Influence of the Karume legacy



Dar/Chake Chake/Zanzibar. Zanzibar’s first President Abeid Amani Karume was a lot of things to different people. For some Zanzibaris Karume represented an era prosperity when politics were not allowed to defer development. They still remember him as the man of action.


Mr Hamisi Othman Juma, a Chake Chake resident, says most of the infrastructure in Zanzibar was built by Mzee Karume.


“For the eight years that Mzee Karume had been in power he had built industries and had left plans for future development of Zanzibar which were, unfortunately, ignored by successive presidents.


Karume is the person that you can attribute to every achievement that is today seen in Zanzibar for over 50 years after Zanzibar revolution, says Mr Daudi Ismail, a political expert and a resident of Pemba.


He adds that Karume would always be remembered for speedy building of affordable residential houses, among other projects.


“Karume spoke less politics, and instead was a man of action. Unfortunately our current leaders don’t follow this legacy, instead they focus much on politics than development issues,” he said.


Issa Suleiman Shibu, another Chake Chake resident says Karume initiated the union with Tanganyika, which helped to stabilize Zanzibar politically and economically. The union later became thorny as some challenges emerged and have remained unsolved to this day, Mr Shibu, says.


Zanzibaris’ nostalgic reverence of Mzee Karume is understandable considering the bold popular moves that he took soon after the revolution in 1964. He confiscated land from the rich landowners and distributed it to poor peasants some of whom were, previously, squatters in the same land. Records show that between 1965 and 1967 about 12,028 peasants in Unguja and 1,920 in Pemba had benefited.


Mzee Karume also introduced free education and health services. He also constructed residential buildings to house the poor and started rice irrigation schemes. These moves were deeply popular with Zanzibaris who had spent decades under subjugation in a society in which people were grouped in classes and received privileges in accordance to the colours of their skins.


For some political commentators, historians and academicians, however, Karume was a deeply controversial figure with a mixed legacy that could have been embedded in the DNA of CCM’s politics in Zanzibar today.


They acknowledged that problems with Zanzibar’s electoral politics were aggravated by class and racial politics long before Mzee Karume came to power and were in fact the trigger for the January 1964 revolution. They argue, however, that the leadership style of Mzee Karume and his failure to build political and judicial institutions in his eight years at the helm aggravated the situation and set in motion an unhealthy culture in the electoral politics of the Isles.


In his book Pan-Africanism or Pragmatism? Lessons of Tanganyika-Zanzibar Union Prof Issa G. Shivji writes that Mzee Karume’s legacy in Zanzibar could be described as autocratic because he dismantled all structure of democracy and rule of law in the isles. He, in fact, ruled by decree and gave the Revolutionary Council- whose members he appointed- legislative, judicial and executive powers. The Zanzibar Electoral Commission and the House of Representatives were only established in 1980 after a Zanzibar constitution-the first since the revolution-was created in 1979.


Author Hank Chase says in an article entitled Zanzibar Treason Trial published in the journal Review of Africa Political Economy in 1976 that despite Mzee Karume’s bold moves to root out colonial political and economic elements soon after the Revolution his government started assuming a character that led to stifling of mass participation in decision-making as well as eliminating critics of government policies.


One indication of stifling mass participation, Chase writes, is that the Afro-Shirazi Party failed to hold any party conference for all the eight years that Mzee Karume was at the helm. In fact the ASP had not held any meeting for ten years between 1962 and 1972. The first meeting in ten years was held in December 1972 under the chairman of Aboud Jumbe Mwinyi. The conference was attended by President Julius Nyerere and other Tanu leaders, delegates from 12 African countries and representatives of freedom movements and marked a return to mass participation that culminated in the 1979 constitution and the creation of both the Zanzibar Electoral Commission and the House of Representatives in 1980.


“He declared that there would be no elections in Zanzibar for 50 years. The only elections that were allowed in Zanzibar were for the President of the Union,” Prof Shivji writes.


Another author William Smith writes that Mzee Karume was quoted telling a journalis of the Standard newspaper that “Elections are the tools are a tool of the imperialists to sabotage the people.” This could have been in reference to pre-revolution elections where the ASP won the popular votes but could not win enough seats to form the government.


Soon after the union between Zanzibar and Tanganyika in 1964 Mzee Karume decrees to suspend indefinitely the creation of the new constitutions and vesting of legislative powers on the Revolutionary Council. Between 1966 and 1969 several decrees were passed that even tually crippled the powers of the courts. There had existed a judicial system with a highcourt, district, primary and and validity of this system started being gradually eroded by a series of decrees according to Prof Shivji. A Special Court consisting of 14 members all to be appointed by the President was created. It had exclusive jurisdiction to deal with all criminal related matters, political offenses and all offenses under preventive detention. “The special court was not bound by any procedures; it would set its own procedures. Its proceedings were not open to the public and no advocates or public prosecutors were allowed to appear before the court. No appeals were allowed except to the President whose decision was final,” Prof Shivji writes in Pan-Africanism or Pragmatism? Lessons of Tanganyika-Zanzibar Union.


Under pressure from the Union government the court was officially wound up soon enough, but it had already the tone and some government officials went on acting as prosecutors and judges as well as detaining people under the prevention detention decree. ___In 1969 the People’s Court Decree was issued, which established the people’s courts that officially replaced the lower courts while the high court remained in name only. The courts were manned by a chairman and two assistances. But these “officials of the courts” were not required to have any legal qualifications, no advocates were allowed in the courts, according to the decree. The courts determined their own procedures. In the same year another decree was issued which established the supreme council of the Revolutionary Council which were given overriding powers of appeal from the High Court but no decision of the council was final until endorsed by the President himself.


Mzee Karume legacy has nothing to do with current crisis


Zanzibari politicians from across the political divide, however, say the current crisis should not be blamed on Mzee Karume’s legacy. While they praise Mzee Karume’s vision and sacrifice for the country they point fingers at each other as far as the current political stalemate is concerned.


Pandu Ameir Kificho, former speaker of Zanzibar House of Representatives says the vision of Mzee Karume was anchored on seeing that all Zanzibaris lived and work together as equals regardless of their ethnic backgrounds.
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