Afrique : histoire, economie, politique

NEWS 99-2000

THE Tanzanian government is pressing ahead with arms trade liberalisation against a backdrop of outrage and condemnation from civil rights groups including churches.
Catholic bishops are the latest team to join the fray with 10 human rights groups publicly condemning the government's decision.

Authorities have insisted that the arms trade programme must go on and has bolstered the decision with a firm reassurance that strict measures will be followed in licensing arms dealers.

The bishops, led by their chair, Bishop Justin Samba, say arms pose a danger to peace and have called on the government to suspend the decision immediately. "Despite the government's assurance to control the importation and sale of arms, we are worried over this exercise because of past habits by the government to fail to curb illegal importation of goods."

In a letter signed by Professor Ruth Meena of the Environmental and Human Rights Care Organisation to the minister of home affairs, all the groups, reacting to the proposed programme, say that the decision to liberalise the sale of firearms has come as a rude shock.

"Who is going to benefit from the liberalised arms sale?" they ask. "And whose interest will the liberalised arms sale serve? What is the implication of having arms in the streets in a context where three-quarters of young people are unemployed?

"What culture do we want to promote to our young generation? Kill and shoot like in the streets of Los Angeles, in the suburbs of Johannesburg or Rwanda, Burundi or the [Democratic] Republic of Congo? What is it that we Tanzanians are missing by not having this 'cardinal right' of buying and selling arms freely?"

The groups claim that developments in military technology, as well as the end of the Cold War, have dealt a big blow to the manufacturers and dealers of arms and other explosives, so much so that they are seeking new markets in the Third World.

Minister of Home Affairs Ali Ameir Mohammed told the groups that firms have to be licenced to do the business following the collapse of the Agriculture and Industrial Supplies Company (Aisco), the state-run monopoly in the weaponry and explosives business.

Ameir has accused the media of instilling fear among the people that their security is at risk with the privatisation of the sale of firearms. "This fear is uncalled for and the government has all along insisted that the business will be strictly controlled. The rate of crime is not going to increase because of firearms business," Ameir pointed out.

Private entrepreneurs have been invited to apply for authorisation to import and sell firearms and explosives for civil use in Tanzania. The government has said that successful applicants will be subjected to routine and thorough inspections in order to monitor the amount and types of weapons which enter the country.

Dealers who are interested in the arms business have been directed to send their applications to the inspector general of police and the commissioner of minerals. They are supposed to fulfil 21 regulations before being granted permission to sell guns, shotguns, rifles, bullets and explosives.

The regulations state that applicants must not have a previous criminal record and that dealerships should be impregnable and guarded by recognised security personnel. Another regulation is that their employees should have experience with weapons and know how to operate and maintain them.

Dealers and manufacturers applying to sell explosives are required to construct warehouses capable of storing more than 10 tons of explosives at one time. They are also required to state whether they will be operating for foreign companies or individually.

A former high-ranking police chief for the Mara region, Mustafa Wandwi, warned that the liberalisation of the arms trade will increase the crime rate and endanger the lives and property of Tanzania's citizens.

"When the trade comes to fruition, the ill-equipped police force will fail to contain social unrest and this may lead to sky-rocketing incidences of lawbreaking," said Wandwi.

"The government reached the decision hastily without carrying out any research. We don't need to liberalise the arms trade while we lack basic services such as food, health care and education."

In the event that the government carries on with the decision despite the public outcry, Wandwi has advised that huge taxes be pegged in a bid to scare away unscrupulous traders.

The newly launched Hunters and Gun Owners' Association of Tanzania has also rubbished the government's decision. Members have challenged the government to publicise the list of contending applicants, saying they are aware that unscrupulous traders have already applied. The group's chair, Abubakar Abubakar, said: "If the government does not make the list public soon, unscrupulous dealers are going to qualify."

Tanzanian Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police Aden Mwamunyange has dismissed the group's apprehensions saying he cannot disclose the list although the group maintains that they are aware that some dealers who have applied are engaged in shady dealings.

In a related development, the government of Zanzibar has outlawed the entrance of arms bought under the new arrangement on to the island saying the sale of arms in the Isles was not liberal.
The Minister of State in the Chief Minister's Office, Iddi Pandu, has announced that authorities will mete out stiff penalties against anybody found sending arms on to the island.


