Sunday , September 24 2017
Date: Sep 24,2017
Home / 22: AFRICAN HOLIDAY AND ZANZIBAR REVOLUTION

22: AFRICAN HOLIDAY AND ZANZIBAR REVOLUTION

 The time for Kenya’s independence was now fast approaching, and there were many changes taking place around the country. It was the declared policy of the newly-elected leaders that priority would be given to resettling the thousands of landless Africans. Understandably, many Europeans, uncertain and worried about the future in an independent Kenya, began to leave the country. This feeling of insecurity was not confined to the European farming community alone – even the Asian business community and civil servants began to feel uneasy about their future.

It was now not long before I would be due for my next ‘quota’ of overseas leave. Having previously been to India on two occasions, we decided to spend our forthcoming vacation in East Africa. After all, although I was born and bred in this country, there was so much of it I had not seen. The added attraction of spending one’s leave locally was the substantial allowance paid to the official and family as a kind of inducement. This was in addition to all other travel privileges. On my grading and salary, the allowance was quite generous. I immediately notified my Ministry officials in Nairobi of my intention to spend my leave within East Africa.

The period prior to our going on leave was spent getting out and about as much as possible, especially at weekends or over bank holidays. One such weekend was spent in a very quiet district called Eldma Ravine. My brother-in-law was attached to the District Office at the time, and in the short time we spent there, were able to see much of this place. On several other occasions we used to travel to Lake Baringo, a few miles out of Nakuru. The roads along this route were very rough and reminded me very much of those in the N.F.D. At the lake, which covers about one hundred and fifty square miles, we would camp along the shore and do most of our fishing from this base. I was often tempted to accompany the Njemps tribesmen to the deeper areas of the lake, and on one occasion set out in one of their papyrus-type canoes. I did not catch any fish but saw any number of crocodiles. On a subsequent occasion however, when I was out fishing from a disused pier, I accidentally slipped and fell into the lake. To my horror, I saw two large crocodiles heading towards me.

My attempts to shield myself from these deadly creatures by mounting a granite-type slab proved in vain. As I mounted, I kept sliding back into the lake, and it was only after my friends heard my cries for help that I was rescued in time. The local fishermen used this area for gutting all the fish they catch – with the result that the ramp leading down to the lake is always slimy and very slippery. After realizing how lucky I was to be saved, I vowed never again to fish from the rocks or the ramp, but instead get one of the more experienced Njemps fishermen to take me out in their canoes.

Plans for our East African holiday were now well in hand. My uncle (mother’s brother) and aunt, who for many years lived in Zanzibar, were always asking me to spend my holidays with them. Since I had never been to this lovely island (noted for its cloves), I decided to take advantage of their invitation and spend at least part of our leave with them. The earlier part would be spent with our old friend Bismark Noronha at Dar es Salaam, since he had now been transferred there from Kenya and had in fact invited us over.

We decided to make the trip to Dar es Salaam by the most economical route, i.e. by bus rather than aeroplane. One of the attractions of road travel was that we would be able to see much more of the countryside. The Overseas Touring Co (OTC) ran a regular service between Kenya and Tanganyika, and although the journey was fairly long and tiresome, there were several stops en route. Passages were accordingly booked for the journey up to Dar es Salaam, and air bookings from there on to Zanzibar.

We left Nairobi on the eve of Kenya’s independence – 11th December, 1963. The capital was in festive mood with the streets and all major buildings decorated with the new Kenya flag and buntings of varied hue. Dignitaries from all over the world had arrived for the independence celebrations which were being held at Nairobi’s Uhuru (Freedom) stadium. The journey right up to the Kenyan border seemed long and tiring, but we were compensated by the sights of the colourful Masai tribesmen and their manyattas (homesteads) en route; at Namanga, we were able to alight and stretch our now cramped bodies. It was also here that the Tanganyika police conducted an immigration check. Due to some last minute hitch at Nairobi, Elsie’s passport, which the immigration authorities had sent back by post, had not arrived at Njoro by the time we left. We decided to risk it and travel without one rather than delay our departure. I had my own passport, and had also obtained individual passports for Clyde and Andrew. When we produced the three passports at the check-point, the police official never so much as troubled to check the identity of each of us. This was just as well as Elsie would otherwise have been detained at the border or sent back to Nairobi with Josey. This would have been the ruin of our holiday.

