MY article of last week in this column, was about the annually celebrated January event of the Zanzibar revolution, in which I described the details of what actually happened in the dead of night on January 11, 1964, Hence, considering the fact that the relevant celebrations took place only two weeks ago on the due date, which was January 12th, 2017; it can be assumed that we are still ‘sunbathing’, so to speak, in the joyous mood of those celebrations that are held in commemoration of that historic Zanzibar Revolution.
Thus, because there are not many people today who are actually aware of the external (cold war) challenges which the founding fathers of both our countries (which were, at that time, separate sovereign states, but are now happily united into one, sovereign, United Republic of Tanzania) had to contend with at the material time, I have chosen, in my continuing endeavour to preserve different aspects of our country’s political history, to throw some light on that particular matter, for the benefit of our readers. The founding fathers were, of course, Presidents Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere of Tanganyika, and Sheikh Abedi Amani Karume of Zanzibar.
As the word ‘cold war’ may sound rather strange to the present generation, which was born long after it had ceased to exist, I will start by providing its definition. The dictionary definition of the word ‘cold war’ is given as follows: “a state of hostility existing between nations, without actual fighting taking place”.
The cold war challenges There are two distinct phases of the cold war influence on Zanzibar. The first phase occurred immediately after the January 1964 revolution and the second phase followed soon after Zanzibar’s Union with Tanganyika. Here is the story.
The first phase The first phase was implemented immediately after the Zanzibar revolution, when both sides of the cold war divide scrambled to garner influence in Zanzibar. Whereas the Western block worked hard to have a friendly government there, as a strategic asset in the Indian Ocean; the Eastern block made equally great efforts to cultivate a strong communist element in the new Zanzibar leadership, in order to create an ideological ally in East Africa.
The main concern of the Western block was their fear of the potential, which appeared to them to be real, for the establishment of a communist regime in Zanzibar, thus turning country into a communist satellite which could serve as a beachhead for communist incursion into the African continent, dominated by either the Soviet Union, or the Peoples’ Republic of China The implementation of the first phase For over a month after the revolution had taken place, both the Americans and the British deliberately withheld recognition of the new Zanzibar government.
Because of this lack of diplomatic recognition, in mid- February 1964, frustrated President Karume declared all the British and American diplomats who had established their presence in Zanzibar following the granting of independence to the Sultan’s Government in December 1963, to be persona no grata.
Reportedly, out of deep concern that the absence of Western representation would make a communist takeover more likely, President Lyndon Johnson personally called British Prime Minister Alec Douglas Home, to urge recognition. In the meantime, reportedly with President Nyerere’s help, the United States successfully negotiated a delay in the expulsion of its diplomats, and President Karume promised not to expel them, so long as there was a quick announcement of recognition. The fear of communist infiltration This fear of communist infiltration into Zanzibar was also a major concern for President Nyerere; who was forced into a tense period of diplomatic jockeying over the fate of revolutionary Zanzibar.
Tanganyika’s Foreign Minister Oscar Kambona explained that the key issue for Tanganyika was to maintain local autonomy from foreign interference. Kambona said: “our first concern was the growing communist presence, and secondly, the danger of the cold war coming in.
Both Presidents Nyerere and Karume were concerned about increasing super power interference in Zanzibar, and sought to minimize it. And in order to accomplish this, the two Presidents agreed to end revolutionary Zanzibar’s tenuous sovereignty and place it within the framework of a new sovereign state, that came to be known as the United Republic of Tanzania” The second phase The second phase started soon after the establishment of the Union, and was initially a continuation of the first phase, whereby the Union leadership had to continuously contend with activities of attempted intervention, forgeries, and planted rumours; the sum total of which created serious diplomatic conflicts with West Germany (as it was then) and the United States of America.
The conflict with West Germany The conflict with West Germany (as it was then), arose from the application of their ‘Hallstein Doctrine’, which prevented it from maintaining relations with any country that recognised East Germany.
Since, at the time of unification, Zanzibar had an East Germany Embassy, and Tanganyika had a West German Embassy. Thus, by retaining both Embassies, the new United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar would offend the said Hallstein Doctrine. Consequently, West Germany asked President Nyerere to close the East German Embassy in Zanzibar, and threatened that failure to do so would force West Germany to withdraw its military aid to Tanzania. President Nyerere refused to succumb to such threats; and West German’s military aid was accordingly withdrawn.
Whereupon President Nyerere summoned the West German Ambassador and told him to “take the rest of your aid as well. Tanzania will not accept aid with strings attached”. The conflict with the United States The second conflict was with the United States of America.
It started as follows: In November 1965, three letters, ostensibly stolen from the Office of Congolese Prime Minister Moise Tshombe, were handed to Tanzania’s Ambassador in Kinshasa, Andrew Tibandebage, One of the letters revealed an alleged American plan “to bombard all the strategic points being used by communist China in Tanganyika, and, as a second measure, to make arrangements to overthrow the government of Mr Julius Nyerere in the manner being studied by the Department of State”.
Ambassador Tibandebage dutifully presented the said documents to President Nyerere and Foreign Minister Oscar Kambona. Mr Kambona quickly called a press conference in Dar es Salaam to condemn the documents and raise alarm about the alleged American plot.
This incident obviously produced a very negative impact on Tanzania’s relations with the United States. However, President Nyerere himself had already suspected that the letters could be forgeries, intended to create a psychological attack rather than a military one. So he very skillfully brought the matter to a close by opening the door to a subsequent retraction, without undermining his government’s credibility.
In a speech delivered at a planned demonstration against the alleged plot, he explained that even if the letters were forgeries, the government had reacted strongly because there were so many other forgeries which were real. He therefore justified the Government’s reaction by quoting the well known Kiswahili saying, that “a man who has been bitten by a snake, will startle when he sees a palm leaf”.
Such were the cold war challenges to the Zanzibar revolution, and subsequently to the Union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar. As Shakespeare said in the second part of King Henry the Fourth, art. III, scene 1:- “uneasy lies the head that wears a crown”.