It seemed that the brightest spark in Africa had been snuffed when the news came through of he Tanganyika-Zanzibar anschluss. But it is now possible to be somewhat more sanguine.
First, the past. Zanzibar’s political life has zig-zagged violently from the start, but the zig zags have neither been unconditioned nor uncontrolled. The island’s small size (both Zanzibar and Pemba are roughly 40 miles from end to end; their combined population, split slightly in favour of Zanzibar, is only 300,000) and its peculiar social system gave its politics a special intensity and fervour—and a proportionately greater degree of mass participation and popular grasp of issues than would be piossible in a larger, more sprawling and complex country. Hence Zanzibar’s crash entry on to the continental and world stage.
What was the social system? The economy of both Zanzibar and Pemba islands is dominated by the production of cloves. Clove-trees were first brought to Zanzibar by Sultan Seyyid Said, who was also the first ruler of the dynasty of Omni Arabs—he transferred his court to Zanzibar from Muscat in 1828. Since his reign Zanzibar’s prosperity has been founded on cloves. Today they make up over 80 per cent of exports; cloves and coconuts, often intergrown, account for almost three-quarters of acreage under cultivation. Yet the sharpest social antagonisms were not those in the clove plantations, between landlord and worker. Both islands must be looked at separately to find out why.
1. Zanzibar Island. ‘There are three sectors. First, in the less fertile areas, the traditional villages of the indigenous inhabitants have survived: the ‘Shirazis’. They have a subsistence economy; land has always been communally held and very little has ever been alienated. Second, the clove plantations, now public property. Plantations ranged in size from half-a-dozen trees to several thousand. Sultan Said only allowed Omani Arabs to plant clove-seedlings and the plantations remained almost entirely under Arab ownership. During the 19th century, till the British arrived, they were worked mainly by slaves. When the slaves were freed most returned to the mainland, but some stayed on as squatters, building homes on the landlord’s land and guarding and tending his clove-trees in return for the right to use the land for their own subsistence food production. Squatters were not allowed to plant clove-trees themselves. Gradually, to fill the labour shortage caused by the exodus of slaves, there was a drift of Shirazis to the plantations and, ir time, a third layer was added: Africans from the mainland. On a few ‘rationalized’ plantations squatters were turned out and replaced by hired labourers, but the great majority of landlords were unwilling to risk the disturbance of expelling their squatters. The squatting system meant that, even if the clove crop failed or could not be sold, the squatters did not starve. This helped to mollify landlordworker relations. But, during the clove-picking season, there was a need for extra temporary labour, paid in cash, which was supplied chiefly by mainland immigrants who returned to Tanganyika after the harvest. Antagonisms did develop between indigenous workers and the seasonal immigrants, vho were held to bring down wage-rates for the harvest. This, together with landlord intimidation, explains why many squatters voted for the Arab-dominated znp. Third, Zanzibar City, the capital. Here lived, as well as the Arab and the Indian (commercial) elite in the Stone Town district, the proletariat and semi-proletariat of dock-workers, brickyard-workers, household servants, etc. Many of
2. Pemba Island. Pemba is much more homogeneous: the Shirazi villages have mostly died out and Shirazis intermingled with Arabs and owned clove-trees. There is a historical reason for this. The people of Pemba had not been unwilling victims of Omani conquest, but had themselves appealed to Sultan Said to drive out their Mazrui lords, based on Mombasa. When he had done this, he allowed the Pemba Shirazis to plant clove-seedlings alongside the Arabs. There were more Arabs on Pemba than Zanzibar, they intermarried and had no elite bastion there, comparable to Stone Town. On Pemba, Arab and Shirazi landlords had a community of interests: the znp and the Pemba Shirazi zppp went into coalition and formed the pre-revolutionary government. (They were helped toward electoral victory by rigged constituency divisions.)
It will be seen that the so-called ethnic divisions in Zanzibar reflect different social divisions, both in the two islands and in the three sectors of Zanzibar Island. Thus, at first, all the parties contained striking contradictions—since they campaigned on ethnic slogans—but after two principal splits (the Pemba Shirazis from the asp to form the zppp; Babu’s Umma from the znp) the social alignments became much more clear-cut. Shortly before independence, the polarization between znp-zppp and asp-Umma reached a new point with the amalgamation of the asp and Umma trade unions, previously rivals: it was the Umma who had tried to swing the znp leftward by controlling its base against its elite—when they failed they took many Zanzibar City workers with them. The revolution, when it came, was not an ethnic, but a social revolution. This must be clearly understood if the meaning of the Tanganyika-Zanzibar union is to be assessed correctly.
Who made the revolution? Primarily, two groups together: the asp Youth group, associated with Okello (though Okello was brought in for his military experience with the Mau Mau: he was not an originator), and the Umma commandos. It was the superior discipline of the commandos which saved the revolution from degeneration. Both these groups represented, first and foremost, the Zanzibar City proletariat—rather than the squatters or the Shirazi villagers. But after the revolution was assured there was a general rallying of all the exploited against the Arab ruling class. The revolutionary government was able to put through at great speed measures nationalizing the plantations, banks, etc. There was no foreign investment on the island, practically no industry. Most of what could be done was done, with general acclaim, in a very short time. But the revolution had small prospect of developing any further: the clove market was precarious, industrialization for Zanzibar alone was impossible. The most that could be hoped for was a great increase in education and genuine mass participation in government—Which would be a vivid example to the eliteridden masses on the mainland.