Thursday, June 20, 2013


AMRIT WILSON, US Foreign Policy and Revolution; The Creation of Tanzania,
Introduction by A. M. Babu, London, Pluto Press, 1989. ISBN 1-85305-051-2.

The capital of the Indian Ocean Island of Zanzibar had street lighting powered by electricity when London had to make do with gas lamps.This was benefit of East African's first electric power station,built in Zanzibar by the United States and one of Amrit Wilson"s instances of long standing US interest in Zanzibar.She alson remarks on visits by American merchant ships of the spice and Ivory trade to the shores of Zanzibar and frequent calls by Zanzibar dhows to the port of the mid-nineteenth century British influence in the Island sultanate was dominant, and US influence waned.

      Ms Wilson" study focus on the Zanzibar revolution in January 1964 against the Sultan"s regime in the wake of an independence accorded by Britain in December 1963. Her particular concern is with the US role in the events including the Union of  Zanzibar with Mainland Tanganyika in present-day Tanzania. Her argument is that the US state Department played a decisive part in determining the outcome of events, even more so than the comparable British authorities. The new source material on which she relies is State Department letters and telegrams deposited in the official paper at the President Lyondon B. Johnson Library in Austin, Texas,
      Wilson"s reading of the historic changes differs substantially from previously published  accounts, A detailed narrative wa given by a British military historian.
Anthony Clayton (The Zanzibar Revolution and its Aftermath, London,C, Hurst,1981). Clayton rather dismisses the US rsponse as a panicky evacuation of families of the staff at a US satellite-tracking station and possibly premature closing of that station,Clayton give credence to a role in the revolution by the self-styled; Field Marshal'' John Okello; this bizarre personality is only contingently featured in the wilson book.
                              The major personality here is Abdul Rahman Mohammed Babu, chairman of the Umma Party of Zanzibar, Foreign Minister of the People'' Republic of Zanzibar, later a Minister in the United Republic , a political prisoner and exile. Babu contributes an introduction saying that the book confirms suspision held in the 1954-64 and of the US orchestration of the overthrow of the Zanzibar revolution of 1964 and of the deliberate cretion of the Union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar in a pro-West Tanzania; He provides too the first appendix on the background to the revolution which is a succeinet discussion of class force in the various political groupings of the run-up to independence, and a gentle  advertisement for the relevance of his own Umma Party. It was Babu''s identification with socialism and with Chinese communism in particular that the State Department feared.
      Wilson  does reveal new detail on US  manipulation of the Zanzibar situation. But in an economy based  on cloves and serving a population of around a third of a million the wonder is not so much that the US more or less succeeded, but that they bothered at all. After the violent overthrow of the Sultan''s regime, the US,  according to a diplomatic cable, viewed the situation as one where (1) Okello supported by forty Cuban trained armed gunmen... still wields undiminished power and (2) Abeid Karume and nationalist faction steadily losing power to pro-Communist Babu-Hanga clique''
         Over time,  Okello went abroad and was barred from returning to Zanzibar, Karume tyranny was a high price the US wished on the Zanzibari people against Babu who, in the CIA assessment,  is describe as the most energetic, able and ambitious member of the Zanzibari political group; What comes through the whole book is the degree to which US policy makers were ready to make arbitrary decisions about political events, situation and personalities, in areas where it is more generally assumed  that the British Foreign Office is the critical external factor , and on matters where US knowledge is at best superficial and often over reactive. It leads to Kissinger-style diplomacy where by Ian Smith is told when his time is up in Rhodesia, and the prospect of the Angolan people are subordinated in US thinking to rivalries with the USSR. This case study on Zanzibar is on a slender scale and its documentary sources supplemented by too narrow a range of informants, but it helps illustrate what theoretical United States means i practice.

                                                                                             MICHAEL WOLFERS

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