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Reflections on historic political events noted in months of January

THIS is the month of January, 2021; and I have been reminded of the need to keep our younger generation informed of our political history. Thus in response thereto, I have decided to present three of the most significant political events which, I believe, would merit inclusion in the annals of Tanzania’s political history which, starting from today, will cover the remaining three Thursdays of this month of January, 2021.

The selected three events are the following ( to be presented in the order in which they happened) :- (i) The Zanzibar revolution of 11th January, 1964; (ii) The Army mutiny by the Tanganyika Rifles on 20th January 1964; and the unusual resignation of Prime Minister Julius Nyerere on 22nd January, 1961, barely a month after Tanganyika’s independence.

As part of this scheme, we covered, in last week’s article, the first part of the story relating to the Zanzibar glorious revolution; wherein we focused on the root causes of that revolution, as revealed in Zanzibar’s turbulent colonial electoral history.

One of my avid readers, Ndugu Mohamed Khalfan who read that piece, was so pleased with it that he volunteered some additional information that I was not aware of, namely “the Sultan’s government had embarked on filling all the important posts in the Civil Service by giving unfair preference to members of the community that was supporting the Arab Zanzibar Nationalist Party (ZNP) in its political ambitions.

It was a foregone conclusion that this imposed Sultan’s government would not survive.” In today’s article, we will continue from there, to describe the ‘cold war’ events that followed immediately after the success of that revolution; plus some other ugly events that took place, relating to attempts to destabilise the newly established Union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar. The aftermath of the January 1964 revolution.

In ordinary English language usage, the word “aftermath” is normally used to describe a situation which exists as a result of an important, but unpleasant event, such as war. Thus you can often hear, or read expressions like “a lot of building work had to be undertaken in the aftermath of the second world war”.

In the context of this presentation, I have used the word “aftermath” to describe the worrying situation that emerged in Zanzibar immediately after the success of that revolution, which was certainly “unpleasant” to those who lost power, but was very pleasant to those who acquired power, as a result of it.

But still, for the benefit of the current generation to whom the expression “cold war” may be completely unfamiliar, It may be helpful to explain its meaning and full import. The expression “cold war” refers to the world situation which existed during that material period, wherein there existed two “ideological blocks” of countries, that were in serious competition with each other.

They were not really at war, but there existed between them, very unfriendly relations that amounted to strong political hatred and enmity between the two camps; and this enmity or hatred, also determined their relations with the other countries of the world.

These ‘blocks’ were commonly known as the ‘Western bloc’, consisting of the ‘capitalist’ countries of Europe and North America; and the ‘Eastern bloc’, consisting of the ‘communist’ countries of Eastern Europe, and China. Both blocs were looking with very keen vested interests at the emerging new countries which were becoming independent during that period, with the evil intention of being able to exercise their ideological influence over their new governments.

The said competition was also described as “the cold war scramble for influence”. And that is precisely what happened in the case of Zanzibar immediately after their successful January 1964 revolution; and even continued after Zanzibar’s Union with Tanganyika, in April 1964.

Very soon after the success of hat revolution; a member country of the ‘Eastern bloc’ which was then known as East Germany (that existed before its unification with what was West Germany), was the first foreign country to establish diplomatic relations with Zanzibar, and quickly opened its Embassy in Zanzibar.

It was either for that, or for some other reason, that both the American and the British Governments (belonging to the Western capitalist bloc), withheld their recognition of the Revolutionary Government of President Abeid Aman Karume, for over a month. As a result of which, in mid-February 1964, the Zanzibar Government declared the American and British diplomats persona non grata, simply because of this non recognition factor.

Available records revealed that the Western countries “being apprehensive and concerned, that the absence of Western representation would make a communist takeover even more likely, American President Lyndon Johnson personally called British Prime Minister Alec Douglas Home to urge recognition”.

The records further revealed that “in the meantime, with the help of Tanganyika President Nyerere, the United States successfully negotiated a delay in the expulsion of its diplomats, when President Karume promised not to expel them if there was an immediate announcement of recognition”.

Indeed, the fear of communist infiltration into Zanzibar, was also a serious concern for Tanganyika President Julius Nyerere, as evidenced in a statement made by Tanganyika’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Oscar Kambona, who said the following:- “Our first concern was the growing communist presence in Zanzibar, and secondly, the fear of the cold war conflicts coming in . . . Both Presidents Nyerere and Karume are seriously concerned about the increasing super- power interference in Zanzibar.

It was partly out of this strong concern that the two Presidents agreed to bring to an end Zanzibar’s fragile sovereignty, and place it within the framework of a new sovereign State, that subsequently came to be known as the United Republic of Tanzania”.