We had arranged that the driver of the OTC coach should stop at the stroke of midnight when we would all drink a toast to Kenya’s independence. This we certainly did, not in champagne though, but Kenyan beer! The driver and his relief and all the passengers happily joined in the celebrations, and as one of our number had a portable radio, we were able to follow the ceremony taking place at the stadium. It was a thrilling moment but at the same time, a thousand thoughts kept racing through my mind like shooting stars in the sky. What would happen in Kenya after independence? The pessimists had forecast gloom – some even went so far as to predict a blood bath. At this precise moment though, all we could do was to wish the new nation and its peoples well. This was the land where we had all grown up and worked in, and the toast we drank was to Kenya, its people and its future. The Prime Minister-elect, Mzee JomoKenyatta, had coined a catch word — Harambee (meaning ‘let’s pull together’ in Ki-Swahili), which was to be the recipe for progress and prosperity.

After this brief stop, we continued our journey, the relief driver now taking over. It was dark and most of the passengers had fallen asleep within a few hours of the bus leaving. We arrived at Dar es Salaam early the next morning and were met by our old friend Bismark (Bis to his friends). He was employed as an engineer with Tanganyika Shell and had a palatial house in one of the most sought-after and salubrious areas of Dar (short for Dar es Salaam), Oyster Bay. We were so close to the sea, and the warm sea breeze made a welcome change from the cool air of Njoro. We felt like VIPs in this place. Sea food and fresh tropical fruit was plentiful, and we certainly did justice to both. Being so close to the sea, local fishermen often brought their catch up to the house and we were thus able to buy fresh fish at very reasonable prices. Crab, prawns, lobsters and all manner of sea food was always on the table, tastefully cooked by Bis’s cook John.

Our original plan was to spend a week to ten days at Dar and then move on to Zanzibar; with Christmas just round the corner, Bis would not hear of this. He was keen that we should spend at least Christmas Day with him and leave the next day. We gladly agreed since we had also, during our brief stay here, met many of his friends who were equally keen that we should extend our stay. Having an imposing house and ample grounds, the obvious choice for the Christmas party was Bis’s mansion. After midnight Mass, we all returned home where a slap-up party was organized, complete with Father Christmas, presents – the lot! Together, we had an exceptionally good time, and it was amazing to see how our children had kept up so well. Josey was the only one who slept peacefully in her Moses basket throughout the night while all the singing and dancing was in progress. Later that evening we all met at the Goan Institute. Like most Goan clubs in other parts of East Africa, this was a well-run and much-patronized institution, a great credit to the Goan community in Dar. There was no chance for much rest that night; the next evening, Bis and a party of friends, including a cousin of mine (Nico Pinto) accompanied us to Dar airport where, in the departure lounge, a further celebration commenced! Bis had arranged that we should leave for Zanzibar by the last holiday flight. Because of the heavy air traffic during the holiday season, several extra flights had been put on and planes were landing and taking off with great frequency. Two of Bis’s friends worked for the East African Airways and had considerable influence with the airport staff. Through their good offices, we were allowed to occupy the departure lounge where, within a few minutes, amidst the sing-song and laughter of our friends, the whole area took on a festive air. Even passengers arriving from Zanzibar and those waiting to take off for the island were amused by this impromptu entertainment we were providing! The singing continued right up to the time we were ready to board the Fokker Friendship aircraft which was to take us to Zanzibar. We left with memories of a well-spent holiday –thanks to the hospitality provided by Bis and his friends.

