Tomorrow, April 26, Tanzania will commemorate the 48th anniversary of its creation when Tanganyika and Zanzibar were united to become the United Republic of Tanzania. It seems that few Tanzanians, however, will be celebrating.
The merging of Tanganyika and Zanzibar has long been a source of contention. Initial discussions in 1964 were conducted secretly and the official announcement on April 26 came as a surprise – an unwelcome one in some quarters – to those in both Tanganyika and Zanzibar.
The federation came a few months after the Zanzibar Revolution overthrew the Sultan of Zanzibar and was encouraged by Western powers eager to contain Zanzibari communism. Reports suggest that the CIA played an important if obscure role in creating the conditions for the union, but the secrecy that surrounded the discussions has ensured intrigue and conspiracy theories continue to feature in debates by disenchanted Tanzanians.
Under the union deal, Zanzibar became part of Tanzania but remained semi-autonomous with its own president and parliament.
Before independence in 1960, former President Julius Nyerere said, referring to Zanzibar, “I fear it will be a big headache for us”, and the legitimacy of the union has indeed been questioned throughout its five decade existence.
Issues of Zanzibari nationalism, government structure, and economic distribution have dominated discussions. Tanganyika and Zanzibar were never going to be particularly even partners: approximately 1 million people live on the Zanzibar archipelago, compared to the mainland’s 41 million. Religion has also featured in some debates; almost all of Zanzibar’s population is Muslim and there have been fears of religious extremism on the island, while on the mainland about 45% are Christian and 40% Muslim.
This year, however, the debate is more vocal than usual. The process of re-writing the country’s constitution has recently begun and this has re-energised the debate around Tanganyika and Zanzibar.
The union has at times been accepted, but rarely celebrated. Many people on both the mainland and archipelago feel short-changed by the agreement. Speaking to Think Africa Press, Seif, a food vendor in Stone Town, Zanzibar, said: “they are really squeezing us. They take all our taxes. It is very hard for us now.”
Moses Lima, a businessman from Dar es Salaam, sounded exacerbated as he said: “this union is fucked up. It means nothing to us, it means nothing to them. We get nothing out of it.” His friend Adam chipped in: “Ah, they complain all the time! If they think its better, fine. Let them go! We will be fine.”
As well as for economic reasons, people in the mainland and Zanzibar insisted that the inhabitants of each were simply different to each other. Many mainlanders characterised Zanzibaris as backwards, comparing religious and cultural dress such as the burka as evidence that, in Adam’s words, “they don’t like modern things”. Zanzibaris on the other hand commonly characterised mainlanders as being less honest and less moral than them. Trips to Bongo – a popular nickname for Dar es Salaam – were necessary they said, but the city and its inhabitants were untrustworthy
Picking up on this, Aziza, a head teacher in Zanzibar, commented: “the union is no good for us. They [people living in the mainland] think we are stupid because our parents made a mistake. Well, maybe we are stupid because we continue with the union. But still we are good people; they are cheats.”
There were also, however, some more optimistic voices. Yohana Charles, a fire-fighter in Dar es Salaam said: “Our President [Jayaka] Kikwete says that we are all one family. So you can’t say this one he is a Zanzibari, this one is from the mainland… We are all one.”
John, a taxi driver in Dar es Salaam saw a perceived move towards greater autonomy for the Zanibar archipelago as a positive thing, arguing: “I think that things are better in Zanzibar now. Five years ago things were bad, very bad, but now we have the parties in Zanzibar working together and they are getting independence slowly, slowly. There will be independence this year and then we will be happy and they can be happy, we can continue trading in peace.”
Omar, a teacher at the university in Zanzibar, said: “There are many problems of course, but Zanzibar is too small to make it on our own. We need them to trade, even for the hospital.”
Tanzania’s union has been disputed as long as it has existed, but it has withstood major political changes such as the shift from a one-party state to multi-party democracy, and the move from a socialist to a capitalist economy. While the union may look particularly fragile this year, history suggests that it will once again survive another constitutional review.
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