On Remembering Nyerere: What If He Were a Zanzibari

I am a Zanzibari. Mwalimu Julius Nyerere was not – and I don’t think if he ever wanted to be, but every time I am reminded of him, I can’t stop asking myself: What if he were? What if he were a first president of the People’s Republic of Zanzibar, would he ever be, as well, the first president of the United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar? But a much bigger question: could there be a union at all; and if yes, what would be a position of Zanzibar in it?

Being described as a visionary man and a super genius of his time, there is no doubt that if he were a Zanzibari, this political marriage would have never taken place; and if, in any unknown reasons the union would commence, then from the day one this Zanzibari leader would have been its powerful executive president and my country would have never been a crying baby under the feet of a big brother.

Surely, our Maalim Nyerere of Zanzibar would not accept an offer from his Tanganyikan counterpart to form a fairy-tale bond of their countries because – reading from his many intellectual papers on the value of sovereignty – he was a person who valued his country’s independence and was suspicious on everything he considered dangerous to his power. You could mention a dozen of reasons behind the collapse of the East African Community in 1977, for example, but you will not leave to mention the fear on the position of his Tanzania as a driving force.

4/22/1964-Zanzibar- President Julius Nyerere, (L), of Tanganyika and President Abeid Karume of Zanzibar sign articles of union under which the two countries will become “one sovereign state.” The union is subject to ratification by the Parliaments of both nations. Credit: GettyImages

Therefore, even if his Zanzibar was this tiny island nation, our Maalim Nyerere was a leader who valued and breathed our independence. It would not suit his intelligence to allow even one centimetre move towards dependency of his own nation. Of course, he was speaking for One Big Africa against many tiny states, but when his own version of freedom was concerned, he had such a powerful nose to smell colonialism. He could sense even an iota of it and would avoid it right away.

Don’t you remember his support for Biafra independence from Nigeria during 1967 Biafran War? It was just three years since Zanzibar became an integral part of Tanzania, whereas Biafra had been a part of Nigerian federation years back, but he threw his support to Igbos due to his belief in freedom and independence. Freedom!

Definitely, if he was our dear leader of our tiny Indian Ocean state, then Nyerere would never agree to be swallowed by such giant east African state some miles away from our sea shores. He would fear for his freedom – fear to be recolonized by his own neighbour. He once talked about The Second Scramble at his frequent lectures at the University of Dar es Salaam, in which he spoke bitterly against the geopolitical dynamics that was returning to Africa and threatened to make the continent their super dinner on the table.

I am quite sure, if Nyerere was a President of the People’s Republic of Zanzibar and his Tanganyikan counterpart came with the idea of the union, he would make a very strong argument in front of the Zanzibari intellectual community and then published a book, The Second Colonization, showing how the idea was bad for his tiny newly established nation.

But let’s make another assumption. Suppose our Maalim Nyerere of Zanzibar did not have any choice except to accept the ‘offer’ from Tanganyika’s strong man. Being sandwiched between the internal uncertainties and external threats, he would be forced to make a concession – ‘kukata jongoo kwa meno’ as we say in Swahili.

He would, therefore, get into the political marriage but as cunning as he was, he would make sure that he does not lose more than what he had already missed. His first measures would have been to oppose any move that made him sacrificing his own powers to his Tanganyikan counterpart. It doesn’t even come close to my mind that he would agree the two-tier system. Never!

He would use all world’s references to show that this type of union had never existed and where it did exist – Ireland Vs Britain – it was nothing but a colonisation in bright day light! He would argue, strongly and academically, that the union could be either federal, confederal or unitary and would want his counterpart to choose one.

Yet another assumption. Under some situations, let’s say again our Maalim Nyerere would have accepted the two-tier union structure. He would only do so, after a very big concession from his counterpart. Using his manoeuvring skills, he would manage to convince everyone that it was necessary that all existing structures of the agreed matters be put under Zanzibar guardianship. It would be simple: Zanzibar, he would argue, was such a small part of the huge structure. Giving powers over the union matters is to guarantee it that it would never be swallowed by the big partner nor was it a means towards recolonization!

Once he got what he needed, our Maalim Nyerere would now go further to promote Zanzibaris’ dominance on each and everything in the new nation. An overhaul operation would immediately commence and in just two to three years, Zanzibar would be what the union is and the Union would be what the Zanzibar is. How he reached there, it would be a subject of many academic researches that would earn many intellectuals their university degrees and professorships for many years to come.

This much is what it would have been, if Nyerere were a Zanzibari.

But he never was.

And it had never been.

1 thought on “On Remembering Nyerere: What If He Were a Zanzibari”

  1. What is of interest to us Zanzibaris now is how to get out of the stranglehold by the mainland that is affecting negatively us. The selection of our leaders is not left to us in Zanzibar, but is determined by CCM of mainland. The selection is based on a leader who will implement the wishes of CCM mainland and not the wishes of Zanzibaris living in Zanzibar. Using conjecture is a waste of time and does not change anything. Maalim Nyerere hated Zanzibar and its Muslim people to such an extent that he opened a crusade against Islam as his secret policy. that is why the church want him declared a saint for these efforts.

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