G. Thomas Burgess, “race, revolution and the struggle for human rights in zanzibar” – Tanzania

“The memoirs of Ali Sultan Issa and Seif Sharif Hamad”  by G. Thomas Burgess

Ohio University Press, 2009. ISBN 978 0 8214 1852 9 Distributed by Eurospan Group 01767 604972


– G. Thomas Burgess

– Tanzanian Affaires




President Abeid Amani Karume’s Zephir, National Museum, Zanzibar, 2009.07.17



Review: Ben Rawlence in “Tanzanian Affairs” issued by the Britain-Tanzanian Society, No 95, Jan-April 2010

This extraordinary book is not yet available in Tanzania, nor in Swahili, but requests are beginning to trickle in for copies to be shipped, photocopied, begged and borrowed by those who have heard of its explosive contents. I bet it won’t be long before an enterprising newspaper serializes the two life stories it chronicles.

Professor Burgess of the United States Naval Academy presents the authorized biographies of two leading Zanzibari figures both of whom have had a front row seat at the tumultuous political events of the last half century on the Isles. Ali Sultan Issa, a key figure in the revolution and in Amani Karume’s revolutionary government, and Seif Shariff Hamad, Minister of Education, Chief Minister, political prisoner and now Presidential candidate of the Civic United Front (CUF), Tanzania’s largest opposition party. But it is the first account that will cause the most controversy.

Hamad recounts with authority and balance his years in the Zanzibar gevernment of Aboud Jumbe and Ali Hassan Mwinyi. The details of his arrest, detention, and the power struggles within the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (party of the revolution) will be of real interest to historians and political pundits. However, parts of the later chapters sound more like a CUF manifesto.

Issa, on the other hand, a self confessed drunkard and philanderer, seems to relish the telling of all the sordid details of his outlandish life story without regard for the reputation of his former colleagues, the revolution or even himself and his family. The blisteringly honest account is liberally peppered with the phrase ‘may Allah forgive me’, and with good reason. Issa’s racy life: multiple marriages; pot-smoking while Minister of Education then Health and his encounters with key figures of the twentieth century such as Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh, Mao Tse Tung, Che Guevara, and Nikita Khruschev make his account highly readable. But the picture that emerges of the revolution and the post-revolutionary government is truly compelling. He describes houses being nationalized on his personal whim, policies such as forcing the youth to join work camps and nationalizing imports cooked up overnight while the completely inexperienced ministers had the power to imprison and kill, at will. These young revolutionaries appear drinking and dancing while the rest of the population survives on rations and forced labor. According to Issa, it seems they tried to govern according to socialist principles but really had no idea what they were doing at all.

Prefaced by an excellent introduction that demonstrates mastery of Zanzibar ‘s tangled history, this book will be a key text in Tanzanian history for many years to come.



3 thoughts on “G. Thomas Burgess, “race, revolution and the struggle for human rights in zanzibar” – Tanzania

  1. Janet Kaaya

    Uncovering UCLA Library Special Collections information resources for researchers: the pre-independence socio-political landscape in Zanzibar from the Michael Lofchie collection / by Janet Kaaya & Kelley Wolfe Bachli – in: “African Research and Documentation” 2009, no. 109, p. 43-50.

    ASC Subject Headings: Zanzibar; United States; archives.

    After more than four decades of obscurity, a collection of historical African newspapers and other materials, the Michael Lofchie Collection, donted to the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Library Special Collections Department in the United States in the 1960s, is now being made widely accessible. The collection contains primarily pre-independence materials from Zanzibar. It holds about 120 volumes, covering 22 newspaper titles in various languages, including English, Swahili, Gujarati, and Arabic. In addition, it includes bulletins, journals, monographs, manuscripts, booklets, information sheets and minutes of meetings. The collection’s depth and breadth reflect the sociocultural, economic and political environments that prevailed in Zanzibar over the timespan of the collection, from 1909 to 1965. This article deals with the research value of the collection, its collector, access to the collection, and its composition. Bibliogr., notes. ASC Leiden abstract.


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