Tanganyika-Zanzibar Union at sixty; long live the Union!

Saturday May 11 2024



This article about the Union between Zanzibar and Tanganyika cannot be late because the topic is always open. Much of the year is spent either defending the Union or counting its many faults and challenges. And then one day in April we throw a party, an abrupt ceasefire with pomp and time off from work. And then we start the process all over again.

It is a very organic arrangement, managing to be formulaic and dynamic at the same time and allowing for ambivalence to breathe.

Sometimes the Union celebration provides me an opportunity to wonder about my sense of nationality, if it has nuance? Maybe, but not nearly as much as someone from Pemba or Unguja. I do not think we are allowed to be too complex in our identities if we are not from the Isles.

Read: EYAKUZE: Some of us are living as citizens and others as subjects

As a mostly complacent Tanganyikan, whose identity is thoroughly digested by the national project, I get nervous if someone so much as asks me from which of the city’s many markets I get my plantains. There may be pushback for using the term Tanganyikan, since that designation, apparently, no longer exists. Woke up one day and it was The Mainland. The state nameth, the state renameth at will.

I recently sat next to a fellow countrywoman in a meeting of East Africans. Of course, I spotted her from a mile away by the lilt in her Kiswahili and settled in to bask in it. When we introduced ourselves as a Tanzanian and a Zanzibari, one or two fellow Africans were happily surprised. I do not blame them, Standard Issue Tanzanians are abundant where Shiny Zanzibaris are not.


Totally not jealous about how everyone wants to visit the Isles. Not me. I choose to find this enthusiasm charming. As a fan myself, I am amazed and deeply appreciative that I get to visit such a rich hub of concentrated culture and beaches without any impediments of immigration red tape.

Perhaps the most interesting thing we have going on for us at present is the fact that the Union still stands. It makes Tanzania unique on a continent where political experiments so often go awry. I also think it is surprised to find itself 60 years old.

This Union of ours, it resists too much definition and sometimes even full comprehension.

Maybe this was necessary for an incubation period, for the Union to try and take hold? For it to knit together a country out of the scars of several colonial experiences. I was asked how I would feel if it fell apart during lifetime and I replied honestly that this would suck. I would not like for my generation to drop this hot potato.

So much has been put into this living relic of the greater Pan-African project. The quieted histories and languages and flags, the homogenisation, the restraints put in to try and balance a dramatic asymmetry of power, land and resources... for that to be justifiable, perhaps another 60 years of dialogue and celebration are necessary.

Elsie Eyakuze is an independent consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report; Email [email protected]