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Tanzania: Tanganyika and Zanzibar: Tanzania’s 60-year-old union may need restructuring

On April 26, 2024, Tanzania celebrated 60 years of the union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar. The union, which created the present-day United Republic of Tanzania, stands among the most enduring political agreements of its kind in Africa and has shaped the construction of the country’s national identity. Nicodemus Minde, who has researched Tanzanian politics, analyzes the union’s dynamics.

What is special about the Tanganyika-Zanzibar union?

The union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar is not the only attempt at political unification in Africa. Previous ones include the Ethiopia-Eritrea Federation (1952-1962); the Ghana-Guinea-Mali Union (Union of African States) (1958-1963); and Confederation of Senegambia (1982-1989). They were dissolved, but the Tanganyika-Zanzibar union remained intact.

Attempts at unification in post-independence Africa have been fraught with challenges. In some cases, nationalist movements wanted to annex territory. In others, countries have been divided in two, such as Ethiopia-Eritrea (1993) and Sudan-South Sudan (2011).

There are still many separatist and nationalist movements active across the continent.

For six decades, the Union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar has withstood challenges. It has been celebrated as a success of the Pan-African vision of a united Africa.

But there are murmurs and concerns about the nature, structure and future of the union.

What led to the union?

On April 26, 1964, two independent states, the Republic of Tanganyika and the People’s Republic of Zanzibar, merged to form the United Republic of Tanzania. Tanganyika became independent from Great Britain on December 9, 1961 with Julius Nyerere as Prime Minister.

Zanzibar, also a former British colony, had become an independent constitutional monarchy under Sultan Jamshid bin Abdulla on December 10, 1963. The African majority led a revolution against Arab control on January 12, 1964, establishing a new government led by Abeid Karume.

The formalization of the union was agreed to in the Articles of Union, which outlined 11 areas of cooperation between the two regions. These were the constitution, foreign affairs, defence, police, emergency powers, citizenship and immigration, foreign trade, public service, tax and port matters and civil aviation.

The union was conceived amid debates over Pan-Africanism and Cold War politics. After the Zanzibar revolution of January 1964, Western powers such as the United States and Britain labeled Zanzibar as the Cuba of Africa. This was in reference to Cuba’s proxy role in the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Nyerere also viewed Zanzibar as a security threat and once commented that if his wish were granted, Zanzibar would be towed further into the Indian Ocean. However, there were sociocultural and economic ties that united the people of Zanzibar and Tanganyika and that justified the formation of the union.

The union is credited with building Tanzania’s national identity. It has improved social, economic and cultural interactions between the residents of Zanzibar and the mainland. The constitution requires that the offices of president and vice president be shared between the mainland and Zanzibar. The current president of Tanzania, Samia Suluhu Hassan, is from Zanzibar. The ruling party, CCM, has often supported the current union format, which favors its permanence in power. The party’s fear is that the democratization of the union could result in a victory for the opposition.

Zanzibar is one of the world’s leading tourist destinations and, as a result, both Zanzibar and mainland Tanzania have derived significant economic benefits from tourism.

Has the union eased tension between the regions?

There are always tensions between the two entities. Between 2011 and 2013, Zanzibar nationalism was at its peak. Some sections called for secession. They were dissatisfied with the union’s structure and waning sovereignty, especially the mainland’s influence on Zanzibar’s economic and political affairs. The situation cooled down with Samia’s rise to the presidency.

The ruling party has often ignored calls to resolve union disputes. Lately there has been a clamor to take back the government of Tanganyika. The opposition is challenging Samia’s two major decisions affecting mainland Tanzania. The first is the eviction of the Maasai people from their ancestral land of Ngorongoro and the second is the government’s decision to enter into an agreement with Dubai-based DP World for the management of the port of Dar es Salaam. Since the president is from Zanzibar, the opposition has accused her of auctioning off mainland land. These claims highlight the fragility of the union, which the opposition cites as a reason to demand a new constitution.

From some of the published opinions and from several interviews I have had with political leaders, it appears that many Tanzanians feel that the union should be reformed to reflect contemporary realities.

A 2014 report by the Constitution Review Commission, created to gather opinions and propose a new constitution, outlined emerging political and economic grievances from both entities. For example, many mainlanders view Zanzibar as a distinct entity, with its own president, national symbols such as a flag and anthem, and a semi-autonomous government. On the other hand, Zanzibarians have criticized the lack of transparency in union finances and the absence of clear procedures for managing the union. These issues have not yet been addressed.