The flight to Zanzibar was very short and it was a real thrill to see the live flares that lit the airport runway. The whole island had a kind of romanticism about it right from the time of our touching down at the small airport, up to the drive through the coconut palm-lined avenue that led to the town centre. This was a town with an Arabian Nights setting, where the exotic scent of the clove-laden air was everywhere. Custom formalities were minimal and the taxi from the airport to my uncle’s rented home took only a few minutes to convey us. Uncle Joe and Aunt Benny (short for Bernadette) were overjoyed to see us after all these years. Theirs was a very modest house with living accommodation upstairs and a basement which was a constant reminder of the old days of the slave trade. It was quite possible that slaves must have been housed here by their wealthy Arab masters – the small openings along the outer walls of the basement were a clear indication that this was the spot where the slaves must have been kept – packed no doubt like sardines. As the house was a mere stone’s thrown away from the sea, we made it a point of getting down to the sea front daily, sometimes even twice or three times a day! The evenings were the most pleasant, and we would usually walk past the Sultan’s palace and then return to the open area around the pier to find the whole place teeming with people. There were the fruit sellers, the coffee vendors who walked through rows of islanders carrying their highly polished brass coffee pot in one hand, while producing a musical sort of clinking of the small cups with the other. Parked at another corner was the cart from which sugar cane juice was extracted and served to thirsty customers with a generous helping of ice and a hint of green ginger. There was corn being roasted on open braziers, and in another cart, again over open braziers, an Arab would be roasting slices of cassava, which would then be served piping hot with a sprinkling of salt and chilli powder. It was this tempting fare from the Arab’s barrow that we just couldn’t resist. My uncle, who had never before risked any food sold from open carts, hesitatingly joined us in sampling some of the delicacies! The aroma of a variety of roasted snacks, the smell of strong Arab coffee (kahawa), the cool of the sea breeze and the sounds that came from the noisy crowds who flocked to the sea front daily, lent the whole scene a fun fair type of atmosphere. At dusk, we would make our way homewards, but not without first calling at one of the Asian traders en route to collect giant-size bottles of Dutch lager. The beer was very cheap indeed when compared with prices in Kenya or even Dar. Being a duty free port, the prices of several other goods were remarkably cheap, and I could see now why Zanzibar was truly a tourist’s paradise. I had made up my mind then that it would be to this ‘Garden of Eden’ that I would like to retire when the time came, and made no secret of this desire in conversation with my uncle and aunt. This was an island which was in every respect a paradise on earth, with a lovely climate, a simple and leisurely life-style, a land abounding in tropical fruits and fish, where the sweet scent of cloves pervaded the air wherever one went, and above all, a land where all the different races seemed to mix so freely and happily together.

A few days after our arrival, we all went on a picnic to the nearby Mangapwani (creek in a car which my uncle had hired. This was an area noted for its caves, and here again as we drove through some of the African villages, we could smell the scent from the nearby clove plantations; the sight of the many coconut palms swaying in the tropical breeze reminded me so much of my native Goa. We had a wonderful time here and had the beach almost to ourselves.

Clyde and Naty were due to return to Nairobi in time for the commencement of the new school term, and they flew out of Zanzibar a couple of days after we had seen the New Year in. The days following their departure took on a set pattern. In the mornings I would accompany my uncle to the local fish and vegetable market, taking Andrew with us. He loved these shopping errands and the locals seemed very attracted towards him since he was so friendly. There were times when we would leave him in the care of one of the island’s tourist attractions – a dwarf by the name of Athmani.  Andrew loved sitting with this man on one of the shop pavements along the narrow and winding Zanzibar streets. The heat never troubled me, although I knew Elsie couldn’t tolerate it as well as I could – young Josey seemed to thrive on it though. She was now nearly a year old, trouble-free and quite an attraction; she was also great company for Andrew who would otherwise have been lost especially now that Clyde was not there to play with him.

On Sundays we would take it in turn to go to Mass. The Sunday in question was the feast of the Holy Family, and my uncle and I went to an early service at the imposing Roman Catholic cathedral, while Elsie and my aunt stayed behind to look after the children. At the end of Mass the priest made a brief announcement asking people to remain indoors as the Government was expecting some trouble. There had been riots previously which, for an island as peaceful as Zanzibar, were quite ‘foreign’, and we all went home with the feeling that the warning probably envisaged similar disturbances. As Elsie and my aunt were returning after Mass, they hurried to give us the news that the troubles which had broken out earlier in the day were real and quite serious; some shots had been heard in the town but these were at first dismissed as being of no consequence. In fact, we were all under the impression that some of the local Arab and Indian children were playing with fireworks! Seconds later a bullet narrowly missed Elsie and my aunt as they had reached the front door of the house. They rushed inside quickly, bolting the doors behind them. We could now hear the sound of heavy vehicles in the town; sporadic firing was also going on, increasing in intensity all the time. It was at this stage that we tuned in to the local radio station.

