Historia ya Mapinduzi

The Zanzibar Revolution

On the morning of Saturday, January 11, 1964, Mr. Bott, the Head of the Zanzibar Special Branch, received a call from Abeid Amani Karume to meet him. Mr. Bott went to the ASP Headquarters immediately. He was conducted into a room where Karume, Jumbe and Saleh Sadalla were sitting. Karume told Bott that he “heard rumors from a woman whom they did not know… there might be trouble in Zanzibar that day.” ASP was spilling out the beans to the government before the Revolution. Abdulrahman Babu who had escaped to Dar es Salaam just before the revolution was launched, told a photojournalist in Dar es Salaam that something big was about to happen in Zanzibar. The revolution, it would appear, was no surprise. Many in the government knew something was brewing, but all failed to take measures to prevent what was to come. The leaders who plotted the revolution had played their cards well.

The Zanzibar Prime Minister, Muhammad Shamte, the Sultan, and other government officials were informed in advance of the troubles to come. Shamte ordered the police patrols to be increased and to remain vigilant against a planned attack. Large number of additional patrols were mounted, all Special Branch officers were sent out, and road blocks were set up during the day. More police were placed at the Sultan’s palace and other important buildings. Ali Muhsin was informed about the plot and four police were sent to guard his home. News of the planned Revolution was no secret hours before it was supposed to be launched. A low level member of the ASP told an informer that there were plans to take over the police armoury. One of the most important operations of the Revolution-capturing weapons from the armoury-was known to the government officials in advance. Shamte was aware that there were plans to attack Arabs at night. The government had advance warning of the Revolution. Attempts by the Zanzibar intelligence apparatus to collect intelligence of the plot between the morning of January 11 and just before midnight was appears to have been a failure. The result was that the government underestimated the dangers and failed to take appropriate measures to prevent it. This was a colossal failure with dire consequences.

The government war against the UMMA party backfired in the worst way. A series of events in the beginning of January 1964 set the ball rolling for Babu and members of the UMMA party. On January 9, 1964, Abdulrahman Babu’s daughter was run over by a car and killed; it was a tragic accident. The police searched for Babu everywhere, but could not find him. Babu and Hanga had escaped at night to Dar es Salaam. The government of Shamte raided UMMA offices and took out documents. The police also raided Babu’s home and found a small handgun. Among the documents they found was a list with almost 1,000 members. The list included a large number of government employees. They also found Babu’s diary written in Peking, China. It was a treasure trove of intelligence for the ZNP/ZPPP government and the colonial officials. Babu had escaped just before the police showed up at his house. He was alerted about the police search and knew of the troubles to come. Men trained in Cuba were returning to Zanzibar in small numbers at a time. There was an estimated 20 to 30 men in Zanzibar who were trained in Cuba. Babu and the UMMA party were up to something.

Shamte and his government implemented a policy of “Zanzibarisation” of the police force shortly after coming to power. This was a project spearheaded by Ali Muhsin, the brain behind ZNP and the new government. The Zanzibar government made the decision in November 1963 to remove all non-Zanzibari from the police force. The British colonial government had not recruited from mainland since 1959. Yet all the Inspectors and Senior NCOs were mainlander (from East and Southern Africa) with four to thirty five years experience in the police force. Of the 270 men in the force, only 90 were from Tanganyika, the rest were from South Africa, Malawi, Uganda, and elsewhere. Among the highly experienced police working for the Zanzibar government was the Assistant Superintendent of Police, Eddington Kissasi from Tanganyika. Ali Muhsin announced in numerous public events that “neither he nor the Government fully relied on the loyalty of the mainland members of the police force or indeed of any non-Zanzibaris members.” This was a dangerous statement. Meanwhile plans were being made to bring in “advisors” from Egypt. It is obvious that Shamte, Muhsin, and the govenrment of Zanzibar had made a decision to embark on a policy of discrimination against mainlanders. It was a mistake they would pay dearly.

The ASP organized a large party on the evening of January 11, 1964 at their headquarters. Large number of ASP members and supporters attended the party. Some of the men were told to go to Seamens Union Club at Miembeni after the party was over. There they were met and addressed by Karume, Jumbe and Babu. Babu who was supposedly in Dar es Salaam, had slipped secretly to Zanzibar at night and then left for Dar es Salaam in the wee hours of the morning. At the meeting, the three leaders told the men not to be afraid to die. Karume did not hang around long; he got on a boat early morning and left for Dar es Salaam. Karume would not return to Zanzibar until much later on the evening of January 12th with about 12 armed men on a boat owned and operated by an Israeli named Mishah Feinsilber. Oscar Kambona and Job Lusinde were repordly there to see Karume and the men board the boat for Zanzibar. Some reports disputed Kambona’s presence and claimed he was in Nairobi at the time. Whether Kambona was there or not cannot be confirmed, but it is clear that Lusinde was there. If Tanganyika had organized an elaborate plot to send fighters in Zanzibar, why would Karume and Babu scramble last minute to get help?

A Zanzibar government Minister received information that people from the mainland were about to enter Zanzibar illegally. They also claimed to have information that arms were being brought from the mainland. ZNP/ZPPP Ministers approached the police around January 11th and told the Police that they had information that men and weapons were about to enter Zanzibar from the mainland. The police acted immeditely and increased police roadblocks. Their search did not reveal any evidence of incoming mainlanders or weapons. A high ranking police would report “This was a very ancient fear of theirs.” The British officers would later observe weapons, including Sten guns, carried by a few fighters who boarded a boat and escaped to Tanganyika. At first they claimed it was evidence that weapons from Tanganyika were brought to Zanzibar. Upon close examination of the registration numbers on the guns that were surrendered to Tanganyika police, the High ranking European police officer familiar with the guns in the Zanzibar armory concluded that these were weapons from Zanzibar.

An Algerian ship landed in Tanganyika with a large cashe of weapons some time early January 1964. Documentation of arrangements for the Algerian arms and its storage is well documented. Some have made claims that the ship was sent to Tanganyika with weapons to be used in Zanzibar. This claim is outright..

John Okello was a…

© Azaria Mbughuni