The Zanzibar Coup
By KEITH KYLE
rrilE Afro-Shirazi Party which has been I brought to power by the coup dela in Zanzi- bar had been the party most favoured by the protectorate administration, by the mainland states of East Africa and by the people of Zanzibar and Pemba islands at the last election. It received 63 per cent of the popular vote on the principal island, Zanzibar (where the revolution took place), and 54 per cent of the overall vote— that is with votes on Pemba Island counted in. That it nevertheless lost the election by five seats out of thirty-one was a freak effect of the one- member constituency system. When last year Sul- tan Jamshid ascended the throne at his father's death just as internal self-government was being inaugurated, it was widely assumed that his reign would last precisely a fortnight.
The Afro-Shirazi Party led by Sheik Abeid Karume, now President of the Republic, and Othman Shariff, the new Minister of Education, was expected to win the election. While his ailing nonentity of a father might have been acceptable to them as a titular Head of States, Jamshid, it was generally agreed, was not. From the moment that he succeeded, the new Sultan kept his yacht at the ready for his escape.
As it happened, the coalition government of Ali Muhsin's Zanzibar Nationalist Party and a smaller ally, the Zanzibar and Pemba People's Party which won scats only on Pemba Island, in- creased its majority from one seat to five. The Sultan thus lasted until independence and en- joyed for just over one month the new title of 'His Majesty' from which he had been promoted from that of 'His Highness.'
Abeid Karume, 'the boatman,' who has suc- ceeded Jamshid as Head of State is often des- cribed, particularly by Arabs, as 'illiterate.' In fact, though he does not understand English, he taught himself in adult life to read and write well enough in Swahili. He has always been the hero of 'mainland' Africans of Zanzibar—that is of those Africans who have not been accepted by the three indigenous African tribes of the two islands. as having been sufficiently assimilated to themselves. These tribes have been in Zanzibar and Pemba islands longer than the Arabs whom they outnumber, and because of sonic real or 'Which way did they go?'
fancy links in the unrecorded past with Persians, are known collectively as Shirazis. They used to —and to some extent still do—look down snob- bishly on the 'mainlanders,' an attitude which Karume's political opponents used to exploit by nicknames and jingles that emphasised his humble origin and occupation—he was, in fact, for a long time the boatman who plied for hire.
Since the Arabs were in a minority of 19 per cent it was obvious tactics for them to emphasise the unity of interest 'of the indigenous subjects of His Highness the Sultan. The Zanzibar Nationalist Party, the first party to emerge, was founded not, as is generally assumed, by Arab intellectuals but by African peasants who objected to British paternalism and who wanted a Zanzibari patriotism irrespective of race to grow up. The African founders, many of whom continued until the coup to fill the strictly party offices, were none of them English-speaking; they, therefore, offered the leadership to Ali Muhsin, an Arab journalist and former civil ser- vant who had been abroad when the party was launched. His acceptance brought general Arab support for the party at the cost of rather swamping its originally African character; but he and his friend, Juma Alcy, endowed the Zanzibar Nationalist Party with their special blend of orthodox anti-imperialism, monarchism and multi-racialism.
The British saw mainly the anti-imperialism; an unwary civil servant referred in a public document to ZNP as 'a monolithic party of an all too familiar type.' Panic-stricken African leaders who protested that the confused and dis- organised African majority would be pulverised by ZNP and brought into political servitude to the more sophisticated Arabs if they were ex- posed prematurely to direct elections, were given by the protectorate authorities what at the very least was a broad hint to form a united party of their own. To the clearly-voiced satisfaction of the administration, the Shirazi Association merged with Karume's African ('mainlander) Association to form the Afro-Shirazi Party which laid its emphasis on the common Africanness of these two groups. Inevitably, as party warfare became bitter and competition for the Shirazi vote sharpened, the evil which Arabs of Zanzibar once did to Africans of the whole Eastern and Central sections of the continent by exporting them to Zanzibar and Arabia as slaves, cane to be conjured up as cement for African solidarity.
In the first direct elections, in 1957, the Afro- Shirazis were surprised by their own strength. Much to the administration's satisfaction ZNI' was completely defeated. The dim view which the British had originally formed of All Muhsin's party was enhanced by the fact that its propa- ganda was printing in Cairo, and by the hand- ing-over of the campaign in preparation for the next election to a Transport House trained political organiser, Abdul RahMan Babu. the man who has just become Foreign and Defence Minister in the revolutionary government. According to his own account, Babu's contacts with Communism began when he first came to London with other Commonwealth journalists as a guest of the British Council. At a reception provided by the English Speaking Union he was offered a stringcrship by the man from the Chinese News Agency.
This combination of Egyptian and Chinese in- fluence made it for some time an axiom of British comment on Zanzibar that ZNP victory would entail Communist infiltration and the likely establishment of a subversive base off the East African coast. Such a victory after the debacle of •l07 did not at first seem likely, but what with ASP's over-confidence, Babu's organisation, All Muhsin's propaganda, Juma Aley's parlia- mentary brilliance and Abeid Karume's purge of two distinguished Shirazis, one of them Mohammed Shamte from the Afro- Shirazi Party; two 1961 elections produced in succession a dead-heat and a one-seat victory for the new alignment of Muhsin and Shamte. It was because this coalition victory was con- firmed by the eccentric result of 1963 that inde- pendence saw Shamte as Prime Minister and NIuhsin as Foreign Minister of His Majesty the Sultan's unprotected government.
On the eve of the 1963 election Muhsin had purged his party of Babu and the leftish fringe. That resilient operator promptly founded the Umma Party which offered no candidates at the election but afterwards allied itself with the frustrated Afro-Shirazis and was swept to power with them by Okello's coup.
Arabs, as political and probably as social and economic leaders, arc now clearly finished. The Communist-backed element which gave the British fears of an Arab-led party has now calmly transferred itself to African victors. Now that Babu is in office, and apparently in power, he may give value for money to his backers, but this should not yet be taken for granted. One thing that seems inconceivable is that President Karume, who is tough and wily, will put up for very long with 'Field-Marshal' John Okello. Another large question-mark must hang over the restless, able and intensely ambitious Sheik Othman Shariff, who is hardly likely to be con- tent for long with the Ministry of Education. Had the Afro-Shirazi Party won the election last year, he rather than Abeid Karume was to have become Prime Minister, since the party had calculated that the electorate would want a fully educated man in that position. After the elec- toral defeat there was a falling-mit between the two; and Othman, who had announced pre- maturely his plans to depose and supersede Karume as Party President, temporarily dis- appeared from the Zanzibar scene. He is now back with a Ministerial job, but if he is pre- pared for long to rank below Karume, Okello, Hanga and Babu, he must be a changed man.