There were intermittent announcements being broadcast in a rather ‘unprepared’ fashion by an individual who spoke Ki-Swahili with a Kenyan accent. It was certainly not the Ki-Swahili ki-safi (well-spoken Swahili) I had been so accustomed to hearing from the local Arabs and Africans from the coast. A kind of fear spread through our entire household as the announcements continued. My uncle and aunt had lived in Zanzibar for several years and were accustomed to the easy pace and quiet life of this lovely island. Our concern was not just for our children but more for them too. We were now certain that the troubles were more than just riots and conscious all along that the radio broadcasts had to be taken seriously.

It was later established that some 500 revolutionaries, incited by a Uganda-born Kenyan, who described himself as ‘Field Marshal’ John Okello, had overthrown the Government in what can best be described as a lightning revolution. The relative tranquillity of this once peaceful haven was shattered; fortunately, the Sultan and his entourage, as also Prime Minister Shamte had managed to escape. Only the previous evening, when strolling through the town, we had seen him through the open window of his official residence. It seemed incredible that things should have changed so dramatically and so suddenly too. There was no confirmation whether the Prime Minister had been taken prisoner by the rebels although there were unconfirmed rumours that he had been killed. It was difficult to know what to believe as the reports over the radio were so haphazard.

There had been a strong anti-Arab feeling on the island for a long time, and during the revolution several of them were massacred indiscriminately. Those who managed to escape were later rounded up, bundled like sardines and shipped to Arabia in dhows. Zanzibar was now completely cut off from the outside world. The air and sea ports were sealed and all key installations taken over by the rebels. The inexperience of these men showed clearly in some of the confusing and sometimes conflicting announcements that were being constantly broadcast over the radio. As news of the revolution spread gradually to the town and neighbouring areas, it transpired that there had been an armed struggle at the police station which resulted in the rebels gaining control over the armoury. Firearms and ammunition were now being issued freely to trigger-happy individuals who had no military, or police training whatsoever. The result was obvious – several people had been murdered in cold blood and hundreds more, mostly Arabs, were butchered to death and their homes looted and burnt to the ground. Arson, rape and wanton destruction of property became the order of the day. There was a distinct flavour of revenge by the African masses against the Arab population. In the anxious hours that followed, drunken and inexperienced soldiers went on the rampage through the town, looting shops and terrorizing the population. My uncle’s rented house backed on to the American Embassy and a few hundred yards away stood the Cable & Wireless station. Here the staff had been locked up and not allowed to leave the building. The firing continued unabated and bullets from various corners kept whizzing past our house; on one occasion a bullet narrowly missed entering our window. The heat of Zanzibar at this time of the year was intense, but because of the danger of flying bullets, we had to keep all doors and windows firmly closed.  This seemed the ultimate test of endurance and amidst all the chaos that was going on outside, I could hardly believe how our two young children had remained so quiet. For us all, it seemed such an abrupt end to an otherwise enjoyable holiday; gone were those daily outings and walks to the seaside. We didn’t even venture to go out shopping since all the shops had been shut down on orders from the coup leader. It was very fortunate that we had enough food and drink to last about two days. Unlike Kenya where, because of our frontier experience, we were used to bulk buying and stocking up with provisions, etc., this was not the case in Zanzibar, nor was it necessary; most of the residents did their shopping daily and it was not uncommon to see many shop two or three times a day!

