The term “Zanzibar Revolution” refers to (1) the overthrow in January 1964 of the islands’ first postcolonial regime, barely a month after gaining independence from British rule; (2) a period of several weeks following the overthrow when Africans targeted islanders of mostly Arab heritage and identity for violence, plunder, and vengeance seeking; and (3) the years from 1964 through the 1970s, when Zanzibar’s revolutionary regime sought to level island society at the expense of Arabs and South Asians, whose numbers continued to dwindle, mostly through emigration, some of it coerced. While aided and advised by socialist experts from overseas, and inspired by socialist models such as China and the Soviet Union, the regime charted its own unique course, a course influenced by the revolutionaries’ own understanding of the role of race in island society. The Zanzibar Revolution was exceptional in several ways. Arguably, it was the most lethal outbreak of anti-Arab violence in Africa’s postcolonial history. It was also remarkable in the extent to which it attempted to bring an end to long-standing social and economic inequalities. Since the early-19th century, all the wealthiest and most privileged islanders were Arab or South Asian. Yet after a decade of revolutionary policies, they and their less well-off kinsmen were killed, forced into exile, or reduced to relative poverty. Thus, despite its modest size and population, Zanzibar produced one of sub-Saharan Africa’s only postcolonial revolutions. While scholars may disagree as to what constitutes a “revolution,” if that term refers to a situation in which one regime overthrows another, and then afterwards seeks to “turn society upside down,” then it is an accurate characterization of Zanzibar in the 1960s and 1970s.
G. Thomas Burgess
The idea of Ujamaa emerged from the writing and speeches of Tanzania’s first president, Julius K Nyerere, from the late 1950s and into the 1960s. Usually translated as “familyhood,” it was a form of African socialism that blended broadly conceived socialist principles with a distinctly “communitarian” understanding of African societies, and a strong commitment to egalitarian societies. It was to form the bedrock of efforts to institute profound social change from the late 1960s, directed and shaped by the state. At the heart of the idea of Ujamaa were ideas around self-reliance (people should build for themselves their futures), total participation of all in developing the nation (“nation building,” and self-help), communal labor in the rural sector and communal ownership of land, and nationalizations in the private sector and of public services. Ujamaa as an idea was to have a profound impact on Tanzanian economic and development policies from the late 1960s, but also had a wider continental impact in contributing to and shaping a distinctive form of African socialism in the 1960s and 1970s.
Julius Kambarage Nyerere (1922–1999) was the East African nation of Tanganyika’s (from 1964: Tanzania) central political figure from the struggle against colonialism in the 1950s, through the attainment of political independence in 1961, and into the late 20th century. After briefly serving as Tanganyika’s first prime minister, he was the country’s first president from 1962 until 1985. From these positions and his thirty-five years as the chairman of the ruling party, Nyerere profoundly shaped Tanzania’s political and societal trajectory. Under the guiding ideology of ujamaa (“familyhood”) African socialism, he set out a vision of society built on egalitarian principles and the mutual obligation of its members toward one another. His commitment to this vision saw Nyerere fight for equal rights under inclusive citizenship irrespective of race, ethnicity, and religion in Tanzania and liberation from colonialism and racist rule in Southern Africa. In 1967, the famous Arusha Declaration reinforced the socialist aspects of ujamaa and resulted in nationalizations, the dramatic curbing of the ability of elites to accumulate wealth, and the reshaping of Tanzania’s rural areas in a massive resettlement campaign—notionally a first step in the building of socialist villages. Nyerere was able to override resistance to these policies through a combination of his personal authority with the public and the political class, the ruling party’s institutional monopoly he instituted in the political arena, and resort to usually mild forms of coercion. Thus imposing his vision of a just society over challenges and against resistance that he perceived as illegitimate or misguided, Nyerere practiced a politics that was often in tension with his professed democratic ideals. Although Nyerere was an authoritarian ruler, his voluntary retirement from political office and his support for the 1992 reintroduction of multi-party politics are indications that personal and institutional power had not become an end unto itself for him and that he was willing to relinquish both when holding on to them no longer seemed imperative or, indeed, effective in securing the larger political purposes he pursued.
Michael G. Panzer
From the 1950s through the 1970s, several liberation movements emerged in Lusophone Africa (Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, São Tomé and Príncipe, and the Cape Verde Islands) that fought for independence from Portugal. One of the most significant ideological frameworks that informed the political orientation of these movements was socialism. In Lusophone Africa, several liberation leaders gravitated toward the economic and political potentialities inherent in the discourses and practices of pan-Africanism and Afro-socialism. The liberation movements in Lusophone Africa that most identified with a socialist paradigm were the Movimento Popular de Libertação de Angola (MPLA of Angola); Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO of Mozambique); Partido Africano da Independência da Guiné e Cabo Verde (PAIGC of Guinea-Bissau and the Cape Verde Islands); and Comité de Libertação de São Tomé e Príncipe (CLSTP—later, MLSTP—of São Tomé and Príncipe). These groups suffered the burden of Portuguese colonialism and actively fought for independence from colonial rule. Although several other liberation movements also emerged in the Lusophone colonies, these four movements most espoused the hallmarks of Afro-socialism to challenge Portuguese colonial rule. All four liberation movements maintained networks with international actors opposed to colonialism, as well as diplomatic connections with sympathetic socialist and communist nations. Most notable among these bases of support were the Conferência das Organizações Nacionalistas das Colónias Portuguesas (CONCP) and the governments of Tanzania, Egypt, Guinea, the People’s Republic of China, East Germany, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and Cuba.
