Sheikh Abeid Amani Karume (1905-1972), Tanzanian political leader, became the Zanzibari vice president of the republic of Tanzania. He was one of Africa's least-known leaders.
Sheikh Abeid Karume was apparently the son of a slave woman from Ruanda-Urundi who moved to Zanzibar when the boy was young. He had little formal education, in 1920 becoming a seaman working cargo boats out of the island. He ultimately rose to quartermaster. A member of the British Seamen's Union, after 1938 he operated a syndicate of motorboats carrying passengers to and from harbor ships.
Karume first entered politics in 1954 when he was appointed town councilor. Later he became president of a social organization for black migrant workers called the Zanzibar African Association. In 1957 this group united with the Shirazi Association to form the pro-British AfroShirazi Party (ASP) with Karume as president. In July 1957, by appealing directly to the African community making up four-fifths of the population, the ASP won four of five seats in the colonial Legislative Council.
In the years before the 1964 revolution, Karume led the ASP in opposition to the ruling Arab coalition which was seemingly intent on maintaining the political economic dominance of the Arab community. Zanzibar Pemba, an area the size of Rhode Island, became independent on Dec. 10, 1963. On Jan. 12, 1964, young ASP militants overthrew the Sultan and established African rule.
Karume was leader of the Revolutionary Council and subsequently became president of the new Zanzibar People's Republic. He was described as a big, slow, even phlegmatic, man who was honest, dependable, and strong-minded to the point of stubbornness. An eloquent Swahili orator, Karume spoke only halting English. He was a devout Moslem and the father of two sons. His role in the revolution was disputed; claims were made that he was a figurehead, even a prisoner of the real leadership which was said to center on Abdulrahma Babu, Kassim Hanga, and Hassan Moyo.
The revolutionary goal was to establish a wholly egalitarian society and, to this end, President Karume proclaimed the Zanzibar Manifesto on March 8. This nationalized and redistributed the land, 80 percent of which was held by the Arab 13 percent of the population.
In April 1964 Karume negotiated a union with mainland Tanganyika under which Zanzibar retained considerable authority in domestic affairs. He became first vice president of the United Republic, renamed Tanzania in October. Speculation was rampant whether Zanzibar was saved from becoming a Communist state or whether Tanganyika would go Communist along with the island.
After the union, despite extensive aid largely from East-bloc countries, Zanzibar's economy stagnated as each partner went its own way domestically. Karume both hailed the union as an example for other African states and raised objection to any further integration.
On April 7, 1972, Karume was assassinated by four gunmen in Dar es Salaam. Two members of the Revolutionary Council were wounded in the attack.
A good source for material on Karume's career is John Middleton and Jane Campbell, Zanzibar: Its Society and Its Politics (1965). Recommended for additional historical and political background are Michael F. Lofchie, Zanzibar: Background to Revolution (1965), and Allison Butler Herrick and others, Area Handbook for Tanzania (1968). □