WHY TANGANYIKA’S INDEPENDENCE WAS GRANTED ON 9th DECEMBER :Revisiting the country’s good political history

Pius Msekwa

HAPPY new year to all our readers. In order to capture the current Christmas and new year festive mood , I have chosen to write about one interesting, but little known, aspect of our national history, which is directly related to what happened at the time of a similar festive season in the year of Tanganyika’s independence, 1961.    

It may look like gossip, but it is part of history. This is the story of how the 1961 Christmas and new year holidays for the British Royal family became the sole reason for changing a major political decision which had been made in a matter of great political importance, resulting from serious political negotiations at the highest political levels . The relevant matter was no other than the date of Tanganyika’s independence.

The determination of the date for Tanganyika’s independence was a matter of great political importance to Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and his Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) party.

The standard British Government procedure for granting independence to its colonies and its other administered Territories, was to hold a formal Constitutional conference between representatives of the British Government and those of the country seeking independence.

These conferences had the twin purposes of (a) reaching agreement on the Constitution of the new independent State, and (b) determining the actual date of independence.

For all the other countries which were in this category, except Tanganyika, such Constitutional conferences were invariably held at Lancaster House in London. But Tanganyika was the only exception, and the only case where this conference was held within the country, at Karimjee Hall in Dar es Salaam, from 27th to 29th March, 1961.

I am not aware of the reason why Tanganyika became the exception in this matter, but I humbly suggest that it should be noted as an outstanding aspect of our country’s political history.

The outcome of the Constitutional conference

Regarding the twin purposes of these conferences, the Karimjee Hall conference first agreed on the form and contents of the Constitution of independent Tanganyika, and secondly, unanimously settled on 28th December, 1961, as the agreed date of Tanganyika’s independence.

This story is interesting because it reveals the reason why Tanganyika became independent on 9th December, 1961, and not on the formally agreed date of 28th December, 1961. It become even more interesting when it is revealed that the decision to alter this date was subsequently made by the British Government alone after its delegation to the Constitutional conference had returned to London, reportedly in order to avoid inconveniencing the British dignitaries who were coming to Dar es Salaam to hand over the instruments of independence.

These included the Queen’s husband Prince Philiph, Duke of Edinburgh. The date of 28th December was considered unsuitable simply because it was going to disturb the Royal family’s Christmas and New year holidays of that year, as Prince Philip was going to be away from Buckingham Palace for the greater part of the period between Christmas and the new year!

The story is interesting also because it established an otherwise totally unrelated connection between a purely private event (the Royal family’s Christmas and New year holidays) and a major political decision concerning Tanganyika’s date of independence.

Although Christmas and New year are internationally recognized public holidays, but they are usually celebrated privately by individuals, friends and families, and they hardly ever attract any intervention by the Government, such as influencing the making of a major inter-government decision, such as the jointly agreed date of Tanganyika’s independence. The full story is narrated below.

The independence Constitutional conference

The political struggle for the attainment of the country’s independence was, essentially, a struggle for constitutional reform.

This is because ‘independence’ basically involves a change of sovereignty, which is a constitutional process. It is precisely for that reason, that the granting of independence to all those countries which were previously administered by the British Government was always preceded by the holding of a Constitutional Conference at Lancaster House in London, whose main agenda was to discuss the form and contents of a new Constitution for the new nation; and to determine the date of independence for the country concerned.

As we have already seen, the Constitutional conference in the case of Tanganyika was held at Karimjee Hall, Dar es Salaam; from 27th to 29th March, 1961 It was held under the chairmanship of the British Government’s Colonial Secretary Ian Mac Leod. The Tanganyika delegation was led by Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, the President of TANU.

The unusually quick success of that conference.

It was revealed later that the said conference was able to reach agreement on Tanganyika’s proposed new independence Constitution after only a brief discussion, reportedly because Mwalimu Nyerere did not really want to go into any detailed negotiations regarding the nature of the proposed Tanganyika Constitution which had been drafted by the British Government.

He was of the firm view, that the Constitution of independent Tanganyika should be determined by the people of Tanganyika themselves after independence, without the participation of the British Government.

His only major concern at that conference was to reach agreement on the actual date of Tanganyika’s independence. This date was extremely important because TANU had publicly promised the people of Tanganyika that “complete independence would be achieved in the year 1961”.

Hence this was going to be the main demand of the TANU delegation at that conference. Mwalimu Nyerere was therefore, understandably, concerned that this promise had to be fulfilled. Presumably due to his extraordinary negotiating skills, he was able to get this demand readily and quickly accepted by the British delegation.

