Zanzibar's Long History Of Political Violence

By Faustine Rwambali, The EastAfrican 5 February 2001

Dar es Salaam—ZANZIBAR'S POLITICS has for years been marked by bloody clashes. The current crisis on the twin islands of Zanzibar and Pemba, therefore, is not new.

The father of the current Zanzibar leader, President Amani Abeid Karume, came to power in 1964 via a bloody revolution against the Isles' Arab rulers. Abeid Karume was assassinated in 1972 in what observers believed was a revenge killing.

Zanzibar, with a population of less than one million people, is known historically as the former slave market of East Africa. It also dealt in ivory and spices, thus earning its name of Spice Islands. Arab traders travelled into the interior of Africa in caravans to capture slaves, who were then taken to Zanzibar to be sold.

Violence has a long history on the Isles. For instance, after the death of Sultan Hamad in 1896, his cousin Hamoud was to have succeeded him to the throne, but this did not go down well with one of his cousins known as Khaled.

The British refused to recognise Khaled, and in the ensuing violence about 500 people were killed and Khaled surrendered power and fled to Mombasa in Kenya.

Apart from the Swahili speaking people of the coast, most of them Bantu, the Isles' population consists of people of Shirazi or mixed Persian and African origin, who live in the south of Unguja, the main island.

Zanzibar is still home to many Arabs who have strong ties with Oman and Yemen. There is also a sizeable population of Indians and Europeans on the Isles, who control much of the economy.

Ninety per cent of the people of Zanzibar are Muslim.

The first election in Zanzibar was held in July 1957. In that election, only 40,000 voters were registered, instead of 100,000, owing to tough eligibility conditions that barred people aged below 25 years from voting. Also, the poor and illiterate were ineligible to vote.

In the elections, the Afro-Shirazi Party (ASP) leader, the late Abeid Amani Karume, was pitted against the Zanzibar National Party (ZNP) led by Ali Muhsin Barwani. Karume won 60.1 per cent of the total vote in the six constituencies existing at the time to become the first prime minister of the islands.

In the January 1961 election, 95,000 voters were registered and 85,000, who included women, voted. ASP won 10 seats, ZNP nine and the Zanzibar and Pemba People's Party (ZPPP) three seats. Both Karume and Ali Muhsin failed to form a government, but later reached a compromise for a coalition government.

Violence was witnessed in 1928, 1936 and 1951. It also haunted the Isles following the assassination of Sultan Ahmed Mugheiry in 1955. The assassination of another Sultan in 1961 was the prelude of what was to follow in subsequent elections.

After the 1964 revolution, the ASP government immediately nullified the Isles' constitution and banned all political parties, leaving ASP the only active political party. The decision made Karume many enemies of the supporters of the ZNP and ZPPP.

When multiparty politics was reintroduced in Tanzania in 1995, following the recommendations of Justice Nyalali's Commission of Inquiry, it recognised the need for changes in the 1977 Tanzania Union Constitution. The latter constitution recognised a one-party system only.

Although there was discontent amongst Zanzibaris, particularly from Pemba, on power sharing between the Mainland and the Isles, the Kizota Conference in Dodoma expelled the then powerful Zanzibar politicians Seif Shariff Hamad, Shaaban Mloo, Ali Haji Pandu, Khatib Hassan, Soud Yusuf Mgeni and Hamad Rashid from the ruling CCM party.

That expulsion led to the formation of CUF. It has since become a formidable force with massive support in Pemba.

In the 1995 election, narrowly won by CCM, CUF claimed it was robbed of victory and consequently boycotted sessions of the House of Representatives. Later, 18 CUF leaders and supporters were arrested and charged in court with treason.

Soon after being sworn in after the controversial October 29, 2000 election, President Amani Karume ordered the release of the 18 leaders.