Zanzibar and Tanganyika Unite to Form Tanzania Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The ancient island sultanate of Zanzibar joined mainland Tanganyika to form a new federal state known as the Republic of Tanzania.

Summary of Event

British colonial rule over Tanganyika Postcolonialism;Tanganyika ended on December 9, 1961, with an exemplary peaceful transfer of power. Julius Nyerere, a young populist schoolteacher, had emerged as the country’s undisputed leader. His political platform centered on the idea of government by Africans for Africans. His confidence was such that six weeks later he resigned as prime minister to travel the country instilling an interest in government and in his Tanganyika African National Union Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) party. His slogan in Swahili was “Uhuru na umoja” (freedom and unity). On the first anniversary of independence, Nyerere was sworn in as the country’s president, having gained 99 percent of the vote. Tanzania;formation Postcolonialism;Tanzania British Empire;dissolution [kw]Zanzibar and Tanganyika Unite to Form Tanzania (Apr. 26, 1964) [kw]Tanganyika Unite to Form Tanzania, Zanzibar and (Apr. 26, 1964) [kw]Tanzania, Zanzibar and Tanganyika Unite to Form (Apr. 26, 1964) Tanzania;formation Postcolonialism;Tanzania British Empire;dissolution [g]Africa;Apr. 26, 1964: Zanzibar and Tanganyika Unite to Form Tanzania[08030] [g]Tanzania;Apr. 26, 1964: Zanzibar and Tanganyika Unite to Form Tanzania[08030] [g]Tanganyika;Apr. 26, 1964: Zanzibar and Tanganyika Unite to Form Tanzania[08030] [c]Geography;Apr. 26, 1964: Zanzibar and Tanganyika Unite to Form Tanzania[08030] [c]Government and politics;Apr. 26, 1964: Zanzibar and Tanganyika Unite to Form Tanzania[08030] Nyerere, Julius Karume, Abeid Amani Babu, Abdul Rahman Mohammed Hanga, Abdullah Kassim Kambona, Oscar Okello, John Kenyatta, Jomo Obote, Milton

Following one year’s focus on domestic issues, Nyerere turned to pan-Africanism Pan-Africanism[PanAfricanism] Nationalism;Africa . In 1963, he was instrumental in forming the Organization of African Unity Organization of African Unity . With Kenya scheduled to receive independence in December, 1963, Nyerere met that June with Jomo Kenyatta and Milton Obote, the emerging African leaders of Kenya and Uganda, respectively, to establish a federation of East Africa by the end of the year.

However, political developments in Zanzibar, to the east, captured the attention of Tanganyika. The British also announced a target date for independence Postcolonialism;Zanzibar of this tiny island protectorate: December 10. Unlike the mainland countries of Tanganyika and Kenya, the transference of power for Zanzibar was not smooth. Since 1840, Zanzibar had been ruled by an Omani family of sultans. Because of the island’s position in trade, the influence of Arab and Asian minority communities was disproportional to their size.

Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere (center) stands between U.S. president Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter during a visit to the United States in 1977.

(National Archives)

Several elections were held in Zanzibar leading up to the time of independence. The Zanzibar Nationalist Party Zanzibar Nationalist Party (ZNP) was created to protect Arab interests. The Afro-Shirazi Party Afro-Shirazi Party[AfroShirazi Party] (ASP) attracted both descendants of early inhabitants of the island and descendants of former slaves brought from the mainland. The ZNP never won an election without dispute. Although the ASP won the majority of seats in 1961, the British rejected its leader, Abeid Amani Karume, and appointed the ZNP Arab leaders in his stead, leading to riots that left sixty-eight people dead.

The July, 1963, elections were just as controversial. The ASP won 55 percent of the vote, but the ZNP won the majority of seats in the new independent government; Mohammed Shamte Shamte, Mohammed was elected as the first prime minister of Zanzibar. At a September constitutional conference in London, there was an agreement made to continue the hereditary sultanate, which was a symbolic reminder of the era of the slave trade.

The new Zanzibar government lasted just one month. Revolution Revolutions and coups;Zanzibar broke out early on the morning of January 12. The revolt’s primary leader was John Okello, a charismatic Christian preacher from Uganda who captured the main police station and took over the radio station to incite the masses with messages of terror. A second leader was Abdul Rahman Mohammed Babu, who had earlier broken from the ZNP to establish a procommunist Umma party. Rioters went on a rampage that was aimed directly at the Arab and Asian populations. Ten thousand people were killed, many were exiled, and homes and businesses were looted. The sultan fled the island and never returned. The following day, Prime Minister Shamte and his cabinet resigned.

Okello immediately formed a revolutionary council of thirty-one members, chaired by Karume. Over the next months a power struggle followed among three groups. Karume and other ASP allies were the moderates seeking close relations with mainland leaders and a position of nonalignment in Cold War politics. Babu and ASP radicals exerted pressure to turn Zanzibar into a communist state. Okello’s goal was to extend revolution to the mainland.

