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Wednesday, March 04, 2015  
Unveiling the truth

Omanis were the first to abolish slave trade, says Issa Bin Nasser Al Ismaily’s book, ‘Zanzibar – The Colonial Scramble and Slave Trade’

It is a fact that slave trade existed at different points of time in history, but very few are aware of the fact that it was the Omanis that abolished it first. In 1822, Sayyid Said Bin Sultan abolished human trafficking in Zanzibar, and in 1845, he also stopped the shipping of slaves to the Sultanate.

In his book Zanzibar – The Colonial Scramble and Slave Trade, Sheikh Issa Bin Nasser Al Ismaily, 85, who handled managerial positions in the Central Bank of Oman and Al Ahli Bank,  highlights the fact that Oman was the first  nation to abolish slave trade and its participation in human trafficking was minimal. The book, which is in Arabic, was released on April 29 at the Golden Tulip Hotel in Seeb, Muscat. Its Swahili edition, which was published in 1999, was also equally popular. The English translation of the book will come out soon.  

In his informative tome, Issa, who had a long, illustrious career in Zanzibar and The Sultanate, has set the record straight about who was behind the slave trade in the island of Zanzibar during the Arab rule from 1804 to 1856. He delves into history to explain how the slave trade was mostly in the hands of the Europeans and Indians, while the Arab participation was minimal. He goes on to explain how in 1872, Sayyid Barghash further abolished slave trade and closed down the slave market at Mkunazini in Zanzibar. European countries declared the abolishment of slave trade as far as late as only in 1890, which was 18 years after the Omani rulers abolished it.  In 1897, Sayyid Hamoud completely abolished slavery and granted freedom to slaves in Zanzibar. The British abolished slavery in Kenya only as late as in 1912 — 15 years after Zanzibar — and the Germans as late as 1920.

What makes the book special is the fact that the author himself narrates his experiences in the island. He explores the links between Oman and Zanzibar from the time of Sayyid Said Bin Sultan (1804-1856) till the reign of Sultan Sayyid Jamshid Bin Abdullah Bin Khalifa.

Giving a vivid account of his life, Issa explains the factors behind the 1964 Zanzibar revolution and the role of various players.  He had worked in Zanzibar as district officer, magistrate, administrative secretary as well as the Aide-de-Camp to the British Resident.

He describes in detail the background of the political events that led to the bloody revolution, which came to an end with the toppling of the Zanzibar government with the help of Tanganyika, leaving thousands dead.

Issa is a victim of the revolution. On the first day of the uprising, his father was gunned down before his wife (Issa’s mother) and 12-year-old daughter. The primary essence of his book is that it was not the Arabs alone who were involved in slave trade in Africa. It was mainly the Europeans, Indians and some Arabs who indulged in human trafficking.  Even the African chiefs themselves participated in capturing their fellowmen for slave traders.

Issa refutes the argument that the sole participation of Arabs led to their massacre in the revolution. The book looks at various aspects of the events involving racism and hatred against the Arabs on exaggerated allegations of slave trade. 

According to Issa, there were powers with vested interests who aimed at tarnishing the image of Islam and Arabs in East Africa. When asked about the motive for writing this book, he said that as an 85-year-old man, he felt the need to tell his children and the younger generation of the hardships he encountered in life as well as in his long civil service career.

He is also keen to dispel all doubts and misinformation about the revolution claiming that it was of Zanzibar’s own making. He is also pleased  that Dr Harith Ghassany has done a good job of exposing the facts in his book titled Kwaheri Ukoloni, Kwaheri Uhuru (Goodbye Colonialism, Goodbye Independence)  published in 2010.


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