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date: 30 September 2023

The Tanganyika Rifles Mutinylocked

The Tanganyika Rifles Mutinylocked

  • Timothy ParsonsTimothy ParsonsDepartment of History and Department of African and African American Studies, Washington University


In the predawn hours of Monday, January 20, 1964, a substantial number of the rank-and-file soldiers, known in Swahili as askaris, of the 1st Battalion of the Tanganyika Rifles, broke into the armory of the Colito Barracks, situated just outside Dar es Salaam. The Tanganyika Rifles were the official national army of Tanganyika, but in reality its two battalions were little changed from the colonial-era 6th and 26th Battalions of the King’s African Rifles (KAR). Weapons in hand, the mutinous troops arrested their senior officers, who were almost entirely Europeans on secondment from the regular British Army, and occupied key areas in Dar es Salaam. The breakdown of civilian control over the military sent President Julius Nyerere into hiding and led to rioting. The Tanganyikan government’s apparent willingness to grant pay and other concessions to the insubordinate soldiers on January 23 inspired their counterparts in Uganda and Kenya to similarly rebel several days later. Fearing a military coup or, more likely, that rival politicians might use the disorder to seize power, the three presidents, Nyerere, Milton Obote, and Jomo Kenyatta, all made the difficult decision to request British military assistance in suppressing the revolts. This was accomplished relatively peacefully in Uganda and Kenya, but Royal Marine commandos killed two Tanganyikan askaris and wounded nine others in an assault on the Colito Barracks on January 25.

Just as the famous Akira Kurosawa movie Rashomon provides multiple, conflicting, and highly subjective perspectives on a single event, so too did journalists, British and East African politicians, scholars, and the participants in the soldiers’ revolt advance contested and contradictory interpretations of the Tanganyika Rifles mutiny. The British government and the Western press, particularly conservative metropolitan British newspapers, suggested that the mutineers were pawns in a Cold War communist conspiracy to destabilize, if not overthrow, the new East African nation-states. African political leaders, who were deeply embarrassed by having to recall their former imperial ruler to rescue them from their new nationalist armies, suspected that expatriate officers had intentionally provoked the troops to provide Britain with an excuse to reimpose its authority in the region. The rank-and-file participants in the rebellions, whose perspective is largely missing from these narratives, offered uncertain explanations for their act of collective insubordination. In testimonies at their court-martial, the Tanganyikan soldiers who seized the Colito Barracks admitted to planning the revolt in advance in response to a host of grievances over low pay, lack of promotion, and poor living conditions, but their lawyer suggested that they were the pawns of unnamed plotters. While the actual events of the last week of January 1964 have largely been forgotten, the soldiers’ mutinies productively expose the tensions and complications that arose from the difficult transformation of the Tanganyikan Mandate into an independent nation-state.


  • Political History

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