediately established centres of control in Kilwa
and Zanzibar, the latter emerging as a powerhouse of political rule in
East Africa. Much of the build-up of social institutions and political
organisations happened during this period where local rulers exerted
control of some settlements along the coast. The process led to the
formation of independent Muslim sultanates in Zanzibar and Kilwa with
mixed Persian, Arab and African populations.
After about three centuries of integration between natives,
Arabs and the Shirazi immigrants, their emerged three major ethnic
groups. The Watumbatu and
Wahadimu who correspondingly
ihabited the nothern and southern parts of Zanzibar island and
Wapemba who occupied
Pemba island. They all categorically regarded themselves as Shirazis
and considered to be the indigenous people of Zanzibar and Pemba
islands. Blatantly, they deny to have major African roots and though
they accept that some of the earlier ancestors came from the mainland,
they object to the claim that they must be Bantus or Africans.
Administratively, people were organized in small local chieftains
owing their allegiance to the Shirizi Sultans of either Kilwa or their
local siblings. The administrative centre of Zanzibar island was first
located in the island of Tumbatu but later on moved to Unguja Ukuu. The
settlements flourished and enjoyed cool relations with its visitors and
sometimes between 15th and 17th centuries some local rulers, Mwinyimkuu in
Zanzibar with his headquarter in Dunga and Mkame Ndume in Pemba centred
at Pujini, assumed supremacy and ruled until the period of invasion by
Portuguese and Omanis
The period between 15th and 17th century was dominated by the invasion
of Portuguese, who defeated local rulers and took control of almost all
the coast of East Africa. They first conquered Oman followed by falling of
other coastal settlements one by one. Their rule revived strong resistance
and discontent among the natives and Omanis finally succeded in evicting
the Portuguese out of their land. It is claimed that, the local rulers
in East Africa sought Omani's assistance in their fight against the
Portuguese and it paid off towards the end of the 17th century.
The freedom from the Portuguese was however shortlived as the Omanis
annexed Zanzibar and many coastal towns to their empire that was ruled
from Muscat. In the 18th century, Zanzibar and Pemba were subject to
the sultans of Muscat and Oman. In 1832 the Omani sultan Sayyid Said
(1787-1856) established his residence on Zanzibar, where he promoted the
production of cloves and palm oil and carried on an active slave trade
with the interior. His domain, which included parts of the mainland,
was a commercial rather than a territorial empire. Although Sayyid
Said had full control of Zanzibar island as early as 1822, Pemba was to
a great extent ruled by the Mazruis of Mombasa. He later on controlled
the Mazruis and assumed full control of Zanzibar and Pemba islands until
the time of his death.
British and German Era
The 18th century was an era where Europeans were looking for colonies
throughout the world and East Africa was not an exception. Upon his death,
Sayyid Said had controlled a large empire but his successors did not
have a legal claim to the lands they controlled commercially, and did
not have the power to keep the Germans and British from annexing them
when the European nations began dividing up Africa later in the century.
But realizing the extent of Sultan's control, the Germans and later
British colonial agents decided to give him a special status on his
territories. The partition of Africa following the Berlin Confrence of
1884 offered the Sultan a claim to the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba
and a coastal strip of 10 miles on the mainland of East Africa.
The domination of Germans coupled with the abolition of slave trade
weakened the Sultan's empire and bit by bit he lost more land to the new
European colonizers. The British and Germans came into some agreement
with the Sultan to sell his possession on the mainland and by the end
of 19th century very little remained in his control. The Germans, who
were first in colonizing Tanzania agreed with the British to exchange
Zanzibar with Heligoland and though the Sultan was still ruling, it
was a de facto British colony. Zanzibar was thus ruled by two colonial
masters at the same time, an event political scientists call unique in
history. On the one hand there was Sultan and on the other the British
colonial agents. Zanzibar of that time included the islands of Zanzibar,
Pemba, Latham and surrounding islets and theoretically it included the
coastal strip of Kenya. Mombasa and the coastal strip of Kenya was handed
to the new independent government of Kenya as late as 1963.
After a period of confusing lines of control, Zanzibar was officially
declared a British protectorate in 1890; the sultan was retained for
ceremonial purposes, but most major decisions were made by the British
resident. The British however continued to rule under cover and to the
locals it appeared as if the Sultan was in control and their policies
of division and rule and of exercising indirect rule created ethnic
conflicts among people of Zanzibar and Pemba.
