Zanzibar today, Sunday 12th January, celebrates the Golden Jubilee of the revolution which 50 years ago overthrew the Sultan’s government, after Britain had finally agreed to independence a few weeks earlier on 10th December 1963.
The Omani Sultans had for over150 years maintained their stronghold over Zanzibar, their key trading position off the African mainland and the Arab influence and domination, which goes back to 1698 when the Omani’s established an armed stronghold and installed their loyalist administration, before eventually letting go of the island in 1858. Arab rule however continued when the Sultan of Zanzibar then stepped in to take over with his own government.
Britain entered the scene in 1890 when Zanzibar became a Protectorate, with their influence further strengthened after displacing the Germans, following the end of the First World War, as colonial power of mainland Tanganyika.
The bloody uprising, some archive material suggests as many as 20.000, though other reports talk of between 2.000 to 4.000, died during and immediately after the violent takeover, brought to power the majority African population which stood at an estimated 230.000 at the time, with a further 50.000 people of Arabic descent, some 20.000 Asians and a few hundred Europeans, many of whom fled individually or were evacuated by British and American warships during and after the revolution. The Sultan, his family and closest advisors managed to flee on his yacht as soon as the outcome of the fighting had become obvious and police and troops loyal to him had been overrun.
The new government, led by Abeid Amani Karume, turned Zanzibar into a short lived People’s Republic of Zanzibar, was recognized almost immediately by countries of the Warsaw Pact with the West following suit some weeks later, before on 23rd of April, Karume led Zanzibar into the union with mainland Tanganyika to form the new United Republic of Tanzania with Julius Nyerere as Head of State. Until present day has Zanzibar however maintained a separate government, including a President and while by and large the union remained working and intact and mutually beneficial, there have of late been voices trying to split the union and turn Zanzibar into an independent state. Ahead of the upcoming 50th anniversary of the formation of the United Republic of Tanzania will a new constitution draft be discussed, which has over the past year been developed though no fundamental change in the relationship between mainland and Zanzibar is expected.
Meanwhile has Zanzibar, which in the more distant past depended almost entirely for its economy on trade, fishing and the well known spices, in particular cloves, developed a flourishing tourism sector which today brings in over 75 percent of the foreign exchange earned and is the key economic pillar of the two islands of Unguja and Pemba, which make up Zanzibar.
High end resorts, some run by international hospitality giants – though the majority operate under the direct management of both foreign and local investors – have sprung up along the beaches of Zanzibar, thought to be among the best in the world, and an award winning restoration of two Stone Town buildings – the Stone Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site – allowed the establishment of the Zanzibar Serena Hotel right at the waterfront.
Direct and nonstop charter flights from key European destinations today connect Zanzibar with Europe and scheduled flights, from the mainland as well as the region and beyond, including from as far as Oman and South Africa, have opened the Spice Island to tourists from all over the world.
Congratulations to the People and Government of Zanzibar on this auspicious day, celebrating half a century of true independence.
Source: Wolfgang H Thome