Gunmen Murdered Zanzibar’s Volatile Leader

Thirty-two days after the British withdrew from the island nation of Zanzibar the revolutionary African movement seized power on January 12, 1964, and named Sheik Abeid Karume, a former merchant seaman, its new ruler. The last Sultan of Zanzibar, Jamshid bin Abdullah, was deposed in the process.

Karume consolidated the various political factions into his Afro-Shirazi Party shortly before Zanzibar merged with its neighbor Tanganyika to form the new nation of Tanzania.

Karume continued to rule the semi-autonomous Zanzibar as he had before, and was rapidly becoming an embarrassment in foreign circles. His decree that Arab women should marry only African men struck observers as the rambling of an unbalanced mind. His tyranny was remarkable for its bloody oppression and constant political purges.

Willing Assassins

Vowing to avenge the death of his father who had died in one of Karume’s jails, Humud Mohammad Hamud recruited willing assassins from members of the military who shared his hatred for the ruler. Shortly before dusk on April 7, 1972, Humud, Captain Ahmada Mohammad Ali and two soldiers machine gunned the headquarters of the Afro-Shirazi Party where Sheik Karume was in conference.

Humud was killed in the return fire, but not before he exacted a heavy toll. Karume, Secretary-General Sheik Komboa, and one of the party’s founders, Ibrahim Sadala, were all killed. Radio Zanzibar issued a statement assuring the people that the killers had been identified and captured. There followed a general crackdown against island insurgents and a sweeping investigation.

Political Destiny

Without the fanatical dictator, the nation struggled with its political destiny, which remained tenuous in the following months.

One-party rule ended in 1995 with democratic elections. The formation of a government of national unity between Zanzibar’s two leading parties finally succeeded in minimizing electoral tension in 2010.

Tanzania is one of the world’s poorest economies in terms of per capita income. However, it has achieved high overall growth rates from gold production and tourism. Tanzania has transitioned to a liberalized market economy, though the government retains a presence in sectors such as telecommunications, banking, energy, and mining. The economy depends on agriculture, which accounts for more than one-quarter of GDP, provides 85 percent of exports, and employs about 80 percent of the work force.

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