The Zanzibar Revolution was a violent uprising that took place on January 12, 1964, in the Sultanate of Zanzibar, a British protectorate off the coast of East Africa. The revolution overthrew the Arab-dominated government and established a republic ruled by the Afro-Shirazi Party (ASP).


The colonial legacy contributed to the Zanzibar revolution

The British had used the minority Arabs to dominate Africans through their policy of divide and rule. These Arabs had tortured and mal-administered the Africans. On granting independence in the hands of the Arabs in 1963, Africans could not allow it which situation was exploited by Okello to stage a successful revolution.

The economic crisis of 1960

The cloves which were a major cash crop in Zanzibar and Pemba drastically lost market and the prices lowered considerably, the Africans in turn blamed the Asians of Indo-Pakistan origin and the Arab produce buyers. This caused alarming situation as the cost of living increased. Under such conditions the only alternative was to stage a revolution such that the Africans control their own economies.

High rate of unemployment

The sky rocketing unemployment that hit the island as a result of the government layingoff many policemen and other Africans from positions of responsibility, these discontented masses were easily recruited into John Okello’s secret army leading to the 1964 revolution.

The influence of the Zanzibar nationalistic party and the Zanzibar People’s party coalition government (ZNP/PP).

It was politically and military inefficient, promotions were not on merit and the discontented Africans sought to avert this through a revolution, there was a lot of corruption and embezzlement of government funds which compounded people together against the government.

The weakness of the army which was manned by the Arabs who were even poorly armed

the problems of the army was exploited by John Okello to overthrow the coalition government. We can not forget the fact that the Zanzibar revolution lasted for only nine hours an overt manifestation of the military weakness of the coalition government.

The influence of socialism

an ideology that normally crops up under circumstances of appalling economic conditions. In this case Babu of the Ummah party organized trade unions to oppose the poor pay of the workers and the brutal methods of work by Arab supervisors. Therefore Okello only exploited the already discontented class of citizens to stage a revolution in 1964.

The ambitious character of John Okello

He had settled on the island at the age of 21 years in 1952, he had worked as a painter, stone cutter and a casual laborer. Before becoming a minor branch official of the Afro-shiraz party (ASP) in vitongozi village in Pemba Island. By 1961 he had developed a conviction of participating in the revolutionary army. He started organizing the disgruntled people later on the laid off policemen who all joined hands to over throw the government of Jamshid.

The revolution was also caused by Psychological fears, intimidation and suspicion on the island

it was alledged that more ruthless and autocratic laws were going to be passed on them such as circumcision. The government had also denied them the opportunity to travel outside Zanzibar. The Africans also feared that the government was planning to send them away from the island so they reacted fast before the Arabs, resulting into a revolution.

Compulsory wearing of the sultan’s budge (with the title his highness) by all Africans on the island

This policy was interpreted as direct enslavement in their own country. This angered Africans at a time when there was a wind of change blowing throughout Africa. To avoid this a revolution was inevitable

Unfair distribution of land on the island

in Zanzibar land was a monopoly of the Arabs who established plantations, Africans and the Afro-shirazs’ (mixed blood of Africans and Arabs) lived on land as squatters and had to pay rent. This was unbearable where agriculture was a major economic activity. This could only be avoided through a revolution.

The revolution was also caused by poor handover of power by the British to the Arabs

in 1955 the Zanzibar nationalistic party was formed constituting mostly Arabs and demanded for self government. On the other hand in 1957 the Afro-Shiraz party was formed by Abeid Karume and it called for immediate self government. However despite this conflict, the British went on to grant independence pre-maturely to the Arabs, Karume resorted to opposition and by 1964 the revolution was ripe. The situation that was exploited by John Okello.

On the other hand the economic activities of Zanzibar specifically trade were dominated by the Arabs. They determined market price and Africans were discriminated and did not own any share apart from acting as producers. This coupled with other grievances speeded the pace of events that resulted into a revolution.

The high taxation policy

Africans were taxed by the government on top of paying land rents to the landlords, as if that was not enough the Arab tax collectors were harsh, tortured, flogged or imprisoned defaulters mercilessly. Such unfairness in the tax policy prepared fertile grounds for resistance.

The educational imbalances in Zanzibar

By 1964 Zanzibar had been turned into a class society with the Arabs comprising of the aristocracy, it was only the wealthy Arabs who took their children to schools hence dominating the civil service for the poor Africans could not afford the school fees. Such political quagmire made the Africans to resist hence the revolution.

Historical differences between the Arabs and Africans

Ever since Seyyid Saidi’s transfer of his capital from Muscat to Zanzibar in 1814 , the Afro-Arab relations have never been friendly for it increased the horrors inflicted by slave trade as the clove plantations necessitated slave labor and when in 1963 the British granted independence to the Arabs, Africans were scared and were not sure whether Arabs would not bring back slave trade in Zanzibar and Pemba, this only served to prepare ground for the revolution.

Religious friction

The early Portuguese conquest had spread Christianity among the Africans, this was a sharp contrast to the Arabs who admired the Islamic faith. To make matters worse sultan Jamshid had ordered the Islamisation of the majority Christians and introduction of the Sharia law. This could not be accepted and it is not surprising that the Christians led the revolution of 1964.

The emergency of different political parties of different ideologies.

By 1957 three parties had emerged ZNP and ZPP and ASP with different ideologies. Later the Ummah party also emerged as a break away from the ZNP/PP coalition party. The subsequent elections on 1961-63 showed that Africans could not win as the wealthy Arabs controlled the politics of the state; therefore they turned to violent means to attaining genuine independence.

Racial segregation

The island was multi-racial with the British, Arabs, the Afro-shiraz and Africans. Unfortunately the Africans were regarded lowest in class, the social services were not properly distributed this lingered in the minds of Africans who decided to rise against the foreigners who did not regard themselves them as useful citizens in their own country.


Published by


IAM experienced geography teacher with more than three years of teaching and creating content related to geography and other subjects for both high school and college students. hope you will find the content of this website useful to your studies and daily life


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: