The British Empire Library

The Life and Times of Abdul Wahid Sykes (1924-68)

by Mohamed Said

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Brian Eccles (Zanzibar & Tanganyika 1952-61)
This book is not about TANU, nor even about the struggle for Uhuru in Tanganyika; it is about the part that Sykes and his Muslim associates played in that struggle. It suggests (incidentally, not deliberately) what might have happened if the TAA (Tanganyika African Association) had not handed over to the TANU (Tanganyika African National Union) and Sykes to Nyerere in 1953. At that moment there was lift-off and Nyerere began nation-building.

This book divides itself into four parts. The first is concerned with the Kleist family history, their coming from Mozambique to settle in Arab-dominated but German-ruled Dar es Salaam. The second part concerns Kleist's father's role in Dar es Salaam docks and the son's assumption at the age of 24 of the General Secretaryship of the Dockworkers Union. (The family name was Kleist in German Colonial times, it was Sykes in British Colonial times).

Five years' later Abdulwahid was manoeuvring to get Nyerere, a Christian, to run the Tanganyika African Association (TAA) which he had built on the foundation of the Dockworkers Union. A National party needed the support of up-country Christians and what the author calls 'Nyerere intellectuals'. This was Abdulwahid's great decision. It is the theme of the third part of the book.

The fourth part is concerned with the author's second thoughts; should not Mrima (the coastal area) have remained the effective power base (which colonialism - whether Arab, German or British - had made it) in Tanganyika? Union with Zanzibar was to create additional problems.

The book's sub-title is "the untold story of the Muslim struggle against British Colonialism in Tanganyika". Nyerere embarks on more than that. For him, a man from the Lake Victoria area, Tanganyika was more than the Mrima area, indirect rule was an old-fashioned colonial concept. The new Tanganyika needed direct rule (a concept that it was more difficult to impose on Zanzibar and Pemba).

How little we British knew of the aspirations of Tanganyika politicians (still less understood or sympathised with them). Nyerere changed this, whereas Abdulwahid went on ploughing his lonely furrow.

After the 1958 election the author admits that "the Muslims who had sacrificed a lot in the struggle... began to lose control of policies, and were consequently marginalised, never again to regain their political power". This was the equality of opportunity for which Nyerere had worked but about which Sykes had reservations.

This is a fascinating if erratic book for those of us who were participants or even bystanders.

British Empire Book
Mohamed Said
Minerva Press


Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames

by Stephen Luscombe