The conflict with West Germany We have seen above, that the country then known as East Germany had established its Embassy in Zanzibar soon after the successful January 1964 revolution; while West Germany had its Embassy in Dar es Salaam.

That was fine when Zanzibar and Tanganyika were two separate sovereign states. But upon the establishment of the Union in April 1964, Zanzibar and Tanganyika became one sovereign country, the United Republic of Tanzania. . This immediately created a new diplomatic problem, that was based on West Germany’s “Hollshtein Doctrine”, which prevented that country from establishing, or maintaining, diplomatic relations with any other country that recognised the existence of East Germany.

This selfish doctrine became applicable to the United Republic of Tanzania, in the sense that maintaining both the East and the West Germany Embassies clearly offended it; and a resolution of that problem had to be found.

West Germany’s arrogant solution was to ask Union President Nyerere to close down the East Germany Embassy in Zanzibar, threatening to withdraw its military aid to Tanzania (which consisted mainly of helping to establish an Air wing of the Tanzania People’s Defence Forces (TPDF), in case of President Nyerere’s refusal to do so! But President Nyerere, being a man of principle, intelligence, and integrity; plus his total commitment to the principle of “not accepting aid with strings attached”; would not bow to such pressures , and would actually have none of it.

He therefore quickly summoned the West German Ambassador, and bluntly ordered him to tell his Government “to take away not only the aid for the establishment of the TPDF Air Wing, but to also take away all the rest of their aid as well”.

That was indeed done, and West Germany unceremoniously abandoned all its aid projects that were being implemented in Tanzania at that time; including the construction of “Nkrumah Hall” at the University of Dar es Salaam, which also became victim of that angry order by President Nyerere.

The Germans had clearly underestimated President Nyerere’s commitment to upholding principles. He was prepared to accept the loss of economic benefits to the country, in order to maintain a given principle. That episode obviously created considerable diplomatic tension between the two countries; but, eventually, thanks to sincere good will on both sides, an agreed solution was later found, with East Germany being allowed to retain a Consulate in Zanzibar.

The conflict with the United States of America. This particular conflict was not related to any breach of principles. It was, unfortunately, based on mere rumours, seemingly based on forgeries of an alleged plot by the American Government “ to overthrow the Government of Mr Nyerere”.

What happened in this case, was that in November 1965, three letters, ostensibly stolen from the Office of the Congolese Prime Minister Moise Tshombe, were handed over to Tanzania’s Ambassador in Kinshasa, Andrew Tibandebage.

One of those letters revealed an alleged plan “to bombard all the strategic facilities being used by Communist China inside Tanzania; and as a second measure, to make arrangements to overthrow the Government of Mr Julius Nyerere, in the manner now being studied by the Department of State”.

Ambassador Tibandebage, dutifully and quickly travelled to Dar es Salaam to present those documents to Minister for Foreign Affairs Oscar Kambona, who promptly called an urgent press conference, at which he furiously condemned the plots revealed in the said documents, and raised alarm and concern regarding the alleged plots.

This news received mixed reactions among the public, There were those who were alarmed, but there were others who just scoffed at the news, including Ms Sophia Mustafa (MP), who came to my National Assembly Office to express her disbelief regarding the authenticity of this news.

I was also similarly concerned; and because of my privileged access to President Nyerere, I soon found time to relay the MP’s feelings personally to him. That is when I discovered that the President himself was harbouring the suspicion, that the said letters could be forgeries.

And consequently, he very skillfully designed a strategy that would bring the matter to a close, but leaving the door open for a subsequent retraction, without undermining the Government’s (read Oscar Kambona’s ) credibility.

He executed his plan in a speech at a pre-arranged mammoth public rally which had been organised by TANU, ostensibly in order to express public condemnation of the alleged “American plot”; but which, in fact, President Nyerere intended to use in order to achieve his objective of saving the Government’s credibility, but leaving the door open for a diplomatic retraction.

Thus, at that mammoth rally the President said this:- “Those letters could indeed have been forgeries. But the Government had to react strongly, simply because there have been so many other forgeries, but which later turned out to be real”.

He went on to justify the Government’s strong reaction as expressed by the Foreign Minister, by quoting a popular and well known Kiswahili proverb, “Mtu aliyeumwa na nyoka, hata akiona kuti litamstua” (He who has been bitten by a snake, will be startled even on encountering a harmless dry leaf).

Thereafter, the relevant diplomatic communications were no doubt undertaken, resulting in peace and tranquility being restored without causing any further damage to the diplomatic relations between the two nations.

piomsekwa@gmail.co / 0754767576

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