Dr Julius Nyerere, who has died aged 77, led the former British protectorate of Tanganyika to independence in 1961, becoming its first prime Minister and later its first president.
His country was withdrawn from British rule without violence and with comparatively little racial bitterness. Dr Nyerere acquired in the process the reputation of being a moderate, an idea that was encouraged by his personal modesty and his preference for Western values.

Independence Day, 1961
In both Africa and the West his prestige, when he first became President, stood high. It was seriously shaken, however, early in 1964, by a mutiny of the Tanganyikan Army that spread to other parts of East Africa and was only put down with British help.

Later, as President of Tanzania, formed by the joining of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, Nyerere instituted a one-party system, together with other forms of government that smacked of a police state.

Yet he always defended his position declaring that Tanzanians had far more freedom under his rule than they had ever had under the British, and that the one-party system was vital for stability.

Nyerere embraced Mao and his theory of collective farming
Over the years, he became increasingly anti-British and anti-European, and entered into close relations with Beijing. He accepted large numbers of Chinese military instructors and technicians, a development that angered the United States, which cut off aid.

President Nyerere was outspoken in his criticism of British Prime Minister Harold Wilson's government for not taking military action against the Ian Smith regime in Rhodesia when it issued its unilateral declaration of independence in 1965.

Nyerere urged Harold Wilson to send troops into Rhodesia
In common with other African leaders, he was greatly concerned about the possibility of the UK resuming limited arms sales to South Africa. Nevertheless, by November 1975 he came to London and was accorded the full honours of a state visit.

He was then the longest serving head of a Commonwealth African state, and the UK government regarded him as a major stabilising force in an increasingly turbulent region.

As the crisis over Rhodesia worsened in the late 1970s, President Nyerere played a campaigning role in moves by the so-called frontline states - Tanzania, Zambia, Botswana, Mozambique and Angola - to hasten majority rule.

His agricultural ideas proved disastrous
He also came to have an important influence with the nationalist guerrilla groups in what was to become Zimbabwe, and was a key figure in the formulation of the peace plan that was concluded at the Lancaster House conference in London in 1979.

It was in that year that Tanzanian forces invaded Uganda forcing an end to the murderous regime of Idi Amin.

In Tanzania itself, President Nyerere attempted to achieve his goal of a socialist and self-supporting state. In 1967 this policy of self-reliance had been enshrined in the Arusha Declaration (named after the northern Tanzanian town where it was announced). It came to be regarded as one of the most important political documents to have emerged in the developing world.

Nyerere was respected for his idealism
Yet his policy of "ujama", community-based farming collectives, proved disastrous. The idealism of the grand project was overwhelmed by the lack of individual incentive.

Ten years later, taking stock, President Nyerere issued a remarkably honest booklet which gave as much prominence to the failures as well as the successes.

"There is a time for planting and a time for harvesting", he wrote.

"For us it is still a time for planting".

It was his abject failure at home that will blight the reputation of a man who had gained respect as one of the few African leaders of his time who stood for idealism and principle.