During their rule they encouraged formation of associations based on
ethnic lines, which later on were the foundation for the new political
parties. The ethnic based census of 1948 that categorized people into
Shirazis, Arabs, Indians, and other African tribes formented ethnic
tensions that have plagued Zanzibar ever since.
The Arab, Indian, Shirazi and African associations that were formed in the
50s have plunged Zanzibar into political conflicts bigger than its size.
During this period, the history of Zanzibar witnessed the formation of
political parties all fighting for independence from Britain. The Zanzibar
Nationalist Party (ZNP), Afro Shirazi Party (ASP) and the Zanzibar and
Pemba Peoples Party (ZPPP) are all products of ethnic associations.
For example, the ZNP, which was launched by people considered to have
no direct descendant to Arabs got a support from the Arab Association.
The ASP was a merger between the African Association and the Shirazi
Association. The ZPPP was an offshoot of ASP as result of disagreement
of ASPs too much lineancy towards African Association.
The period was marred by dirty politics and party conflicts that led
to scores of politicians changing ranks from one party to another. The
Umma Party, which was formed by communist members of the ZNP joined ASP
in claiming full independence and became an influential partner of ASP
in the early days after independence.
First Post-British Governments
Sultan Khalifa ibn Harub (1879-1960) used his influence to support
British rule. At the time of his death, Britain was divesting itself of
its African colonies, and Zanzibar, troubled by political factionalism,
was granted internal self rule in June 1963.
After the election stalemates of June 1957 and January 1961, where no clear
winner emerged to form a government, a deciding election was held in June
1961. A total of 23 seats were up for grab by the three competing parties,
Afro Shirazi Party (ASP), Zanzibar Nationalist Party (ZNP), and the
Zanzibar and Pemba Peoples' Party (ZPPP).
The results of the June 1961 election saw the ZNP/ZPPP alliance with 13 seats
and ASP secured 10 seats. The alliance formed the first Internal Self Rule
Government with Sheikh Mohammed Shamte as the Chief Minister.
On this picture are the ministers of the first cabinet. Seated from left
are: Dr. Idarus
Baalawy, Ali Muhsin (died March 20, 2006),
Mohamed Shamte, Juma Alley and Ibuni Saleh. Standing from
left are: Sheikh Ameir Tajo, Amirali Abdulrasul, Rashid hamadi, Omar Hamad
(Mkamandume) and Maulid Mshangama.
Zanzibar was given full independence
in December 10, 1963.
The first government was formed by a coaliton of ZNP and ZPPP. Sheikh
Mohammed Shamte, of the ZPPP became the first prime minister of an
independent Zanzibar. The Sultan, at the time Jamshid ibn Abdullah, remained
as the head of state the move that was vehemently protested by ASP.
On December 16, 1963, Prime Minister Mohammed Shamte, as the head of the independent and
sovereign goverment of Zanzibar, delivered what was to be a
historic speech to the United Nations General
Assembly in New York.
A few weeks later, January 12, 1964, the conservative government was
overthrown in a bloody revolution led by
John Okello and replaced by a leftist regime under
Sheikh Abeid Amani Karume (1905-72). Immediately after the revolution,
Karume signed a pact with Nyerere uniting Zanzibar and Tanganyika to
form The United Republic of Tanzania (See
Articles of Union).
Abeid A. Karume, The First President of Zanzibar
The government following the
revolution of Zanzibar of 1964 leaned more towards the claim of Africans
being the true natives and at the beginning of its rule it abolished
all claims of the Shirazis.
Although one could still claim to be a Shirazi, he/she had to accept
being an African first and Shirazi underneath.
Its first president, Abeid Amani Karume whose birth place has been a
subject of intense discussion, proudly presented himself as an African.
He went on to institute forced marriages where ASP leaders were ordered
to marry Arabic and Indian women against their will.
This was an attempt to re-write history and was met with pockets of resistance
but were ruthlessly dealt with by Karume and his dictatorial regime.
The marxist revolutionary government confiscated all the major
private property and went on to re-destribute the land to the poor by
offering each individual a 3-acre plot.
Karume's vision was to build a country where all people will have
free housing, free medical care, and live under subsidized supplies
of food, clothing and energy. Private enterprises were abolished and
the state assumed full control of importation and eventual reselling
of commodities. For those who could not work, a Welfare department was
established to their care.
