Tanzanians (and friends of Tanzania) have just been celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar which created Tanzania. It happened on April 26, 1964, and, by intent or by chance, a revealing new book has just been published (US Foreign Policy and Revolution: The Creation of Tanzania by Amrit Wilson. Pluto Press) which takes us back to the days of the founding of the Union.
The book gives us the author’s interpretation of the events of the time on the basis of declassified US State Department and CIA documents . It also provides (in an Introduction and an Appendix) a typically combative view of the events as seen by one of the main protagonists – A.M. Babu – although, apparently, he was away abroad at the time that the Union was created. We have dealt with this matter before in Bulletin No. 30.
The creation itself was clearly a matter of immense International importance at the time because, according to the book, the United States Government was intent on ensuring that, under no circumstances could Zanzibar, which only three months earlier had had a violent revolution, be allowed to become another Communist Cuba. It is important to remember that we are talking about the period when the ‘Cold War’ was at its coldest. Some of the most revealing documents indicate the intense world-wide repercussions of what was happening in Zanzibar:
February 4, 1964: US Secretary of State Dean Rusk to US Ambassador, Tanganyika: The President continues to be gravely concerned about the Zanzibar situation ….
February 5: US Secretary of State Rusk to British Prime Minister Douglas Home: I am sending you this personal message to let you know of my deep concern over the possibility that Communists may consolidate a strong position on Zanzibar ….
March 30: US President writes to British Prime Minister. (The British Government seems to have been remarkably resistant to American pressure on Britain to take action but the book does not contain any British official communications): The US ambassadors in Nairobi , Dar and Kampala have seen Kenyatta, Nyerere, Obote respectively and stressed desirability their acting promptly to make Karume (the then President of Zanzibar) see dangers of present trend towards Communist domination. State Department has instructed US Embassies approach Nigeria, Liberia, Ethiopia, Congo and Tunisia attempt to get them establish physical presence on Zanzibar. Following Embassies requested reemphasise to host governments desirability assigning resident representatives Zanzibar and offering aid if possible: Brussels, Copenhagen, Oslo, Paris, Rome, Stockholm, The Hague. Circular telegram sent following posts in attempt stimulate responsible Asian countries establish missions in Zanzibar: Tokyo, New Delhi, Canberra.
April 3: State Department cabled US ambassadors in Bangkok, Canberra, Kuala Lumpur, New Delhi, Tokyo, Wellington and Manila urging them to establish diplomatic presence Zanzibar soonest.
The book is not able of course to reveal the content of telegrams then being exchanged between Communist countries but we learn from it that the Soviet Trade Mission had agreed to purchase 500 tons of Zanzibar cloves, that China was providing US$ 500.000 in assistance and that the East Germans were very active in the housing field. There were also rumours about East bloc arms being introduced into the country. In the context of a cold war none of this is surprising. The book makes virtually no reference to any action the Eastern Bloc was presumably making to frustrate American aims. The book is concerned strictly with US interference in Zanzibar’s business. The author also seems to have been unsuccessful in making contact with any of the main participants in the events described except for Mr. Frank Carlucci who was then US Charge d’Affaires in Zanzibar and subsequently became President Reagan’s Secretary of Defence. He was interviewed by the author in August 1986 and described the person at the centre of the drama – the then President of Zanzibar, Karume – as “a very decent, somewhat phlegmatic man … I spent a lot of time with him on a one to one basis”. The book quotes however a cable from Mr. Carlucci to Washington on March 30th urging them to make an ‘impact offer’ (or, says the book, in plain language, a bribe ) to Mr. Karume to help separate him from ‘the radicals surrounding him’ . A possible offer might be a helicopter with an American pilot!
Babu asks why the US was more worried about a possible socialist success in Zanzibar, a small island perched off the coast of Tanganyika, than about Mozambique, Madagascar, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe or the Seychelles. The answer he says is to be found in the role Zanzibar has played historically in influencing neighbouring countries. It used to be said ‘When they flute in Zanzibar they dance in the lakes (Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika)’. According to Babu the Zanzibar revolution had been the first of its kind in modern Africa. ‘Zanzibar patriots did not revolt simply to overthrow a politically bankrupt government and a caricature monarchy. They revolted in order to Change the social system which oppressed them and for once to take the destiny of their history into their own hands … the revolution turned Zanzibar into that s ingle spark that would start a prairie fire.’
He goes on to write about the Union. ‘Even if the masterminds of the Union between Zanzibar and Tanganyika were motivated by the best intentions (the book implies that the Union was instigated largely by the US government) the manner in which it was effected was far from conducive to a stable unity’ … it was sprung on the people of the two countries in the form of an indigenous coup d’etat…. the arbitrariness, secrecy and resultant suspicion coupled with the colonial and alien nature of the constitution that was to bind the two countries together, all constituted essential ingredients for the tensions that have accompanied it ever since’
The American objective was achieved. Zanzibar did not become a Communist state. But one wonders what would have happened if it had. Would it have been a success? The book, which is dedicated to ‘the people of Zanzibar in solidarity with their struggle’, hints that it would have been. Babu writes lyrically about ‘a huge vista of hope and potential to create a new social order’. Would Zanzibar have become another Cuba? Would it have been totally isolated from most of its neighbours for a long period? Would the Soviet Union have been able to afford to give to another island aid on the massive scale it provides to Cuba? Would it have become a show place for socialist values? Would it have got into very serious trouble after being accused of fomenting revolution elsewhere in the continent? Armed intervention was a serious policy option being discussed by the western powers according to the book. Would Mwal1mu Nyerere have had an easier or a harder time in steering Tanganyika through all the problems it has faced in the last twenty-five years? Would Mr. Gorbachev have been visiting the island in 1989 and recommending its government to adopt Perestroika and Glasnost? We can never know.