Julius Nyerere, Tanzania's first
 president and a universally revered elder statesman who was
 instrumental in efforts to forge African unity, died Thursday. He
 was 77.
     Nyerere died in a London hospital of complications stemming from
 leukemia, which was diagnosed in 1998. His doctors said earlier
 that he had suffered a massive stroke and would not recover.
     At the United Nations, Nyerere was hailed as one of Africa's
 great freedom fighters; delegates to the General Assembly stood for
 a minute of silent tribute to him on Thursday.
     Namibia's Foreign Minister Theo-Ben Gurirab, a former guerrilla
 fighter who is now president of the U.N. General Assembly,
 announced his death to the hushed chamber.
     ``The African people as a whole have lost an ardent
 pan-Africanist, a man of high principles, a man of self-abnegation
 and the champion of Africa's self-determination, liberation and
 independence,'' Gurirab said.
     In Tanzania, President Benjamin Mkapa declared 30 days of
 mourning for the man known by garage mechanics and ambassadors
 alike as ``Mwalimu,'' or ``Teacher'' in the Kiswahili language.
     Mkapa called on Tanzanians to ``maintain unity at this time of
     ``The death of the father of the nation will shock and dismay
 many,'' Mkapa said. ``But Nyerere has built a sustainable
 foundation for national unity, the union and relations with our
     Preparations were under way for a state funeral in Dar es Salaam
 after Nyerere's body is brought from Britain. He will be buried in
 his home village of Butiama in western Tanzania, near Lake
     A founder of the Organization of African Unity in 1963, Nyerere
 was a leading proponent of economic sanctions against the former
 apartheid regime in South Africa.
     Thabo Mbeki, South Africa's president, called Nyerere ``one of
 the wise sons of Africa'' and said his death was a loss for all of
     And British Prime Minister Tony Blair called Nyerere ``a leading
 African statesman of his time.''
     ``The fact that Tanzania is today a country at peace with itself
 and its neighbors is, in large part, a tribute to `Mwalimu'
 Nyerere,'' Blair said. ``His example and his humanity will continue
 to inspire us all.''
     A member of the tiny Zanaki tribe, Nyerere is credited with
 forging a rare thing in Africa _ a strong national identity that
 unites 120 ethnic groups in the country of 32 million.
     He led the drive for the independence of his East African nation
 from British rule and became the first president of what was then
 Tanganyika in 1962. In 1964, Nyerere presided over the union of the
 Indian Ocean archipelago of Zanzibar and Tanganyika, on the
 mainland, to form Tanzania.
     But unlike some leaders who spearheaded the wave of independence
 struggles that swept the continent in the 1950s and 60s, he was
 never jailed or persecuted.
     A holder of a master's degree in history and economics from the
 University of Edinburgh, Nyerere was the first African from
 Tanganyika to study at a British university.
     ``He was our father. He introduced free education and health
 services for us,'' said Zamaradi Kawawa, a 33-year-old
 businesswoman. ``Without him, many of us would not be where we are
 now. We would be illiterate.''
     Although Nyerere stepped down in 1985 after 23 years in office
 to devote time to farming and diplomacy, he remained the major
 power broker in the East African nation and hand-picked his two
 successors from his Chama Cha Mapinduzi party.
     He also worked tirelessly to negotiate an end to the violence
 that has wracked central and southern Africa in the past decade.
     Most recently, Nyerere was mediating an end to the civil war in
 neighboring Burundi, where more than 200,000 people, mostly
 civilians, have been killed since 1993.
     In a continent known for corrupt leaders who live lavishly off
 state coffers, Nyerere lived modestly. After nearly 20 years of
 trying to make socialism work through the highly unpopular grouping
 of peasants into collective villages, Nyerere admitted he had been
 wrong and encouraged economic liberalization and developing a
 market economy.
     Nyerere was among only a few African presidents to voluntarily
 leave office. He also foresaw the futility of single-party rule in
 Tanzania as the clamor for democracy swept the continent following
 the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the former
 Soviet Union.
     A Roman Catholic, Nyerere was married and had eight children.

JULIUS Nyerere, who died in London on Thursday aged 77, was the father of independent Tanzania, champion of the African continent and a socialist visionary universally known as Mwalimu -- "the teacher."

Non-alignment, disarmament, anti-imperialism, pan-Africanism and the liberation of southern Africa were all causes to which he lent his name and voice.

Nyerere was one of the founders of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and left an indelible mark on the social and political history of the continent, earning a place next to Senegal's poet-hero Leopold Senghor and Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah in the pantheon of African legends.

In Tanzania he led his people to political independence, attempting to lay the foundations of an egalitarian society.

He became a leading figure on the international stage with his criticisms of an unfair economic order and of the indifference, if not outright cynicism, of the industrialised West.

By the time he left office in 1985, Nyerere had to admit that his goals of -- Sino rather that Soviet -- socialism and self-reliance were far from realised in Tanzania, and that wholesale nationalisations made in his time, for example, had been a mistake.

As a stagnating economy finally ground almost to a halt, it fell to his then little-known successor Ali Hassan Mwinyi to do a deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to turn the situation round, a deal whose terms Nyerere had for years rejected as unacceptable.

He remained leader of Tanzania's ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi party for a further five years.

A politician of vision -- detractors said utopian -- he was a skilled negotiator, and his services as a mediator in international or regional conflicts were in regular demand years after his official retirement.

In 1995, the OAU asked him to devote his efforts to bringing peace in the troubled Great Lakes region.

Born Julius Kambarage Nyerere in 1922, at Butiama in the Lake Victoria region of Musoma, the son of a chief of the cattle-raising Wazanaki tribe, his first calling was as a teacher.

Like many of his generation of aspiring young Africans who shone at school, he went on to study at Makerere University, Uganda, where he qualified in education, then went on to study in Europe, notably at Edinburgh University.

He returned to Tanganyika, as it then was, in 1952 and resumed teaching amid the first stirrings of the independence movement.