The threat to the mainland was realized on January 20, when the Tanganyikan rifle corps mutinied against British officers still serving in the nation’s army. Chaos resulted, both in the capital city, Dar es Salaam, and in Tabora, in the western part of the country. Nyerere was forced into hiding until British troops from Kenya intervened to restore order. Similar uprisings were thwarted in Kenya and Uganda. Although the young African rulers emerged unscathed, the uprising raised questions about their ability to rule without the backing of Western military power. When Okello left Zanzibar for the mainland, he was thus considered persona non grata and forced to return to Uganda, disappearing from the public eye.

Babu increasingly challenged Karume’s leadership, especially when both Great Britain and the United States continued to delay recognizing the new government. It became obvious, however, that communist powers saw an opening in Zanzibar, so they began to offer recognition, financial help, and advisers. Zanzibar was the first country outside the eastern bloc to formalize relations with East Germany. Similarly, China and the Soviet Union played a greater role, leading to Zanzibar being dubbed “the African Cuba.” Although Karume continued to preach nonalignment, the facts spoke a different message that further alienated the West. Britain—and to some degree the United States—increasingly pressured Kenyatta and Nyerere to request Western military intervention, but to no avail.

On April 23, Nyerere and Karume surprised the world by announcing that a political union had been formed between Tanganyika and Zanzibar. On April 26, both the Tanganyikan national assembly and the revolutionary council of Zanzibar ratified the union. This decision had been carried out in utmost secrecy between Karume and Nyerere. Abdul Twala Twala, Abdul and Abdullah Kassim Hanga Hanga, Abdullah Kassim of the ASP had quietly traveled to Dar es Salaam for meetings with Tanganyikan vice president Rashidi Kawawa Kawawa, Rashidi and Foreign Minister Oscar Kambona. A British expatriate, Roland Brown Brown, Roland , still serving as attorney general of Tanganyika, drafted the articles on union. The leaders had waited until Babu was out of the country for meetings in Geneva and Pakistan. By the time he returned, it was too late to stop the union; he had been marginalized. British and U.S. diplomats were informed of the union only at the last minute.

In the new government, Nyerere would be president, Karume first vice president (but retaining the title president of Zanzibar), and Kawawa second vice president. Hanga and Babu were given cabinet posts, and all members of the revolutionary council were included in the national assembly.

On October 29, the union was officially renamed the United Republic of Tanzania. A blue segment was added to a previously chosen green, black, and yellow flag to represent the island portion of the nation.


The union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar was a creative response to crisis. While postcolonial leaders sought a position of Cold War-era Cold War;nonaligned nations Cold War;Africa nonalignment, the union helped to neutralize communist influence on Zanzibar without the country being driven back into the Western camp.

To most of the world it appeared that Nyerere had been backed into a corner that would force him to choose between the West and the Soviet bloc. Likewise, many had believed Karume to be a weak, easily swayed figurehead who would be bullied by the powerful. The fact that they pulled off this agreement in complete secrecy without outside influence is testimony to African wisdom and strength.

While most would read the decision through the lens of Cold War politics with the choice between East and West, there were other issues as well. The real choice facing Karume and Nyerere was that of military force or diplomacy. Communist countries worked overtime to arm procommunist forces in Zanzibar, while Britain and the United States sought Western military intervention. However, the matter was settled without a shot fired. To be sure, several key players later met violent deaths; however, Tanzania’s beginning led to four decades of nationhood without war.

The union of 1964, however, was not without a price. Nyerere never achieved his goal of an East African federation, which he proposed with Obote and Kenyatta in 1963. In the middle of the Zanzibar revolution crisis, Nyerere had sought their help, meeting them in Nairobi on April 10-11, 1964, to discuss federation plans. When Nyerere proposed the inclusion of Zanzibar, the other leaders balked, fearing the growing communist influence and the risk of losing Western support. When Obote and Kenyatta refused to participate in a future meeting, Nyerere chose to turn to Zanzibar for union. Caught by surprise at the union announcement, Obote and Kenyatta acted as if a wedge had been driven. There would be no East African federation. Tanzania;formation Postcolonialism;Tanzania British Empire;dissolution

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Duggan, William Redmond, and John R. Civille. Tanzania and Nyerere: A Study of Ujamaa and Nationhood. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1976. A political history of the region through the lens of social policy and policy making.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Grundy, Kenneth W. “East Africa’s Unexpected Marriage: The United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar.” New Leader, May 25, 1964, 15-17. A contemporary report that favorably considers the union of the two nations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Muchie, Mammo, ed. The Making of the Africa-Nation: Pan-Africanism and the African Renaissance. London: Adonis & Abbey, 2003. A collection that addresses the topics of African unity and African identity, with a focus on defining the idea of “unity” and how unification should proceed.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nyerere, Julius. Freedom and Unity: A Selection from Writings and Speeches, 1952-1965. New York: Oxford University Press, 1966. Includes the text of the April 25 speech to parliament calling for ratification of the documents of union.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Petterson, Don. Revolution in Zanzibar: An American’s Cold War Tale. Cambridge, Mass.: Westview Press, 2002. Memoirs of the events of 1964 from the perspective of the only known American citizen remaining in Zanzibar throughout this period.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Revolution in Zanzibar and Union with Tanganyika.” International Bulletin, June, 1964, 180-185. A contemporary report of the union.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sadler, Randal. Tanzania: Journey to Republic. London: Radcliffe Press, 1999. Covers the union from the perspective of a British diplomat.

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