7 FEBRUARY 1964, Page 15

Gideon's Voices


TITERE were two revolutionary plots in Zanzi- bar, not one. Once this central fact is grasped, some of the apparent contradictions in the evi- dence sort themselves out, though it must be con- fessed that many loose ends remain. The first plot was planned by the Afro-Shirazi Party, almost certainly with the knowledge and approval of some leading politicians on the mainland. It relied tc some extent on outside help and it seems likely that if it had succeeded Kassim Hanga rather than Abeid Karume would have been chosen as the Republican leader.

The second plot was Okello's. This did not have outside help, was completely unknown in advance to mainland (and to most of the island) politicians and was timed for the night of January 11-12 in order to anticipate the date of the first plot by one week. What then of Chinese and Cuban influence? Such as it was, this was mainly exercised through yet a third channel—membership of Babu's Umma Party, the left-wing group which split off froth the Zanzibar Nationalist Party, included Arabs, Comorians and other elements not akin to mainland Africans, and not having contested the last election was unrepresented in the Zanzibar Parliament. Umma-ites certainly•had nothing to do with Okello's plot; some of them may through trade unions have been connected with the young Afro-Shirazis involved in Hanga's plot, but even that is uncertain. It would accord better with the facts known at present to assume that Babu and those with whom he was in touch were simply working to a longer-term schedule.

In a sense Babu was a splendid decoy—though I doubt if this was his conscious role. He was a conspicuous figure whose activities in permeating trade unions and organising propagandist (and potentially revolutionary) cells throughout Zanzi- bar island were eminently visible to the previous government's intelligence service. John Okello, whom the Government had never heard of be- fore, was by contrast not noticed.

It i, however, an exaggeration to suggest that John Okello was a complete stranger either to Zanzibar or its politics. He had been living on the islands for five to six years according to his own account, and for most of that time, which is as long as political parties have existed in Zanzibar, he was branch secretary of the Afro-Shirazi Party in Vitongoji. Though this meant that he was not completely unknown within the lower echelons of a not very well-organised party, this was about as obscure a political position as one could have while actually being in politics. Vitongoji (which is simply Swahili for 'hamlets') is a desolate spot on the east coast of Pemba, the smaller of the two main islands. When one talks to Okello it becomes quite apparent that he sees himself as a Joan of Arc—or, as he says himself, 'a Gideon'—whose `voices' come not, as his African Moslem fol- lowers on Zanzibar might have expected, from Allah but from Mungu, `God of the Africans.' The fact that his new political colleagues can scarcely contain themselves for laughter every time he refers to his source of inspiration throws him out not one bit. 'Well may you laugh,' his faintly supercilious smile, his laconic Swahili re- lentlessly grinding on to the implacable full-stop, his soldierly stance all seem to say, `but I know.'

For Okello, it would be a matter of the utmost importance that pure-bred Africans alone should pull off the coup in Zanzibar. In terms of his Psychology it seems inconceivable that he should have trusted any non-African, and although him- self only a Zanzibari by adoption, it is rather un- likely that he would have been prepared to seek help even from Africans outside the islands. Now it so happens that the leading Cuban-trained Zanzibaris—Ali Mahfoud, Foum and Salim— would none of them qualify, for Mahfoud and Salim are Arabs, and Foum a Comorian. This is not surprising, since they went to Cuba to head the Latin-American political office of the Zanzi- bar Nationalist Party which was Arab-led, and came back to take part in an intra-party fight that developed into a purge of Babu's supporters with- in ZNP and thus the formation of Umma. Mahfoud, who is now attached to Babu's Foreign Ministry, is the Zanzibari with whom the Ameri- can chargé spoke in Spanish—thereby launching the whole Cuban chapter of the story. He denied to me that he had received military training while in Cuba, observing that the doctrine of coups was now well known in the published works of Che Guevara, Mao Tse-tung and others, and de- manded why I did not ask him about his five years in England where he could equally well have read such books as in Cuba. Babu is also given to citing the literature of the subject, but not Okello. He had not, he said, read Che Guevara. Only Gideon.

The incredulity which at first greeted the notion that `alone Okello did it' and that all other cir- cumstantial comings and goings were so much waste motion comes from the assumption that no Zanzibari African could organise anything that worked. Granted that Okello is not Zanzibari— although all other members of the Committee of Fourteen are—this proposition also could stand some examination. It is often forgotten that the Zanzibar Nationalist Party which has just been overthrown was founded not by Arab intellec- tuals but by unknown African peasants. Their incursion into politics followed a clash between one particular village and the Protectorate authorities over the compulsory inoculation of cattle. An extremely well-organised coup over- whelmed the police in Zanzibar town as soon as the riot leaders had been sentenced, with the result that several of the convicted men were re- leased and the mob was for a time in command of the streets. The retired chief justice who con- ducted the investigation reached the conclusion that some master-mind must have been behind this affray. No master-mind other than that of one of the peasant leaders and founder members of ZNP has ever been discovered. With this precedent in mind, the Committee of Fourteen, whom I have now also interviewed, does not seem such an unlikely phenomenon.

Okello's attitude to the senior politicians was that war was too serious a matter to be left to anyone but soldiers. When he heard of the date of the Afro-Shirazi coup, the field-marshal was convinced that the politicians would make a mess of it. So he set his own date for the previous weekend.

Did the government know about either coup or both? It knew something was in the wind; rather naturally, but as it turned out wrongly, it sus- pected Babu. So the Umma Party was banned. Babu got away in a canoe to the mainland just ahead of an arrest warrant. Some of the revolu- tionaries now say that they have evidence that the ZNP government planned to follow this up by banning the Afro-Shirazis. The former Ministers' performance was so peculiar—though it has not, of course, been possible to get their versions—that this might have been so. But why ban Umma first and give the Afro-Shirazi conspirators warn- ing that it would be their turn next, if they did not mount a pre-emptive strike? And in any case why relax vigilance almost totally after banning Umma? It Is nitich more likely that the Govern- ment were fixing their eyes on Babu because they equated him with Communists, and that they thought only Communists would be competent to organise a coup. The fact of the matter was that the ZNP government, though possessing some positive qualities which have now been quickly forgotten, most unwisely despised their constitu- tional opponents, the Afro-Shirazis, and were confident that they would disintegrate. One would have thought that the recollection of their own party's origin might have warned them to watch out. But they apparently believed that the feud between Abeid Karume and Othmani Sharif would continue to paralyse the Afro-Shirazi Party. They evidently did not visualise Hanga as an alternative to both and they were counting on being able to neutralise Karume permanently by playing on his old man's caution and flattering his vanity as a self-educated man by showing him social consideration at court as leader of His Majesty the Sultan's Loyal Opposition. And of course they didn't so much forget John Okello. They, like Babu, like Karume, had never known him.