The following year he became president of the Tanganyika African Association, and in 1955 converted it into the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), which he then made into a national movement.

As TANU leader, he pleaded the cause of independence at international forums, notably the United Nations whose general assembly he addressed in 1957.

Though no longer formally in the teaching profession, he became popularly known as Mwalimu (the teacher, in Swahili).

When Britain granted autonomy he became chief minister, in May 1961, and then prime minister of independent Tanganyika in December of that year. He was elected first president of the republic (named Tanzania in 1964, following union with Zanzibar) in December 1962, aged just 40.

This smiling, modest and somewhat priestlike man -- he was a lifelong devout Roman Catholic -- assumed the charge of a poor state with little modern infrastructure, dependent on agricultural cash crops as its main resource.

Force of circumstances and his own inclinations, influenced by the non-Marxist Fabian school of socialist thought, produced the famous Arusha Declaration of 1967 encapsulating his radical approach.

Reformist rather than revolutionary, he preferred to look to the conscience of the West for the solution to problems of development rather than to the Communist bloc as did many of his contemporaries in post-independence Africa.

His system of "African-style socialism" was probably effective in welding together the 120 or so tribes of Tanzania, but it did little for the economy.

On retirement he eased gradually into his role as a benign elder statesman, dividing his time between his various mediation missions and his native village of Butiama, where he enjoyed the life of a patriarch, surrounded by his family working in the fields and reading.
He is survived by his wife Maria and eight children.


The Tanzanian president, Benjamin Mkapa, has been talking about the impact of the disease AIDS on the economy.

In a May Day address, he said large numbers of trained workers were dying -- some ministries were losing up to twenty employees a month.

And he urged religious leaders to drop their opposition to even discussing the issue.

Mr Mkapa's remarks came hours after the United States said the spread of AIDS had become so serious it was now a threat to international security.

An estimated twenty per-cent Tanzanians are infected with HIV, the virus which leads to AIDS.

The World Bank says that if AIDS continues to spread at its current rate, the Tanzanian economy will shrink by up to twenty-five per-cent by 2015.


"MANY years ago," says my friend Juma, "Mwalimu [Julius Nyerere] didn't allow any of these kind of businesses. He only allowed state shops. Now you see small shops everywhere."
It's odd. I don't feel that old. But travelling into Central and East Africa in the post-Kenneth Kaunda, post-Nyerere era makes me feel like a survivor of several cataclysmic upheavals, walking through a landscape where there are no survivors to tell of the previous way of living.

As I look around the former Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam (which is still very much its commercial and diplomatic capital) I see the same profusion of native capitalism that I was accustomed to in the 1960s and 1970s, the difference being that there is now much, much more of the same. The enterprise that made the Jamhuri Street area in downtown Dar so vibrant has now spilled over into dozens of the surrounding blocks, creating a perpetual traffic jam of cars, trucks and human bodies.

I feel like a sort of Rip van Winkle Africanus, because, in the 25 years that have elapsed since I was last abroad on these languid, rotting, tropical streets, the city has apparently dipped through into the kind of stony socialist profile Juma was describing for me, and then bounced back to resume its rambling, enterprising ways. I never experienced the austerity that the late Nyerere's policies had supposedly imposed on the trade-crazy culture of the Swahili coast. I could not imagine rows of depressed but disciplined Tanzanians queuing outside the cavernous state warehouses. I only had Juma's word for it.

Dar es Salaam today is more alive than it has ever been. The crumbling buildings are still there, with the same profusion of Swahili, Indian and Arab families leaning over the dilapidated balconies, and the vendors of colourful khanga cloth, fruit, vegetables, building supplies, bicycles and refrigerators tumbling out of the narrow shops on the ground floor, taking over the sidewalk in a friendly cascade.
But alongside the old façades, new buildings are springing up as well, raising the skyline to more soaring horizons. Foreigners are investing like they have never done before. Banks, insurance companies, elegant office malls and imposing (and priceless) hotels buzz with an imported neon intensity. And standing out among the throngs of investors who have brought the city back to life are economic interests from South Africa.

How things have changed. Twenty-five years ago, in the midst of its indigenous commercial round, the streets of Dar es Salaam buzzed with the traffic of liberation movements from Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe, and the two official movements from South Africa -- the African National Congress and the Pan Africanist Congress. Leadership and rank-and-file roared to and fro in an assortment of East European 4x4s, trucks and motorcycles, most designed for military use, now just as often inspanned into the service of politics, love and basic survival.

