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The Tanganyika-Zanzibar Union: 49 years of a beleaguered marriage of convenience

Nicodemus Minde
The United Republic of Tanzania today celebrates 49 years of political union between Tanzania mainland and Tanzania Zanzibar. I am explicit in naming Zanzibar as Tanzania Zanzibar and the mainland as Tanzania mainland and not Tanganyika. The nomenclature of the the constituent entities of the union, though not said explicitly, has also led to the antagonism between the two. This is a story for another day. Analysts and political pundits have debated for many years on the constitutionality of the union, the status of the union, and the prospects for the union. 

For more than forty years Tanzania has remained the only Union of independent states in Africa. There has always been much debate on this Union both before the Union took place as well as after its happening. Prof. Issa Shivji describes the union as a pragmatic one born out of caution and not necessity. As he aptly puts it, "The Union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar was determined by two governments for the interests of Africa and African Unity. There was no other reason. Further to this, Nyerere has been quoted saying “...No, I’m not joking … I fear Zanzibar will be a big headache for us." This was before the then Tanganyika gained independence. The union was hurried. The ratification of the articles of the union was hurried and a CIA Intelligence Memo assessing the Union four years after its conception asserted that the union was never popular in Zanzibar and that "it was only Tanganyika's steam-roller tactics that forced the issue." There is no evident to date of a consultation process in the isles and to some degree in the mainland. The negotiations of the union were largely 'informal' and the only 'legal instruments' were the articles of the union which were haphazard and lacked the concrete legal foundations. The so-called Union of Zanzibar and Tanganyika Law, 1964 published in the Government Gazette of the United Republic was also wanting with regard to procedure, legality and constitutionalism. Laying strong legal and constitutional foundations is important for state survival and unity. The union has withstood the tests of fissure and collapse only through Nyerere's leadership and CCM manipulation of election results (after Tanzania became a multiparty state).

The ghosts of shaky foundations of the union need to be exorcised. The marriage between the two was out of convenience. The marriage bore resentment from the people of Zanzibar. The children of the union are disenfranchised. The leaders across the divide politic. Either side of the union has its wishes. There are Tanzanian Zanzibaris who want secession, there are those who want more autonomy, there are those that want unity. The Tanzanians from the mainland also want the status union to be addressed. With the drafting of the new constitution ongoing, there is need for a comprehensive discussion on this matter. The Constitutional Review Committee gave a time frame for people, political parties and other interest groups to give their opinions on matters they would love to be addressed in the new law. There has been a surreal mentality from most Tanzanians that come the next elections, the country shall have a new constitution. Constitutions are not built in five years. They are built on a long time reflection and contemplation of a nation's needs and aspirations. Having been born on shaky foundations, Tanzania has the greatest opportunity to rethink the union. The union started on rather shaky legal and legal foundations. A critical renegotiation of the union ought to be a key priority of the Constitutional Review Committee.


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