Tanzanians celebrate 50 years of independence

By MURPHY BROWNE (Abena Agbetu)

Tanzanians celebrate 50 years of independence from British colonization on Friday, December 9.

On December 9, 1961, the country, then known as Tanganyika, lowered the British flag, which had been flown by the occupiers for more than 40 years, and raised a flag chosen by the people of the country.

Independence from European domination did not come easily for the people of Tanzania. The country had first been colonized by the Germans during the infamous European “Scramble for Africa” where 14 White men met over a period of two months (November 15, 1884 to January 20, 1885) and carved up the continent to exploit Africans. Ethiopia is the only African country that was never colonized by Europeans.

While the mainland of Tanzania became part of German East Africa (which included modern-day Burundi and Rwanda) in 1884, the Sultanate of Zanzibar became a British Protectorate in 1890. In 1963, Zanzibar achieved independence and, a year later, formed a union with Tanganyika under the new name, Tanzania.

German East Africa was known as Tanganyika under British rule. Tanganyika was occupied by the British in 1918 following the first European tribal war known as the Great War or World War I. After Germany was defeated, the African territories it had occupied were parceled out to other equally covetous and greedy European tribes. Germany had occupied three other areas on the African continent – Cameroon, Togo and Namibia. The brutal, inhumane German exploitation of the Herero people of Namibia (1904-1908) has never been addressed.

After the German defeat from the 1914-1918 armed conflict; France got Togo; Britain and France divided up Cameroon; and Namibia was snapped up by the British. So, at the end of the 1914-1918 war, the British had three new colonies on the African continent (British Cameroon, Namibia and Tanganyika), courtesy of Germany’s defeat.

The fact that Tanzania has a history older than any European nation was ignored as the Germans, then the British, lorded over the Africans. Archaeologists have uncovered proof of the oldest human settlement in Tanzania. Fossilized hominid remains prove that modern humans originated from the Olduvai Gorge area in northern Tanzania. It has been approximated that around the first Millennium CE, the region was settled by Bantu-speaking peoples who migrated from the west and north. This group formed city/states about 1500 years ago. The coastal port of Kilwa was established around 800 CE by Arab traders and, at the same time, Persians settled Pemba and Zanzibar.

Many Africans participated in the second European tribal conflict of 1939-1945 and when they returned home began to agitate for independence from European domination.

This surge of activism for independence from European colonization happened throughout the continent after the end of the war in 1945. In Tanganyika, Julius Kambarage Nyerere, the first person from Tanganyika to attend university in Britain, founded the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) in 1954 to secure the country’s independence from British rule. Although TANU was founded in 1954, it was not until 1960 that the British agreed to “internal self-government” for the country which eventually led to full independence on December 9, 1961.

The British seemed to have forgotten that Africans had been governing themselves for hundreds of years before the first European ever set foot on the African continent. If not for the confusion Europeans introduced to the continent when they carved it up with no thought to the various groups they threw together, there would have been no need for “gradual” self-government. At the time, the British government had its hands full fighting the Africans in neighbouring Kenya who were also demanding independence. Nyerere became the first prime minister of the independent nation. The following year, when Tanganyika became a republic, he was elected president.

Affectionately known as Mwalimu (teacher), Nyerere introduced ujamaa, a form of African socialism based on cooperative agriculture. His vision was to build an egalitarian society.

On April 26, 1964, Tanganyika united with Zanzibar and was renamed the United Republic of Tanzania on October 29. TANU and the Afro-Shirazi Party of Zanzibar merged to become Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) Revolutionary Party, in 1977. On April 26, 1977 the union of the two parties was ratified in a new constitution.

Nyerere stepped down from the presidency in 1985 and handed over power to President Ali Hassan Mwinyi. Tanzania is one of the few African countries where an African language (Kiswahili) is the official language. Most African countries have retained the language of their colonizers as the official language.

Although there was no armed struggle for Nyerere and his followers in their bid for independence from Britain, Africans in Tanganyika had mounted armed resistance against the Germans. Throughout the continent, Africans resisted European domination once they realized domination was the plan.

When the Europeans first arrived on the continent, they pretended that they were there to trade and/or convert the Africans to Christianity. Their actions soon proved otherwise. Beginning with the Wahehe War, which lasted from 1891 to 1898, there was resistance which was brutally suppressed by the Germans.

The Wahehe people declared their independence from the Germans and, led by their king Mkwawa, they resisted German dominance for seven years. Their resistance ended when the king took his own life rather than be captured by the Germans. The Germans took King Mkwawa’s head as a trophy.

Professor David Pizzo writes in his 2007 book, To devour the land of Mkwawa: Colonial violence and the German-Hehe War in East Africa c. 1884-1914: “His head was taken and sent back to the Bremen Anthropological Museum as a final trophy of German victory. Specifically mentioned in Article 246 of the Versailles Treaty in 1919 as a part of the reparations that Germany owed the victorious allies, Mkwawa’s skull was supposed to be returned within six months of the ratification of the treaty but it was not brought back to Tanganyika until 1954.”

The Germans may have defeated one group of Africans in Tanganyika but that was not the end of African resistance to German domination. A two-year armed resistance against the Germans was mounted from 1905 to 1907 (Maji Maji Rebellion) by Africans in Tanganyika after the Germans demanded that the Africans grow cotton for German export and pay taxes to enrich the Germans. The resistance was again brutally suppressed but the fight for independence through German and British occupation was ongoing, whether it was armed struggle or other means.

The people of what is now Tanzania have been free from European colonization for 50 years. Tanzanians in Toronto plan a grand celebration this Saturday, December 10. Information about the celebration is available at http://www.facebook.com/mkijazi?ref=tn_tnmn#!/events/142841832485955/


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