A prepared statement which was read out by the conference chairman at the end of that meeting said thus: “We have unanimously agreed that Tanganyika will be granted Responsible Self-government on 1st May, 1961; and further that Tanganyika will become a fully independent nation on 28th December, 1961.

Why this agreed date was brought forward to 9th December, 1961

At a subsequent meeting held in London on 19th June 1961 by the British side alone (without Tanganyika’s participation), it was agreed to bring forward the date of Tanganyika’s independence from 28th to 20th December, 1961. It was later explained that the 28th of December was unsuitable, because it would interfere with the Christmas and New year holiday schedule of H.R.H.

Prince Phillip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who was to represent the British Monarch, Queen Elizabeth the Second, at the independence ceremonies in Dar es Salaam, and to hand over to Mwalimu Nyerere the instruments of power, signifying the transfer of sovereignty from the British government to the new Tanganyika government.

Apparently, it was considered unbearable for His Royal Highness to have to travel to Dar es Salaam , and thereafter attend the lengthy independence ceremonies ( which included the State opening of the new Tanganyika Parliament) , and then travel back to London during that holiday period.

It was felt that this would consume too many days of his holiday season between Christmas and New Year. However, because they had already accepted Nyerere’s demand for independenc e to be granted before the end of the year 1961, they had to find an earlier date.

That is when they initially settled on 20th December, 1961. Of course, on Nyerere’s part, any earlier date would be welcome. For him, the earlier the colonial government departed from Tanganyika , the better.

But even the proposed new date of 20th of December was not to be. Eventually, purely for the convenience of the British authorities and at no request or pressure from TANU, the British Colonial Secretary made a statement in the British House of Commons to announce that Tanganyika would become independent on 9th December, 1961.For TANU, this was welcome news: the earlier the colonialists left, the better.

Discarding the British crafted Independence Constitution

As we saw earlier, Mwalimu Nyerere did not want to waste valuable time during the Constitutional conference discussing the form and contents of the British drafted Tanganyika independence Constitution, because he was of the view that Tanganyika’s Constitution should not be a subject of negotiation with the out -going colonial Administration, but should be worked out by the independent government itself, in consultation with the people of Tanganyika.

Indeed , true to his word, a mere one month after independence, Mwalimu Nyerere quickly initiated a process of giving Tanganyika its own ‘home made’ Constitution, and this was the Republican Constitution of 1962. For as early as January 1962, Mwalimu Nyerere presented a draft resolution to the January regular meeting of TANU’s National Executive Committee, declaring the party’s intention “to make Tanganyika a Republic within the Commonwealth as soon as possible”.

The need for a new Constitution. The Independence Constitution was, literally, imposed by the out- going British Administration. It had been drafted in London without Tanganyika’s participation, and brought by the British delegation for discussion with the Tanganyika delegation at the Karimjee Hall conference.

The main reason why Mwalimu Nyerere was dissatisfied with that imposed Constitution was that, in his own words, “ it was essentially an alien document which, in the eyes of the majority of the people of Tanganyika, appeared to be the embodiment of colonial (or neo-colonial) paternalism”; This is because that Constitution actually retained the British Monarch as the Head of State of an independent Tanganyika, who was represented in the country by a Governor- General.

Hence the executive power of the State was exercised by the Governor-General, who formally appointed the Ministers, and was also chairman of the Cabinet.

That Constitution did indeed make provision for the appointment of a Prime Minister, who would be the Head of Government, and Mwalimu Nyerere was dully appointed to that position, but the distinction between the British Monarch as Head of State, and Mwalimu Nyerere as Prime Minister and Head of Government , was not readily understood by the majority of the people of Tanganyika. This is what necessitated the making of a different Constitution which would be readily understood by all the people.

A Government ‘White Paper’ which was issued containing proposals for the proposed new Republican Constitution outlined two basic principles which would form the basis upon which it would be constructed, as follows:- “ (i) As far as possible, the institutions of Government must be such that they can be understood by the people.

In particular, the separation between the Governor-General (representing the Queen) as Head of State and the prime Minister as Head of Government was considered as alien to the people of Tanganyika, as was the institution of the Monarchy itself. (ii) The Executive should have the necessary power to carry out the functions of a modern state, specifically the achievement of economic development and the provision of social services.

This is because an economically underdeveloped country faces particularly difficult tasks in holding the new nation together and eradicating widespread poverty, ignorance and disease. The difficulty of these tasks requires that the Executive should be given extra powers”.

The new Republican Constitution was eventually enacted and became effective on 9th December, 1962, the first anniversary of Tanganyika’s independence.

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