Karume ordered free education to all but he was not happy with many of his
intellectuals and it is believed that he ordered their liquidation. Much
happened during the first decade of its rule and, to say the least,
it was an era of grave human rights violation where people feared for
their life on every minute of every day.
Beginning with the aftermath of murders committed during revolution,
people fled Zanzibar in search of safe havens on the mainland of Tanzania
and Kenya and some sought refuge in other countries of the world.
There was also a period when the government stopped importation
of food and encouraged self reliance. Some allege that the govermnent
used foreign currency to import large arsenals of weapon in preparation
for the eventual pull out of Nyerere's support. It is claimed that the
union was originally planned for only 10 years and was to end in 1974.
Security agents, the army and the ASP volunteers hunted those who
attempted to smuggle food into the islands. Stories from people who
experienced this ordeal would make you shed tears. Life was hard and
unbearable and another wave of emigrants left the islands in search of
lush pastures elsewhere. There were however those who could not take it
anymore and on April 7 1972, they attempted to overthrow the revolutionary
government but only managed to assasinate the president. Ironically, Karume
was killed by his Arabic brother-in-law to what many believe is a revenge
for the formers role in his father's death. Listen to the defence (in
Swahili) of Abdulla Ali Khamis in
the treason trial of 1972.
Apparently, it is believed that the people who planned the revolution
were supported by Nyerere and their leader, Abdulrahman Babu, was a
staunch supporter of establishing communist oriented government in
Zanzibar in line with Nyerere's plan.
The death of Karume was again followed by serious violations of human
rights and not only that the ASP government hunted and shot those accused
to have masterminded the revolution but also they went on to treat their
bodies in some humiliating manner.
There were others, mainly of arabic descent, who were just arrested and
kept behind bars for apparently no solid evidence. The spill overs of
the death of Karume spread to the island of Pemba where scores of people
were arrested. I have heard stories of boys who played football and got
arrested because it was assumed that they were celebrating the death of
The regime was based on barbaric and dictatorial socialist policies!
Post Karume Era
Aboud Jumbe took over after Karume's death and the public hoped for
an end to the past. His administration was a little bit softer than that
of his predecessor but being under the leadership of the Revolutionary
Council, he had to adopt some hardline policies, when it mattered,
at the request of his colleagues.
His decade in power was characterized by too much leaning to the mainland
and in 1977 he championed the union between ASP and the Tanganyika
African National Union (TANU) of the mainland to form the Chama Cha
Mapinduzi (CCM), a party that continue to rule until now.
Aboud Jumbe Mwinyi, The Second President of Zanzibar
On the social side, people had some freedom and could travel freely to
the outer world. Jumbe also opened up mainland educational institutions
for Zanzibaris wishing to pursue higher education.
This move created many possibilities for Zanzibaris to go beyond the
teaching career that was the only available option for many. In the
past, government positions were offered to people along party lines and
apart from teaching there were not many possibilites for the high school
In 1979, Jumbe made history by launching the first democratic institution,
the House of Representatives but members were mainly appointed instead
of being elected by the people at large.
He also opened up his administration for people, who could otherwise have
been kept out if the strict revolutionary principles were followed. This
move, which he later seemed to regret, was the source of his downfall.
He was at odds with, the so called, the committe of fourteen
(view historical pictures)
most of the people who participated in the revolution. Their influence
began to decline and their powers, at times, questioned.
In an attempt to remedy the damage he droped most of these new elements
in his government and made a radical move of attempting to back down from
his support towards one central government for the whole of Tanzania.
In 1984, he was forced to resign by the CCM's central committe and Ali
Hassan Mwinyi was appointed the new President of Zanzibar.
The government of Ali Hassan Mwinyi and his Chief Minister Seif Sharif
Hamad was warmly welcomed by the public as it quickly eased down many
of the problems left behind by the previous government.
However, it was short lived and in 1985 Mwinyi became the President of
the United Republic of Tanzania and Idris Abdul Wakil was elected the
new President of Zanzibar.
In that election, Wakil became the president by scoring about 60% of the
votes. This was very odd under the one party system and the aftershocks
of the political turmoil that followed has left an unrepairable damage to
the stability of Zanzibar and Pemba islands.
The elections of 1990
that brought Dr. Salmin Amour Juma to power were marred by poor turn out
and rather than seeking for a solution, the incumbent went on to suspend
most civil servants who were known to have caused that poor showing.
