SHEIKH THABIT KOMBO
Sheikh Thabit Kombo, who died on August 28 1986 of a heart attack at the age of 82 was the enigma of the Zanzibar revolution. After a rudimentary education he worked as a sailor, a railwayman and a shopkeeper and itinerant trader during the 1930’s depression before becoming head of security at the Clove Growers Association (the Government controlled parastatal). While working at the clove storage depot, Kombo was befriended by several of the more educated staff, such as Shab Abeid and Ajmi Abdalla, who introduced him to poetry and music clubs. Kombo, consequently became a member of Zanzibar’s Shirazi elite and in 1956 was elected General Secretary of Unguja’s Shirazi Association.
As part of the cultural revival of the 1940’s, several younger members of the Arab community had received higher education in Cairo. Radicalised by the Egyptian campaign to evict British troops from the Suez Canal zone in 1954, these Arab radicals had demanded rapid constitutional advance and boycotted the Legislative Council for eighteen months. Kombo, as General Secretary of the Shirazi Association was inevitably drawn into politics.
In contrast to Mohamed Shamte and Ali Sharif, the Shirazi Association leaders on Pemba, who attempted late in 1956 to form a “Peoples Party” – the Ittihad ul’Umma – independent of both Arabs and mainland Africans, Kombo and Ameri Tajo, encouraged by the young Julius Nyerere and by the British colonial regime, in January 1957 decided to establish a political alliance with Sheikh Abeid Karume, the leader of the Unguja based African Association. The Hadimu community, who live mainly in central and southern Unguja, had been much more severely disrupted by the Arab conquest in the nineteenth century and by the establishment of slave plantations in the western mudiria than the Tumbatu people of northern Unguja or the Pemba. Anti-Arab sentiment was strong and their experiences as share croppers on the clove plantations of the absentee Arab elite, who lived in Stone Town, resulted in an alliance with Karume’s followers – the descendants of slaves or more recent migrant labourers from various parts of the African mainland. Thus, despite his cultural links with members of the Arab community, when Zanzibar became politically polarised, Kombo, as the ‘father figure’ of the Hadimu community, became an important ally of Karume and a key figure in the Afro-Shirazi party’s hierarchy, remaining loyal to the ASP when the Shirazi controlled ZPPP was formed in 1959.
Kombo’s loyalty to Karume in 1959 and after the party’s third election defeat in July 1963, when Othman Sharif on the ‘right’ and Kassim Hanga on the ‘left’ attempted to capture control of the party, ensured his political survival after the revolution on 12 January 1964. Yet in the confused state of immediately post-revolutionary politics, as the ‘left’ ‘centre’ and ‘right wing’ factions in the ASP schemed with Umm and ‘Field Marshal’ John Okello, Kombo played little part and was not among the thirty member Revolutionary Council announced on 24 January. Behind the scenes however he exercised considerable influence and mitigated the worst excesses of Karume’s rule. His presence in the ASP hierarchy helped to legitimise first Karume and then Aboud Jumbe among the Hadimu. Kombo’s caution enabled him to retain political influence as party Treasurer. Indeed, when Karume was assassinated, he was playing Bao with Kombo, who was shot in the leg during the attack.
Kombo also played a crucial role in the resignation of Aboud Jumbe at the extraordinary session of the CCM’s National Executive Committee at Dodoma in the last week of January 1984 and in the appointment of Ali Hassan Mwinyi, first as the President of Zanzibar and then eighteen months later as President of Tanzania, and in the selection and election victory of Idris Wakil as his successor in Zanzibar in preference to Chief Minister Seif Sharif Hamadi.
Following the support for Idris Wakil, both in the CCM and during the difficult election campaign in Pemba in October 1985, Kombo was reappointed to the re-structured Revolutionary Council. By his death, he had become the grand old man of Zanzibar politics as befitted the survivor par excellence of Zanzibar’s stormy political history over the last thirty years. Some would argue that this survival was bought at too high a price in friends sacrificed and principles abandoned, especially during the Karume years, but in the last five years Kombo’s political skills have helped to preserve the United Republic and served Tanzania well.
David Throup – Magdalene College, Cambridge
The CCM Party National Executive Committee announced seven days of mourning and flags were flown at half mast throughout Tanzania. -Editor
G. W. LOCK O.B.E
George Winslow Lock, who died on 2nd July 1986 aged 84, devoted almost the whole of his colonial agricultural service in Tanganyika to sisal research, the development of productive estate systems of crop husbandry and improvement of processing and quality of sisal fibre. He studied at the School of Agriculture, Sutton Bonnington, at the Oxford Agricultural Economics Research Institute and was one of the early graduates from the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture, Trinidad. Lock was posted to Tanganyika In 1930 and in 1934 was appointed Sisal Research Officer to develop the research services for the Tanganyika sisal industry. Tanganyika was the world’s largest producer of sisal fibre at the time. He developed the Mlingano Sisal Research Station near Tanga from scratch since the land acquired for the Station was originally under a Ceara rubber forest planted by the Germans. The capital cost of the station was advanced by the Government but the recurrent costs were met by the industry. The sisal estates in Tanganyika lay in three main groups – along the Tanga line to Arusha and the central line from Dar es Salaam to Kilosa and around the port of Lindi. His work therefore involved a lot of advisory touring and the establishment of experiments locally; his advice was also sought in Kenya.
During the second world war, Lock undertook sisal control duties; the whole crop was sold to the British Ministry of Supply. Post-war he expanded the scope and scale of sisal research until his retirement in 1959. He worked closely with George Doughty, Geneticist at the nearby East African Agricultural Research Institute, Amani, on sisal breeding and trials. A promising variant of sisal with blue leaves and a finer, longer fibre was discovered growing under a bush at Amani but its early promise was limited by pests and diseases. However, from this, Doughty produced a hybrid with improved characteristics which, after trials at Mlingano, was grown by many estates to improve yields.
Lock’s work laid the pattern of sisal husbandry throughout the Tanganyikan estates and in Kenya. The value of this may be gauged by two points: firstly, during 1947-48 the industry subscribed to a research fund which acquired and expanded the Sisal Research Station with buildings and scientists; and secondly, at the end of his career the Tanganyika Sisal Growers Association commissioned him to write a book covering all aspects of sisal production. His “Sisal. Twenty-five Years Sisal Research” was published by Longmans in 1962 and became the standard work on the crop. He produced a revised second edition during his retirement when he was called am to undertake a number of consultancies with sisal.
George Cock is survived by his widow, Jo.
Sir Roger Swynerton
DR J.S.MERIDITH O.B.E
The British Medical Journal has reported the death on 20th November, 1986 of Dr J. S. Meredith aged 73. He was a medical specialist in Tanganyika for many years. The Journal stated that “his diagnostic skill and his ability to adapt medical advances to the conditions prevailing in an underdeveloped country were both instructive and supportive to his colleagues and to the authorities by all of whom he was respected and valued. His contributions to medicine and medical education in the tropics were lasting, and he was awarded a Fellowship of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. On his return to the United Kingdom in 1962 he became a tutor in tropical paediatrics at the Institute of Child Health and helped train doctors from developing countries.
As Chief Scout of Tanganyika he was appointed O.B.E and as a devotee of pipe music he was made an Honorary Vice-President of the Vale of Athol Pipe Band”