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

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– G. Thomas Burgess

– Tanzanian Affaires

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

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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.

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