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State

Capital

Zanzibar*

Zanzibar

Currency unit

Tanzanian shilling

Connections

EAC

East Africa

Empire

Oman

Tanzania

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History

Zanzibar at present is politically united with the mainland territory of Tanganyika, but it has had its own institutions and laws. From unity in 1965 it has retained its own government. The president of Zanzibar has been one of the two Vice-Presidents of Tanzania.

The territory consists of the two main islands of Zanzibar and Pemba. It is an important center of Swahili scholarship. The language derives from cultural contact between Arabs and Bantu-speakers.

Until the Portuguese arrived in 1498 it probably had more than one Sultanate independent of the coastal states. A revolt against the Portuguese was inspired by a Turkish raid in 1585. In 1696 the coastal area was attacked by Omanis and from this time Zanzibar and Mombasa were ruled by Omani governors. Zanzibar became an Arab Sultanate and slave plantation. In 1840 the Sultan moved from Muscat to Zanzibar. No doubt he hoped to conquer a large empire on the African mainland. It was said: "When you pipe at Zanzibar, they dance at the Lakes.". Slave traders from Zanzibar could be found as far west as Lake Tanganyika and eastern Congo. Traders from there reached Uganda via Lake Victoria.

It was the main base for European exploration of the interior of Africa by such people as Richard Burton, John Speke and David Livingstone who made use of the routes used by Arab traders into the interior.

Zanzibar became a British Protectorate in the course of abolishing the slave trade (and in a treaty with Germany in exchange for the North Sea island of Heligoland given to Germany in 1890). There are still Arabs from south Yemen and Oman in Zanzibar (and retired Swahili speakers in Yemen - personal observation). The slave market was closed in 1872. The population consists of three main groups: the Arabs; the descendants of the original Bantu inhabitants; and the descendants of the slaves brought there. All speak Swahili.

Under British Protection the islands were ruled by a British Resident, in theory the advisor of the Sultan, but in practice doing the work of a Governor. After Britain took over Tanganyika from the Germans at the end of the first world war Zanzibar was one of the four territories which shared a currency (East African Shilling), Customs and other government services. However, travel to the mainland was difficult and the people were not closely integrated with the mainland territories. In theory the Sultan continued to own a strip of land in Kenya and Tanganyika. This was negotiated away at the independence of Kenya and Tanganyika.

As the heart of the Swahili language Zanzibar remained an important cultural influence on the whole area. Its dialect is the basis of Standard Swahili.

On independence Britain left a constitutional monarchy of the Sultan and an elected parliament. However, the Arabs, who were a minority, had won the election, leaving the Africans, descendants of slaves and other immigrants, feeling resentful. In 1962 they overthrew the Sultan who fled to Britain. Many of the Arabs were killed in the revolution which brought to power the opposition Afro-Shirazi Party. (Shirazi because of the belief that one of the first Muslim peoples to come to the coast were Persians from Shiraz). This party formed a Communist-style one-party state and received assistance from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Soon after they formed a union with the mainland.

The question now is whether, with the revival of private enterprise more on the Islands than on the mainland, the islanders will wish to maintain the union. There is already evidence that their mercantile instincts are being held back by the bureaucracy of the mainlanders (observed by the author in 1966). There is still a strong desire to remain separate. An independence movement is known to exist.

Languages

Swahili: sometimes considered the standard version of the literary language, but containing more Arabic than elsewhere.

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Politics

One-party state for a long period - from the Revolution until about 1995. The Afro-Shirazi party united with the mainland's Tanganyika African National Union to form the Revolution Party (Chama cha Mapinduzi). Multi-party democracy, if it occurs, might allow a legal campaign to regain independence.

October 1995 elections returned the government party (CCM) with a tiny majority (0.4%) and rumors from the opposition Civic Union of vote rigging and tampering - the president won no wards on Pemba but a majority on the main island.

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Economics

At one time the world's main source of cloves and other spices. However, the present state-owned regime has reduced the harvest from 18,000 tonnes in 1967 to 1500 tonnes in 1985. (The Economist). Brazil and Indonesia have captured the market.

Private enterprise is now legal. The infrastructure is poor with an airport suitable for small planes from the mainland but not international flights. The port is not suitable for modern shipping.

If it obtains independence there would need to be large investment in communications. Oman is said to have promised an airport.

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Green/Ecology

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Human Rights

Political prisoners

Climate effects

Last revised 16/04/09


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