Two fascinating tomes that chronicle Oman’s historical links with Zanzibar and East Africa are among a host of titles that are piquing the interest of history-lovers at the Muscat International Book Fair. ‘Will Zanzibar Regain Her Past Prosperity’ is the seminal work of Shaikh Issa Nasser al Ismaily who, at 88, undertook the strenuous task of recording his perspectives on Zanzibar.
These perspectives were gained by virtue of the distinguished positions he held in Zanzibar initially as a District Officer and Magistrate and later as an Administrative Secretary and Aide-de Camp to the British Resident in Zanzibar.
Initially, work on the book began as a straightforward translation of his previously authored book in Kiswahili titled, ‘Zanzibar — Kinyang’anyiro na Utumwa’ or ‘Zanzibar — Colonial Scramble and Slavery’ published in 1999 and following its Arabic translation Zinjibar-Atakallub wa listiimarii wa tijara reeq which was successfully launched and well received in 2012.
It contributed to a significant upsurge in awareness and interest in the historical connection between Oman and East Africa in general and Zanzibar in particular.
Many in Oman felt that this special period of history had not been given attention or the recognition it deserved. So the author decided to write it in English as well so as to satisfy the needs of even wider audience.
During the process of writing it, he felt the need to update it and incorporate new information and recent events and developments so as to fill the gap of more than 15 years since the publication of the original Kiswahili book. As a result, the title of the book was also changed to ‘Will Zanzibar Regain Her Past Prosperity?’ to reflect the additional contents.
Thus the book to a certain extent is comprehensive in scope, covering a number of vital topics as well as expound extensively on previous topics which were in the earlier original Kiswahili book and incorporated now in the English book. These included a fascinating, in-depth historical account of the Zanzibari identity and various ethnicities of its people with multi-diverse cultures as well as the origins of its Empire to the present day.
The author also highlighted the valuable contribution of Omanis to Zanzibar and East Africa and its historical links up to the time of Sayyid Said bin Sultan. He also discusses the respective reigns of various sultans and subsequent colonization by Western powers by carving up of its Empire of what remains only of two islands — Unguja and Pemba.
As in the Kiswahili book, Issa attempts to clear misconceptions about the slave trade being solely associated with the Arabs and falsely attributed to Islam by giving vivid detailed accounts and supporting evidences in this book of the active roles played by others in this nefarious trade including the British and Europeans, Indians as well as the Africans themselves.
The author in his book gives a detailed account of the key political and social events that dominated the 20th Century leading up to the revolution of 1964 of the elected government which resulted in the death of thousands of people, including his own father, as well as injustices that many experienced for years.
For him as well as many others of his age, it is difficult to forget them but for younger and future generations, there are lessons to be learnt from it.
Issa also looks at the prevailing controversy of the Union that took place after the revolution between Zanzibar and Tanganyika. It weighs issues pertaining to the confiscation of private properties following the revolution, and the obstacles faced by individuals in their claims for compensation or return of their nationalized properties.
Shaikh Issa was studying Administration and Law at Trinity College in the University of Cambridge in England when the revolution took place. Learning that his father was killed in the turmoil that followed, he cut short his studies to return to Zanzibar in order to take care of the family. In less than one month after arriving in Zanzibar, his services with the Zanzibar Government were terminated.
The author escaped to Dar-es-Salaam where he worked from 1965 to 1976 in the Civil Service Commission and later as Senior Rural Development Officer and thereafter as Secretary in Charge of Finance and Personnel. He later relocated to his native Oman where he worked in the Central Bank of Oman as Personnel Manager for 15 years before retiring in August 1987 for health reasons. He has five children, 23 grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren.
Separately, daughter Shahira al Ismailiya has authored the biography of her father, titled ‘The Story of Our Father’, which was released around the same time as the launch of ‘Will Zanzibar Regain Her Past Prosperity’. The book looks at various important events of his life in Zanzibar as well as life in Oman. The lessons to be learnt from his experiences and challenges encountered makes interesting reading.