Our only contact with the outside world was the BBC World Service, and of course the spasmodic and vague announcements made over the local radio station. Outside, there was little or no movement of civilians and the whole place had taken on the appearance of a ghost town. It had all happened so suddenly that people were too frightened and stunned to even talk about the revolution. On the third day after the coup, just about the time when I was beginning to get anxious over Josey’s powdered milk supply (which was fast running out), we heard the ‘Field Marshal’ broadcast an order to all traders in the town – his instructions were that they should open their shops for two hours to allow people to do their essential shopping. I decided to take the risk and get down to the shops. My uncle decided to come along too. In his broadcast, the ‘Field Marshal’ had asked all those going out to wear distinctive arm bands and carry white flags, which were no doubt meant to denote a surrender to the new regime. When I reached the main street, I passed several trigger-happy soldiers walking along and chatting rather loudly among themselves. They seemed so excited with the guns that had been planted in their hands. They appeared more like kids with new toys and at one point I was challenged and a gun held to my chest. The soldier who tackled me was obviously not pleased with the colour of my arm band and ordered me to go home and change it. I cannot now recall the exact colour of the arm bands which Elsie and my aunt had quickly made up for us, but this was no time for arguing with these young, immature and barely-trained soldiers. We apologized, returned home and after quickly having the arm bands changed, went back to the shops, passing the very same road block and soldiers who had earlier challenged me. Obviously recognizing us, they let us pass. I had to make sure that we finished our shopping in the short time that we were allotted. Since there were several people at the particular duka we called on, it was quite a long wait before I was able to buy the baby foods and other requisites. The shoppers were all very silent – no one dared talk about the events of the past few days; everyone seemed too frightened and conscious of the fact that they were being watched wherever they went. On returning from the dukas, I met some Europeans who gave me a few more details of the coup itself – the mass killings and the reign of terror that prevailed in many parts of the island. Several people, notably Arabs, were being herded like cattle and locked up in makeshift gaols. I also heard that a young man (a Goan) had been shot dead as he tried to escape. Bodies of the victims lay where they were killed, their relatives too scared to remove them because of the risks involved. There was panic and sheer chaos during the early stages of the coup.

Law and order had completely broken down. A dawn to dusk curfew was imposed in the beginning, but variations to the curfew order were broadcast from time to time to allow people time for essential shopping, etc. Government employees and those employed in commercial houses, banks, etc. were assured it would be safe for them to return to their places of employment. When restrictions were finally lifted, life in Zanzibar slowly began to return to normal. There is no doubt that the entire population had been shaken by the events of the past few days.

When out shopping one day, I met two Europeans who happened to be walking towards me from the direction of the Zanzibar hotel. I stopped and spoke to them and found out that they too were tourists like us – their holiday had also been abruptly shattered. We talked briefly about the sad events and they very kindly asked me to come to the English Club later that afternoon as the British High Commissioner had organized a meeting for all British citizens on the island; this was primarily to discuss the latest situation in the light of the bloody coup and also give details of emergency evacuation arrangements that were being planned. I was very grateful for this information and later that afternoon got my uncle to accompany me to the English Club where several Europeans had gathered to listen to Mr. Crossthwaite, the High Commissioner. The meeting itself was very informal and I could see from the worried looks on the faces of some of the residents how shattered they really were. Many had made this island their home and there were some who had lived here for several years. For them it was an end of a dream. Detailed plans for the evacuation of families were discussed and those wanting to leave the island were told that they would be escorted by British troops from their homes to the pier on the actual day. There was no compulsion to leave, although judging from the tone of the meeting; I was left in no doubt that the High Commissioner would certainly have liked women and children to get out immediately. I discussed our own position with officials of the High Commission, and was told that we were welcome to go along with the advance party that was being evacuated to Mombasa. On returning home, I put this suggestion to my uncle and aunt – that they too should accompany us to Mombasa, since I would not feel happy to move out on our own and leave them behind. Because of the suddenness of the whole situation, there was a good deal of confusion and anxiety in our minds. At first, they agreed to come, but later changed their minds, and suggested that because of our young children, we should move out first. “God will look after us,” they kept saying. As far as I was concerned, there was no question of our leaving without them, and since I still had quite a few weeks of my leave in hand, and with the general security situation showing some signs of improvement, we decided to stay behind as well and face the consequences together! All along, we were conscious of the fact that Clyde and my cousin Naty were safe in Nairobi, oblivious of what we were going through. In many ways, we were grateful that they were able to get out before the troubles had erupted. Meanwhile, as the first batch of refugees/evacuees reached Dar es Salaam and Mombasa, news of the coup spread to the outside world. The Sultan and his family, who had managed to escape, had been offered asylum by the Kenyan authorities. So as not to cause any distress and anxiety to Clyde or Naty, and many of our relatives and friends in Kenya, we despatched a cable to Nairobi telling them we were all safe and well. Slowly, very slowly, life began to return to a degree of normality. The full horrors of what had happened during those fateful days began to unfold, with some close friends of my uncle and aunt telling us how lucky they were to be alive. One spoke of his wife who had been murdered while he was held captive in their own home another had lost a son, and there were similar tales from those who had lost their loved ones. They wept and mourned in silence. There was no one they could complain to, and in any case, very little would have been done in the confused and chaotic state the whole island was in at the time.