Twenty-five years ago, white South Africa generally regarded Tanzania as the incorrigible communist front line of the Southern African liberation war. Today, South African business is buying big time into Tanzania's post-ujamaa reconstruction. It's noticeably a white business presence -- the same white business that the front-line states, spurred on by the liberation movements, were trying to isolate from Africa's markets all those years ago.

The black and brown faces of the liberation movement have long since left the streets of Dar es Salaam. Protea hotels, Steers, Debonair's Pizza Parlour, even the obligatory Nando's outlet on the corner, are the public face of this new colonisation. And they are just the tip of the iceberg.

Who knows what home-grown moguls of South African industry lurk in the boardrooms of those new neon edifices, where the final decisions are made regarding the inner economic life of Tanzania? Who is in there deciding on the future of its explosive tourist potential, and the quiet exploitation of its rich deposits of gold and other precious metals?

Driving in from the airport, I had already begun to muse on the changing face of Dar es Salaam, and the various influences that were shaping it. The road into town is now smooth and wide, a far cry from the slow, pot-holed surface that had come to be accepted as part of the city's seedy charm in the old days.

The industrial area is alive with production. On the left, Tanzania Breweries is churning out beer and konyagi, the once illicit and lethal alcoholic drink that had been turned into a controlled and acceptable low-price spirit for the masses. The breweries are now owned and run by South African Breweries.

On the right, the austere, old-socialist façade of the terminus of the Tazara railroad. I had disembarked there on my last visit to Dar in 1976. It was gratifying to see the fading terminus was still working after all these years. It was a comforting icon from my youth, in the days when we thought that there were other kinds of colonialism working in Tanzania -- psychological colonialisms, we dubbed them, however much we applauded their revolutionary ideals.

The brief era of Chinese colonialism was symbolised by a number of phenomenal building and infrastructural programmes, best symbolised by Tazara, the triumphant Tanzania-Zambia rail project which finally linked landlocked Zambia with the Indian Ocean port of Dar es Salaam. The enterprise had been condemned as unfeasible by British and American engineering teams, who, at that time, seemed to be working to keep Zambia chained to the existing rail network through Rhodesia, Angola and South Africa -- the unacceptable face of the white south, against whom the frontline states had imposed sanctions.

Zanzibar town wears its proud mongrel heritage on its sleeve. As the boat floats into the brilliantly turquoise harbour, the buildings that line the waterfront show the influence of their Arab, German and British progenitors. A short walk from the harbour, you enter the narrow, winding streets of the old Stone Town, reminiscent of the souks of Tunis and Algiers

The Chinese saw both a political and an economic opportunity in the intransigent attitude of the West, and had surveyed, designed, built and put the Freedom Railway Line into operation by the mid-1970s.

With this heavy investment in infrastructure came the collateral spin-off of trade in goods from Mao's China.

The ordinary African was most formidably exposed to this through the agency of "Double-Happiness" matches, an essential ingredient in the mundane pursuits of lighting paraffin lamps, cooking fires and cigarettes.

The drawback with "Double-Happiness" matches was that they worked on a different technical principle from the colonial "Lion" matches that the average African had become used to.

On first striking the match against the side of the matchbox, nothing appeared to happen. African intellectuals and peasants alike concluded that "Double-Happiness" alluded to the fact that two matches had to be joined in the hand and struck simultaneously to achieve fire, and therefore happiness. This became the standard technique. There was still limited success in making the product ignite.

The Chinese had failed to issue warnings on each box that would alert the African user to the fact that these kinds of matches had a more leisurely ignition cycle than European colonial matches. So the unsuspecting housewife or social smoker would prepare to strike the doubled-up match a second time -- only to find that the twinned matchsticks, smouldering quietly all this while, would explode into fiery life just as they were brought into contact with the side of the flimsy matchbox.

In the worst scenarios, this explosion would ignite the whole box of matches in the unsuspecting African civilian's hands, sometimes causing serious injury. "Double-Happiness" was thereafter dubbed "Double-Trouble" in the homesteads and bars of Lusaka, Mpika and Dar es Salaam, to name but a few of the urban and rural areas where making fire was, and always has been, a life-giving necessity.

Juma was delving back into history again as we moved through the teeming streets of Dar es Salaam.

"A long time ago, before independence," he said, "we had three colonialisms. The first colonialism was from the Arabs. The second colonialism was from the Germans, and the third colonialism was from the British."

