Tanzania isn’t an ancient name. Originally there were two separate entities, Tanganyika and Zanzibar. Tanganyika became independent from Britain in 1961 and Zanzibar became independent from us in 1963. In April of 1964, they joined together to become the United Republic of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, which, let’s face it, is quite a mouthful. In October 1964, they abbreviated it all down to the much handier United Republic of Tan-Zania, or Tanzania. I just put the hyphen in to show the join.
Zanzibar and Tanganyika had very different histories for a very long time. The Zanzibar archipelago consists of a group of islands off the East African coast, but the two main ones are Zanzibar itself and Pemba.
Fascinatingly, for a long time Zanzibar wasn’t paired with Tanganyika, but with Oman a long way to the north. It wasn’t to last. When one particular sultan died, one of his sons became Sultan of Oman and the other became Sultan of Zanzibar.
We took a lot of interest in Zanzibar because it was a huge trading centre dealing in large quantities of British and Indian manufactured goods. On 25 August 1896, a sultan whom we liked died suddenly, and a man we didn’t like proclaimed himself sultan. We weren’t chuffed and we weren’t going to pretend we were. We issued an ultimatum and gathered a task force of cruisers, gunships and marines. Handily, a lot of the Zanzibar army were on our side under British Brigadier General Lloyd Matthews, who happened to be their commander. Not surprisingly, the war was short and indeed tends to be known as the ‘shortest war in history’, though frankly there have been an awful lot of wars and not all of them had a person with a watch timing them so we’ll never really know. Our ultimatum expired at 0900 hours, a suitably businesslike time for an ultimatum to expire. At 0902 we opened fire. The palace was hit several times and by about 0940 it was all over, leaving a lot of the people inside the palace dead, the palace on fire and the man who had proclaimed himself sultan fleeing to the German consulate. Our involvement with Tanganyika took a very different course. British explorers like Burton, Speke and Livingstone took an early interest in the area, but ultimately it was Germany that won out here in the colonial sweepstakes.
So, in the First World War we decided to invade. It didn’t start well for us. Not well at all. In the Battle of Tanga, in November 1914, also known as the Battle of the Bees due to a strange bee intervention in which some of our forces and some of the Germans were attacked by a swarm, we landed troops at the strategic port of Tanga ,only for them to have to re-embark when the defenders defeated us. At the same time we also lost the Battle of Kilimanjaro. We did have more success on the water, eventually cornering the German light cruiser Königsberg on the Rufiji and sinking it. Meanwhile, two British gunboats, HMS Mimi and HMS Toutou, after being brought overland to Lake Tanganyika, had helped push the Germans off the waters there.
In 1916 the situation on land changed radically. General C. Smuts invaded from three different directions with a large force, including South Africans, other Africans, Brits, and Indian troops, and the rest of the war turned into a bitter and brutal game of chase as our side pursued the forces of the German side led by Lettow-Vorbeck around East Africa. Lettow-Vorbeck did not, in the end, surrender until after the armistice that finished the First World War. After the war we got the League of Nations Mandate to administer the part of German East Africa that became known as Tanganyika.