On this day January 12, 1964
Rebels led by John Okello overthrew Sultan Jamshid bin Abdullah, ending 200 years of Arab dominance in Zanzibar.
The revolution key leader was Ugandan John Okello who commanded 600–800 men, largely members of the African Afro-Shirazi Party (ASP).
The ASP was frustrated by their lack of representation in Parliament, despite winning 54% of the vote in the July 1963 election. The revolution occurred early on the morning of 12 January 1964 when Okello’s men overran the country’s police force and took their weaponry before proceeding to Zanzibar Town and overthrowing the Sultan and government.
The revolutionaries then attacked the Arab and South Asian civilians in the country. The death toll is disputed, ranging from several hundred to 20,000. The ASP worked in collaboration with the left-wing Umma Party, which led to a poor reception from the Western Powers then engaged in the Cold War. Abeid Karume became the country’s new president and head of state.
As Zanzibar lay within the British sphere of influence, several plans were drawn up for military intervention but these were not put into action. Instead, the communist powers of China, East Germany and the USSR opened friendly relations by recognising the country and sending advisors to its government.
In an attempt to maintain stability in East Africa, which had seen several army riots sparked by the revolution, Karume entered Zanzibar into a merger with Tanganyika to form the new nation of Tanzania. The event ended 200 years of Arab dominance in Zanzibar and is commemorated on the island by anniversary celebrations.