I was only half-listening to this familiar tirade of dead colonialisms, only half awake as I watched the endless ebb and flow of activity in the stupefying humidity of mid-morning.

"During the colonialism of the Arabs," Juma went on, "the Arabs had a big market on Zanzibar Island where they were doing the silver trade."

I was listening more attentively. The rich clove trade I had heard of, but this was the first time that I was being made aware of the importance of a trade in silver. But it turned out that it was my ears, unadjusted to his Swahili-English, that were deceiving me.

"During the silver trade," he continued, "these Arabs bought and stole people here on the mainland, and took them to sell to foreigners in Zanzibar. Those people were taken to work in other countries. As a result, many of our people are now living in America."

By "silver trade", I now realised, he was actually referring to the "slave trade". We were back in that harrowing zone, the unresolved trauma of Africa's collective memory -- a distant saga as close to the living heart as the day before yesterday.

You can fly to Zanzibar from Dar es Salaam in about half an hour. You don't even have to land in Dar, if you are coming from Europe or South Africa. You can land directly on the island on a charter flight, go straight to your lodgings at a Protea hotel, and sink into paradise.

I set off for Zanzibar on a sturdy hydrofoil boat, operated by an enterprising Tanzanian of Indian extraction, from the old harbour of Dar es Salaam. The deep, natural harbour is breathing life again after years of stagnation, a stagnation attested to by the rusted skeletons of ships and trawlers drifting aimlessly in the placid bay, or lying abandoned on their broken sides on the white sands of the shore. Some of those shells from foreign lands now serve as homes for the homeless.

Life tumbles all over the port area, the same kind of bustling life that characterises the town. My access to the hydrofoil that would skim me over the waves to Zanzibar was negotiated semi-informally, between Juma, who wanted me to play it straight, and a bunch of friendly harbour desperadoes who wanted me to skip under the wire, as it were, and score them to a percentage on the way. In the end, I paid full price, and lost a little extra on the unearned percentage which I was made to part with anyway, much to Juma's disgruntlement. It was all part of the adventure.

It took three hours to arrive at the legendary island of slaves and spices. The hydrofoil is capable of doing the trip in 90 minutes, but when the vessel first came into operation some three years ago, the passengers, most of them ordinary commuters from the mainland, had objected to the rough buffets this kind of speed entails on the ocean, so the boat operators had instructed their captains to ease back on the throttle. That's probably why most tourists now opt to fly. You pay more, but you save an extra 90 minutes of hassle on the high seas, accompanied by a confusing cacophony of chickens, baskets, bales of cloth, and engaging Swahili conversation about life in general.

Zanzibar town wears its proud mongrel heritage on its sleeve. As the boat floats into the brilliantly turquoise harbour, the buildings that line the waterfront show the influence of their Arab, German and British progenitors.

A short walk from the harbour, you enter the narrow, winding streets of the old Stone Town, reminiscent of the souks of Tunis and Algiers.

Whatever the sins of the Arabs of the past, their descendants now live in easygoing proximity with their black neighbours, many of whom must be descendants of slaves from the mainland. In many instances the racial distinctions are blurred in any case, with the lingua franca of Swahili and the unifying religion of Islam, adhered to by more than 90% of the island's population, binding former adversaries into a homogenous community.

It didn't happen overnight. In 1964, just months after Zanzibar had been granted independence from Britain, and as it was entering into the union with mainland Tanganyika that would give birth to the United Republic of Tanzania, a group of leading black Zanzibaris, led by the formidable Sheikh Abeid Karume, overthrew the regime of the ruling Arab sultan in a bloody uprising, and entered into forced marriages with the princesses of the royal palace. The bitter past was dispensed with in an orgy of violence and sexual revenge, out of which the image of the new Zanzibar was conceived.

Voyagers from the Arabian Gulf had been engaging in the trade in human beings, among other commodities, since around 1400. The Portuguese started giving them stiff competition during the mid-16th century, and the Arab traders had to work harder to defend their commercial empire. By 1750, the trade was firmly in the hands of the dynasty of Omani Sultans. In 1832, round about the time the British were deciding that the human trade they too had been engaging in for a number of centuries was actually immoral, Sultan Seyyid Said, the reigning sultan of Oman, took the extraordinary step of transferring his capital from Muscat to Zanzibar. The lucrative trade in slaves, cloves and ivory had made the Indian Ocean island a key centre of world commerce.

