Sunday, 10 April 2011

The Forty Minute War, Sayyid Khalid 1917-1921

Sayyid Khalid 1874-1927

Sayyid Khalid bin Barghash Al-Busaid ruled Zanzibar, very briefly, from August 25 to August 27 1896, seizing power after the sudden death of his cousin Hamad bin Thuwaini who many suspect was poisoned by Khalid. Britain refused to recognize his claim to the throne, preferring, as Sultan, Hamud bin Muhammed who was more favourable to British interests.  In accordance with a treaty signed in 1886, a condition for accession to the sultanate was that the candidate obtain the permission of the British consul, and Khalid had not fulfilled this requirement.  The British considered this a casus belli and sent an ultimatum to Khalid demanding that he order his forces to stand down and leave the palace. In response, Khalid called up his guard and barricaded himself inside the palace.

The ultimatum expired at 09:00 East Africa Time on 27 August, by which time the British had gathered three cruisers, two gunships, 150 marines and sailors, and 900 Zanzibaris in the harbour area.  The British forces were under Rear Admiral Harry Rawson, chiefly remembered for overseeing the Benin Expedition of 1897 that burned and looted the city of Benin. Around 2,800 Zanzibaris defended the palace; most were recruited from the civilian population, but they also included the sultan's palace guard and several hundred of his servants and slaves.  The defenders had several artillery pieces and machine guns which were set in front of the palace sighted at the British ships.  A bombardment which was opened at 09:02 set the palace on fire and disabled the defending artillery.  A small naval action took place with the British sinking a Zanzibari royal yacht and two smaller vessels, and some shots were fired ineffectually at the pro-British Zanzibari troops as they approached the palace.  The flag at the palace was shot down and fire ceased at 09:40. The sultan's forces sustained roughly 500 casualties before a surrender was received, while only one British sailor was injured.  The British quickly placed Sultan Hamud in power at the head of a puppet government.  The war marked the end of Zanzibar as a sovereign state and the start of a period of heavy British influence and the Anglo-Zanzibar War is now thought to be the shortest war in history.
Zanzibar after the bombardment

After the cease fire Sayyid Khalid managed to evade the British forces and took refuge in the German Consulate with a few of his senior companions.  The British demanded his surrender and surrounded the consulate with soldiers.  He remained there for thirty six days, then on 2nd October, in the early hours of the morning and during the high tide, the Germans arranged for a small boat to come alongside the seawall of the consulate.  Sayyid Khalid was taken with his friends on board a German warship en route to Dar es Salaam which was then the capital of German East Africa and which comprised, Burundi, Rwanda, and Tanganyika.  He lived there as a Sultan for 20 years with the Zanzibari Sultanate flag over his house until World War I.  The British, with long memories, continued to pursue him and in 1916 the Afrikaner, Lieutenant-General Jan Christian Smuts having taken command of all British forces in East Africa was determined to capture Sayyid Khalid.  He could not be found in Dar es Salaam, however, files of his letters were found in Tabora and were given to Smuts. On 27 February 1917 Sayyid Khalid was arrested with two of his sons and three of his followers in the Rufiji delta 250 miles from Dar es Salaam.

Four months later, on 22nd June he was escorted with his entourage on board the SS Ingoma en route to exile.  Arriving in Durban they boarded the SS Berwick Castle of the Union-Castle Line for their final destination, St Helena.  On arrival Sayyid Khalid and his followers, seventeen of them, plus three political exiles from Kenya, were kept in military custody in the Jamestown Barracks on the Military Parade Ground.  There is no information available in the local archives on the prisoners; according to the archivist; all newspapers and other records relating to Khalid were censored during that period.  Local people referred to the prisoners as the “Zanzibars”.  Very few people remember them being on the island, and the recollections of those who do, are very vague and of little substance.  They did not mix much with the Saint Helenians, some of whom remember that the prisoners were always very smartly dressed in long flowing silken robes, the women were described as having a beautiful appearance.

The weather conditions and the lack of Muslims on the island did not suit Sayyid Khalid.  He requested to be moved to his relatives in Oman or to his property in Dar es Salaam, but was refused by Alfred Milner the Secretary of State. However, in January 1921 Milner decided at the end of his mandate to inform the Governor of the Seychelles of his intention to send Sayyid and his entourage to the Seychelles.  At that time the Seychelles already held, in exile, political prisoners from the Gold Coast (Ghana) Uganda, Nyasaland, and Somaliland the most notable being fifty-two members of the Asante monarchy who were there from 1900 to 1924.  The deportees left Saint Helena at the end of April 1921 after four years on the island. Sayyid Khalid, his relatives, a female child born on 19 February 1920 in Saint Helena, Mosslin bin Hassen the interpreter and 3 political Kenyan exiles, boarded SS Cawdor Castle; en route to the Seychelles, they stopped at Durban and were taken on the SS Karagola to the Seychelles.

In the Seychelles Sayyid Khalid did not complain of the lack of Muslims or Mosques as he did in Saint Helena but he said that the weather did not suit him.  However, his constant complaint was the lack of money for his upkeep.  In Saint Helena he had more generous daily rations including butter, meat, tea and one pint of beer or stout.

After many complaints and requests to Winston Churchill, the Secretary of State, Sayyid Khalid asked that he and his entourage be sent back to Dar es Salaam. Churchill would only agree for them to be moved to Kenya and on 12th April 1922 they left on board the SS Taroba.  During his further five years of exile in Mombasa the British never allowed Sayyid Khalid to visit his homeland or Dar es Salaam. He died on the 15th of March 1927 in Mombasa age 53, three days as Sultan resulting in thirty years in exile.

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