Dr. Salmin or "Komandoo, as popularly referred, ruled with an
iron fist and terrorized his opponents with arrests and even torture.
But the voices of the opposition were difficult to silence and after
strong pressure from both internal and external sources, Tanzania allowed
multi-party politics to operate for the first time since independence.
Dr. Salmin Amour Juma, The Fifth President of Zanzibar
Zanzibar under Multi-party politics
When Tanzania introduced
multi-party politics, Zanzibaris were already polarized into those
supporting the status quo and supporters of the opposition, who had
already gathered under the KAMAHURU banner.
What was missing in the opposition camp was the official name of
a legitimate political party and when the law was changed, the Civic
United Front (CUF) was launched without any hitch.
Other political parties with their bases on the mainland attempted to
solicit support in Zanzibar but they have never gone beyond the level
required by law of having some members on both sides of the union in an
attempt to curb the suppress cessationists.
Most of the leaders of CUF were once high ranking officers in CCM and
knew the system quite well. They also enjoyed the popularity of Seif
Sharif Hamad, whose charisma has been a constant scare to CCM and its
Seif Sharif Hamad, The Secretary of Civic United Front (CUF)
The 1995 elections in Zanzibar were marked by irregularities and CCM
was accused of having rigged it for its own benefit. Election observers
agreed the claims by the leading opposition party on the islands, the
Civic United Front (CUF) and did not recognize the election results.
CUF organised series of public protests and important donors for Zanzibar
suspended their cooperation with Dr. Salmin's government.
Dr. Salmin continued his acts of torture and harrasment of the opposition
and above all, he came with a policy of segregating people who supported
CUF mainly from the island of Pemba.
Pembans were denied positions in government, deprived of higher education
opportunities, and wherever possible their businesses were constrained
by his government.
His era might be over but the injustices he committed are hard to
forget and for many opposition supporters in Zanzibar, it is hard to
The 2000 elections cannot be distanced from
the past elections in Zanzibar and acts of irregularities and rigging
were rampant. State organs took all the measures to ensure a CCM win and it is
believed by many that the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC) purposely
spoiled the elections. ZEC poorly organized the elections and later on
announced a re-run in 16 constituencies in Zanzibar Urban District. CUF
went on to boycot the whole election giving what CCM called "Ushindi wa
Kishindo", which literally translates to "overwhelming victory" but the
oppostion framed it as "forceful victory". It was clear that Zanzibaris
would have to wait longer to witness peaceful elections as police continued to
harrass the opposition months before and after the election day (view police brutality pictures). Commonwealth election observers called the 2000 elections as "shambles" and
opposition supporters brought forward their protests to the goverment
of Amani Abeid Karume.
Amani Abeid Karume, The Sixth President of Zanzibar
In January 26-27 of 2001, Zanzibar witnessed yet another bloodshed in
her troubled history when security organs murdered scores of people who
staged an outlawed demonstration.
At first, the CCM government played down the significance of such killings
but when it became obvious that the image of Tanzania has been tarnished
the Union government directed its party (CCM) to talk to the leading
political party on the isles, the CUF.
After months of negotiations the CCM-CUF political accord was reached
that among other things aimed at cooling down the tension that had risen
to a very high proportion.
A Joint Presidential Committee was formed by members from both parties
and the new Zanzibar Election Commission (ZEC) has representatives from
the two parties. Until now, things seems to be going on well despite
few skermishes between party supporters and somehow championed by the
While we are waiting for the developments toward the
Zanzibaris from all over the world are praying for peace
and stability. However, much remains to be seen particularly from the
Revolutionary government who continue to suppress the media and appear
to be preparing ground for a new kind of confrontation.
This is a tip of Zanzibar's long history. By no means that this
account has covered all what has happened in the past but we hope the
reader will get a glimpse of the important events in its history.
Much of the history is not written and media censoring has contributed
to this debacle. To remind our readers, there were times when history
as a subject was banned altogether and removed from the curriculum.
This is Zanzibar you see today!
As expected, the 2005 election did not bear the fruits
people had hoped for. The ruling party, CCM, and its governments continued to deny Zanzibari's
their rights to choose their own leaders.
Zanzibar Historical Pictures
To complete your reading of Zanzibar history, please view some
historical pictures on this website.
Among other things, you can see the pictures of ivory trade, Bububu Railway,
the revolutionaries, and many more.