His successor held out against the persistent attempts of British missionaries to get him to cease slave trading until 1873, when he finally agreed to abolish the practise. But the sultans remained on Zanzibar, their trade routes still lucrative, and their lifestyles filled with indolent island pleasures.

In 1880, the incumbent sultan completed the construction of his graceful harem in a pleasant glade filled with coconut palms, a few miles outside the town. The sultan had one wife and 99 concubines.

His wife lived with him in the palace in Zanzibar town. The concubines occupied the harem, each with her private chamber, each chamber provided with an en suite bathroom and toilet, the baths sunk into the stone floors, the whole complex served by an elaborate subterranean sewage system.

Every day at dusk, the 99 concubines would walk out of the harem to bathe in one of the two circular pools that nestled among rows of tall stone columns. They would then return to the harem and drape themselves, naked, around the enclosed courtyard, to await the arrival of the sultan.

When the sultan arrived with his entourage, he would dismount, enter the building, and look over his female possessions. He would then take a dip in his own private, double-domed bath chamber, amply supplied with couches and alcoves, where more of his charges would display themselves for him.

Having refreshed his body in the hot and cold baths, after a long day of the taxing tasks of government and commerce, he would then follow his chosen companion for the evening into her chamber "to refresh his mind", as my guide put it.

It was against this kind of lifestyle, and the subtle envy that it engendered, that Karume's putsch was directed.

I had lunch at the Blues Restaurant -- an off-shore branch of that fine establishment in Camps Bay, Cape Town. The Zanzibar version is an airy, tasteful wooden structure jutting into the translucent waters of the bay on stilts.

Two Australians sat down at an adjacent table. One of them was wearing a T-shirt adorned with the legend: "Beer -- so much more than just a breakfast drink." I wondered whether the turbulent history of this island had made any impression on them -- or whether, stereotypically, they were "just here for the beer".

I ran into them again in a tiny hole-in-the-wall bar near the harbour, as I was getting ready to make the return journey to Dar es Salaam. We struck up a conversation. It turned out that they were on Zanzibar for a spot of rest and recreation before heading back to the Antipodes on leave.

They were builders. They had been sent out by their construction company, along with many other Australians, to build offices and staff accommodation for Ashanti Goldfields (a division of Anglo American) who were setting up a massive mining operation near Mwanza in the northern part of mainland Tanzania. The operation would be exploiting one of the world's richest gold seams -- one that would give such a high yield of metal per ton of ore, my builder friends said, that it would make South Africa's world-famous mines look positively anaemic.

Interesting, I thought. What would have happened if these amazing riches had been discovered 40 years ago, around the time of Tanzania's independence, in the heydays of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere? Would history have worked out differently? Would Tanzania have been able to bankroll its way to a genuine economic independence, allowing it to set off on a proper road to development, rather than being brought to its knees by the International Monetary Fund and various other international agencies? Are these things planned, or are they coincidental? How will we ever know?

The most curious thing about the message I was receiving was the messenger. Builders? From Australia? Is Africa so backward that it cannot even supply labour for a major construction project on its own soil?

The image, once again, is of an African country being colonised from yet another direction. Tanzania will hardly see its own fabulous reserves of gold, since they will be leaving the country at high speed, while the country's revenues from the transaction will disappear into servicing a painful and long-term debt.

The wheel spins through another revolution, and Africa is still far away from living its own dream.


The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have announced a debt relief package worth two-billion dollars for Tanzania.

More than one billion dollars of the debt will be financed by the World Bank through its International Development Agency, and the rest will be be borne by multilateral and bilateral creditors.

The total value of Tanzania's debt is more than four-and-a-half billion dollars.

Opposition parties in Tanzania say they are planning legal action to try to overturn changes to the country's constitution which were passed by the National Assembly yesterday.

The leader of the opposition, Fatma Maghimbi, said that they particularly objected to a clause allowing a presidential candidate to win by a simple majority rather than over fifty per cent, and to another clause allowing the president to appoint ten members of parliament.

The government said that the old rules, which provided for a possible run-off, were outdated and expensive, but the opposition accused the government of fearing that it might fail to win outright under the old rules in the elections due in October.

Source :
BBC Africa

Afrique : histoire, economie, politique

Contenant et contenus conçus et réalisés par Olivier Bain; tirés de l'oubli, toilettés et remis en ligne par Jean-Marc Liotier