Abdulrahman Mohamed Babu was one of Africa’s foremost thinkers, scholar, and political analyst who served as a minister under Julius Nyerere after the Zanzibar Island was merged with mainland Tanganyika to form Tanzania.
The Zanzibar-born revolutionary was a socialist who claimed that “socialism would come through African unity and vice versa”. As a devote pan-Africanist committed to a just and democratic Africa, Babu is globally memorialized for the official slogan ‘Independence, by any means necessary’, adopted for the Pan African Movement for East and Central Africa (PAFMECA) conference while Babu was Secretary of the conference. The slogan was later popularized by Malcolm X and other Black activists in the diaspora.
While leading the Zanzibar Nationalist Party (ZNP), one of the pre-eminent nationalist organization on the island at the time, Babu promoted a progressive anti-imperialist platform and played an important role in the 1964 Zanzibar revolution. He is regarded as the trailblazer of the anti-colonial struggle to free Zanzibar from the Omani Sultanate dominance. Zanzibar, since the 1830s, was controlled by Omani Sultans who were middlemen during the era of British colonialism.
It should be recalled that while the revolutionary socialist Ummah Party (co-founded by Babu in December 1963) did not start the uprising, it was at the forefront of the January 12, 1964, revolution together with the disaffected Zanzibari youth who “rose up not simply to ‘overthrow a politically bankrupt government and a caricature monarchy’ but ‘revolted in order to change the social system which had oppressed them and for once to take the destiny of their history into their own hands’”. This movement removed the Omani Sultan from power and is considered “Africa’s first successful revolution to overthrow neocolonialism.”
Subsequently “Babu was seen as a threat by the US government who feared that Zanzibar might become the ‘Cuba of Africa’ and spread revolution across East and Central Africa. With the help of the CIA and various ‘sources’ it had established in the countries of East Africa, the US succeeded in ‘neutralizing’ Zanzibar by engineering its union with Tanganyika which was known to have a pro-western government.” And while “plots to assassinate Babu failed, the US and Britain succeeded in neutralizing the revolutionary”. The engineering of the Tanganyika-Zanzibar union took place “after several private meetings in May 1964, between the US, Nyerere, and right-wing leaders in Zanzibar. The union transferred most major foreign and domestic policy decisions to mainland Tanganyika and away from the revolutionary forces who captured state power in Zanzibar”.
Babu was a force to be reckoned with – monitored and neutralized by imperialism.
Today, even if much of Babu’s “immense contributions to progressive movements – the overthrow of neocolonialism, the push for the unity of the African continent – including his enduring love and commitment to Zanzibar, the African continent and humanity at large, has been forgotten”, still, he is remembered and celebrated for his unwavering pan-Africanism. Lest we forget, the Eritrean struggle for independence and Eritrea’s victory is not Eritrea’s only. It is widely noted that Babu visited Eritrea during its struggle for independence and “supported to popularize the Eritrean struggle”.
In a popular public address after his visit and during the 1985 struggle, reaching out to and connecting with Eritreans and Africans at large, Babu is remembered saying, “Eritrea’s present is the remote future of others… I am not ashamed to admit that I have been overwhelmed by what I saw. Living, working, and eating with these staunch revolutionaries, I am tempted to echo the famous quote: ‘I have seen the future of Africa, and it works’”.
Babu’s pan-African organizing, including his support to popularize the Eritrean struggle, was directly connected to his political work in Zanzibar and through the medium of his brand of socialism which was based on “the social conditions in contemporary Africa”. And contrary to popular movements, he advocated for “the immediate unification of Africa” and complete freedom from colonialism propagated in “the slogans of the 7th Pan African Congress he co-organized in Kampala, Uganda in 1994: ‘Resist Recolonisation!’”