GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Zanzibar Genocide 1964: Snoring Histories
Paper Proposal Text :
Zanzibar Genocide 1964: Snoring Histories
Abdullahi A. Ibrahim
Emeritus Professor, Missouri University

On the fiftieth anniversary of the atrocious killing and raping of the Arabs of Zanzibar in the wake of the 1964 Revolution in the Island, this paper seeks to establish that this mayhem was genocide. In light of the almost complete failure to notice this tragedy, the paper will pursue critical genocide studies and hidden genocide investigations to argue that this Arab tragedy in Zanzibar has been a denied genocide. Worse still, the paper will claim that this genocide is commonly ignored even in studies devoted to bring to life the memory of hidden genocides. Of books lifting the lid on denied genocide (Lemarchand 2011, Adams 2011, Bloxham and Moses 2013, Hinton 2014) it is only Heribert Adams (2011) who devoted a chapter to Zanzibar. Alexander Hinton’s (2002) mentions it in passing. It is only sad that the passage of a half century to the tragedy has not sensitized us to the ghoulishness of a rare genocide for being filmed alive on location by the Italian TV and popularized in the documentary Africa Addio (1966).
The paper will unpack the politics of the “social forces dedicated to preserving unproblematic historical narratives that claim a given genocide never occurred” (Hinton 2014). It will discuss the conversion of various regimes of thought to prevent the Zanzibar fields of killing from being notoriously labelled as genocide; African nativism, class-biased Marxism, Cold War politics, and Arab complacency.
The paper will contend that the position taken by African nativist deniers of the genocide is a matter of sheer convenience. Recognizing the killings in Zanzibar as genocide goes against the grain of their ideology of abhorring “settlers.” As long as right to the continent was intrinsic to African nationalism like in nowhere else, nativists would not identify killing a “foreigner” or a ‘settler” as a crime against humanity; it is rather a call of national duty. To better understand the African nativism behind the genocide, the paper will revisit John Okello’s account of his leadership of the 1964 “Revolution,” in his Revolution of Zanzibar (1967). Denial of the genocide centers around either ignoring Okello’s role in the Revolution or minimizing the extent of the reign of terror he unleashed on the Arab of the islands. His macabre radio pronouncements were dismissed as largely empty talk meant to cow the Arabs although the unsuspecting West believed them. Deniers also resort to the usual moral equivalency argument. The incident is viewed at worst as a civil war since Africans were also killed in the foray. Omer Mapuri, however, rightly argues that the role of Okello is crucial to the understanding of the Revolution although its records, for being considerably fudged, have turned him into a “puzzle” (1996).
The paper will attribute the ignoring of the genocide partly to the prevalent Marxist analysis of Zanzibar Revolution in progressive quarters. In his pitiless emphasis on analyzing the Revolution in purely class terms, Abdulrahman Babu, the member of its Revolutionary Council, never viewed the genocide as deserving a racial inquiry in its own right. His argument that the killings were the work of lumpen proletariat led by Okello explains them away rather. He further belittles the extent of the tragedy by claiming that his Umma Party succeeded in seizing the revolution from the riff-raff, stopping them from committing a racial catastrophe while injecting a social purpose into the rebellion. Like the nativists, he maintains that the numbers killed in the accident do not justify the attacks on Zanzibar revolution directed by Arab reactionary “sultans” and the West (1989).
The Zanzibar genocide remains for the most part unacknowledged because Arab politics has never made it a Pan-Arab issue. The paper will point out to the paradox that an Arab community could have been the victim of racial cleansing when the call for Arab nationalism was at its zenith under Nasser. Nasser, the paper will argue, valued his alliance with anti-colonial Pan-Africanism better than coming to the rescue of a beleaguered community of the race. He left to the reactionary Arabs kings, his adversaries, to protest the demise of one member of their club of sultans. The paper will account for the mysterious lack of concern in the Arab world today with this tragedy. For no Arab advocacy of any sort ever emerged to document the genocide, teach about it, or pressure world public opinion to acknowledge it.
The paper will discuss the crucial Cold War context surrounding the Zanzibar calamity as a contributing factor to disregarding it as genocide. The paper will review Amrit Wilson’s The Threat of Liberation (2014) that, even on the fiftieth anniversary of the Zanzibar genocide, keeps viewing Zanzibar contemporary history through the prism Cold War politics relegating the genocide to a footnote in imperial machinations.
In putting Zanzibar on the map of world evilness, the paper has the future, not the past, at heart rather. It will argue that African nationalism needs to shed its nativism to allow for building viable nations in the continent. It will pick up form Ali Mazrui’s insight pointing to the irony of a situation in which a Messianic alien, nativist from Uganda succeeded in driving from throne Sultan Jamshid ibn Abdullah (1929- ), a fourth generation citizen of Zanzibar. African nationalism, it will be contended, has to come to grip with the reality of the Arabs as citizen in Africa rather than settlers. The paper will discuss current Zanzibar politics to argue that the genocide, allegedly the final solution of race problems, has not altered the Muslim Arab identity of the Island. Calls to delink from the mainland on the basis of this identity have been on the rise.
From a theoretical stand, the paper will take issue with the misguided use of Marxism in analyzing the Zanzibar Revolution. In reducing it to a mere tool of class analysis , the paper will argue that Zanzibar revolutionaries and Tanzanian Marxist historians emptied it of its positional to serve as a guiding light of change and nation-building in Africa like it did in the era of fighting colonialism.

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