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History of Zanzibar

A small tropical island of Zanzibar,  twenty miles off the east coast of Africa, present-day is infused with African, Arabic, Persians, European, Chinese and Indian influences. Its original settlers were Bantu-speaking Africans. From the 10th century Persians arrived. But it was the Arab incomers, particularly Omanis, whose influence would be paramount. The island has played an important part in local history out of all proportion to its size. The reason is its easy access to traders and adventurers exploring down the east coast of Africa from Arabia. Islam was well established in this region by the 11th century. During the 16th century there is a new category of visitor arriving from the south – the Portuguese. They establish friendly relations with the ruler. But in the late 17th century the Portuguese presence comes to an end, after a forceful campaign down the coast by the rulers from Oman.

Zanzibar, a valuable property as the main slave market of the east African coast, becomes an increasingly important part of the Omani empire - a fact reflected by the decision of the greatest 19th-century sultan of Oman, Said ibn Sultan, to make it from 1837 his main place of residence. Said builds impressive palaces and gardens in Zanzibar. He improves the island's economy by introducing cloves, sugar and indigo (though at the same time he accepts a financial loss in cooperating with British attempts to end Zanzibar's slave trade). The link with Oman is broken after his death in 1856. Rivalry between his two sons is resolved, with the help of forceful British diplomacy, when one of them (Majid) succeeds to Zanzibar and to the many regions claimed by the family on the east African coast. The other (Thuwaini) inherits Muscat and Oman.

By the time Majid dies, to be succeeded in 1870 by his brother Barghash, the British appointed a consul to Zanzibar. His primary task  was to end Zanzibar's notorious slave trade. That purpose was achieved by a treaty with Barghash in 1873. Britain remained the only colonial power with a well-established presence in Zanzibar itself. With the approval of the sultan the island and its narrow coastal regions declared a British protectorate in 1890. Although only wielding a fraction of their former power, the Arab sultans of Zanzibar still during that colonial period had most influential leaders in east Africa. But their rule came to an end soon after the island's independence in the 1960s. A new constitution, introduced in 1960, provides for a legislative assembly.

In 1963 the islands regained independence from the British, but upheaval lay around the corner. In January 1964 members of the African majority overthrew the established minority Arab ruling elite. A republic was established and in April the presidents of Zanzibar and Tanganyika, on the mainland, signed an act of union, forming the United Republic of Tanzania while giving semi-autonomy to Zanzibar.

Currently, Zanzibar is  part of the United Republic of Tanzania with semi autonomous Government with the President, Cabinet, Legislature and Judicial system. The Government is responsible for Non-Union matters.

Get in touch

For inquiries, comments and advice please contact us at the following address:

Executive Director
Zanzibar Investment Promotion Authority (ZIPA)
Maruhubi Complex - Zanzibar 
United Republic of Tanzania
Phone: +255 24 2233026; Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Working Hours: Mon - Fri: 07:30 am - 03:30 pm

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