Between 1950 and the mid-1980s, several African countries adopted socialist systems of government. In the first decades of independence, socialism appealed to some African leaders both as a political ideology and as an economic system. Socialism represented the promise of a new anti-imperial, revolutionary, and independent path to national and continental development. The socialist policies adopted in African countries included centralized state control of the economy, collectivization of land and agriculture, the nationalization of key sectors of the economy, and public sector–led social development. From Ghana to Algeria, and from Tanzania to Egypt, these socialist policies brought significant economic and social changes with mixed results. The end of the Cold War in the 1990s, and the wave of pro-democracy movements that followed, signaled the end of socialist experimentation in Africa. However, the legacies of socialist economic planning persist across the continent.
Samuel Fury Childs Daly
The Ahiara Declaration was a speech made by Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the head of state of the secessionist Republic of Biafra, on June 1, 1969, in the town of Ahiara. It was issued in the final year of the war between Nigeria and Biafra, also known as the Nigerian Civil War. The Eastern Region of Nigeria seceded from Nigeria as the Republic of Biafra in May 1967 following a series of mass killings of easterners, especially members of the Igbo ethnic group, in northern Nigeria the previous year. In his address, Ojukwu gave a partisan account of the war and the events leading up to it, rallied Biafrans to continue the fight, and set out a political philosophy that would guide Biafra from that point on. It was written by a committee of Biafran intellectuals, most notably the novelist and poet Chinua Achebe. The declaration had multiple meanings: it was both ideology and propaganda, and it served both proscriptive and descriptive purposes. Its influences included the broader intellectual currents of black internationalism, a novel theory of radical anticolonialism, and the idea of “African Socialism”—a communitarian philosophy that emerged in distinction to socialist thought in other regions of the world. The Ahiara Declaration was not meaningfully implemented, both due to limited resources and to the fact that Biafra was defeated six months later. Nonetheless, the declaration is an important source for Nigeria’s history, and for the broader study of political philosophy in postcolonial Africa.
Gold Coast nationalism cannot be approached solely through the prism of decolonization. Debates about what constituted the building blocks of the nation go back to the start of the 20th century, drawing on renditions dating back a further half-century. A fundamental contention was that the coastal populations had entered the Gold Coast Colony through active consent, and that the sovereignty that had been conceded to the British was limited. And it was asserted that while Asante had been conquered, and the Northern Territories had been added through treaty, southern populations had been partners in the process. A second contention was that the Gold Coast nation was constituted by the sum of its traditional parts, which were necessarily of unequal size and complexion. Although the British acted on the basis of a different reading, this version enjoyed hegemonic status. It was repeated by the chiefs themselves but was most clearly articulated by the coastal intelligentsia. In the 1920s, the formation of the National Congress of British West Africa (NCBWA) signaled a shift in which the educated elite across British West Africa combined to demand greater political rights and sought to pursue economic liberation in association with the black population of the Americas. In the 1930s, in the wake of the Great Depression, cocoa farmers were pitted against the European buying firms, and there was a proliferation of youth associations that took up causes such as the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. Meanwhile, the injection of ideas derived from international socialism added a more radical inflection to Pan-Africanism. However, this momentum was halted by the outbreak of the war. As the Gold Coast Youth Conference (GCYC) looked to the future in the early 1940s, it abandoned Pan-Africanism and socialism. It continued to emphasize economic freedom but paid more attention to gaining political concessions. After 1947, the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) sought to pursue this agenda in alliance with the chiefs. The notion that Kwame Nkrumah, who led the breakaway of the Convention People’s Party (CPP) in 1949, effected a radical rupture—even a revolution—is no longer tenable. Like his opponents, Nkrumah placed politics first and merely wanted self-government to come more quickly. After the 1951 election, the CPP governed in close alliance with the British. While it won the elections of 1954 and 1956, it singularly failed to attract mass support at the polls. Finally, while Nkrumah revisited older ideas derived from international socialism and Pan-Africanism, his real focus was on consolidating his grip on power in the Gold Coast—to the exclusion of addressing the concerns of border populations. After 1954, the CPP faced a coalition of parties that advocated a federal solution to the national question. Nkrumah, supported by Governor Arden-Clarke, insisted on a unitary state and toyed with drastically curtailing the powers of the chiefs. In the end the first was achieved, but Nkrumah backed away from a more radical overhaul. The conception of the Ghanaian nation as the sum of its traditional parts, and the assumption that the reach of the state is limited, was therefore further entrenched and remains fundamental to the social contract to this day.