What Were the Causes of the Zanzibar Revolution?

The 1964 Zanzibar Revolution occurred because the ethnic Africans in the country felt under-represented in the government and revolted against the Arab ruler. The African Afro-Shirazi party had won more than 54 percent of the vote in the 1963 election and took 13 seats in parliament, while the opposing coalition party won 18 seats with only 45 percent of the vote. This result outraged Africans, who took up arms.

The 1963 election discrepancy followed a similar issue in 1961, where the Afro-Shirazi party also received considerably fewer seats than its electoral performance warranted. In addition to the electoral irregularities, the government dismissed all African members of the police force in Zanzibar in late 1963. This simultaneously weakened the police force while creating a body of disaffected young men with paramilitary training and a grudge against the Arab monarch.

The revolution began on Jan. 12, 1964, when around 800 armed men attacked police stations and security buildings, quickly overwhelming the poorly trained replacement policemen. They effectively took over the nation in 12 hours, forcing the sultan to flee. The revolution was relatively bloodless, with only 80 deaths during the violence, but reprisals and ethnic violence following the establishment of the new government claimed as many as 20,000 lives.