Despite the tense situation prevailing, we spent a whole month in Zanzibar after the revolution, and flew back to Dar where our friends were eagerly awaiting all the news at first hand. We were very sad to be leaving what was once (at least when we first set foot on it) a very peaceful and idyllic island. Now, we would be taking back only memories of days well spent, and of an experience we would never forget. At Dar es Salaam airport, we were welcomed back by Bis and driven to his home. The same evening we met most of our friends and my cousin, Nico Pinto at the Goan Institute. We were constantly being asked about our experiences during the revolution, and there were moments l wished we had recorded these events – if only to save us repeating the whole story over and over again! It so happened that  Nico had planned to leave for Mombasa overland, and since he had enough room in his car for us all suggested that we accompany him in a couple of days.

This was a wonderful opportunity for us and we jumped at the

idea. The drive from Dar to Mombasa was a long and tiresome one,

but on arrival there, we were warmly received by my cousins Jock and

Beryl. They too were pleased to know all was well with us. We later heard that some of our friends, presuming us to be dead during the revolution, had even offered up Masses for us. This was all understandable in view of the complete lack of any communication with the outside world at the time. It was very comforting to receive the good wishes and encouraging remarks of our many friends wherever we went.

I still had quite a fair portion of my leave in hand and we decided to spend a few more days in Mombasa, some in Nairobi and return to Njoro earlier than due. In the special circumstances, the Ministry of Agriculture raised no objection to this arrangement. At Nairobi, we were happy to be reunited with Clyde once more and here again many of our friends were eager to hear all our experiences. It all sounded so much like ‘facing the Press’.

On returning to Njoro, I was very pleased to discover that the Ministry of Agriculture, through the Kenyan Foreign Ministry, had in fact sent cables to the Zanzibar Government enquiring about us and had received confirmation about our safety. I was truly grateful for all the efforts made on our behalf; as my old friend and one-time colleague, Robert Ouko, was now a senior official at the Kenya Foreign Ministry. I immediately sent him a note of thanks. It was difficult to believe how, after all that had taken place in Zanzibar, we had still returned unscathed and alive!

The trouble that started in Zanzibar sent shock waves to neighbouring Tanganyika where two battalions of former KAR askaris mutinied against their officers. Fortunately, President Nyerere appealed to the soldiers and the mutiny was quelled a few days later – not without some loss of life in its initial stages however.  Similar trouble spread to Kenya and even Uganda; late in January 1964, there had been an attempted mutiny by the 11th battalion of the Kenya Rifles stationed at Lanet, not far from Nakuru. This was quickly suppressed -thanks to the efforts of the 3rd Royal Horse Artillery which was stationed nearby. But for the prompt assistance provided by the British Government at the time, the Governments of Presidents Kenyatta and Milton Obote might well have been toppled. The Kenyan authorities were quick to bring the mutineers to book. Quite apart from recent troubles within the army, Kenya was also plagued by internal problems. In the N.F.D., neighbouring Somalia began stepping up its raids across the border and in February 1964, the State of Emergency in that Province was extended. I was saddened that this area, in which I had served for many years, and which I had come to love dearly, was threatened by war. Fortunately, several years later, following intervention by the OAU, Kenya and Somalia signed a memorandum agreeing to cease hostilities and pledging to work much closer together in the