Abdulrahman Mohamed Babu

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Abdulrahman Mohamed Babu (1924–1996) was a Zanzibari revolutionary nationalist.


Abdulrahman Mohamed Babu was born in 1924 in Zanzibar, East Africa - then a British protectorate. He described his childhood in a brief autobiographical sketch which was intended to form the basis of memoirs which he had been commissioned to write (African Socialism or Socialist Africa?[citation needed]), but which were always postponed by more immediate work relating to contemporary struggles.[1]

Babu was among the Afro-Shirazi Party ‘intellectuals’ from Zanzibar who had fallen out with Abeid Karume, the leader of the Zanzibar Revolutionary Council. Following the merger between Tanganyika and Zanzibar in April 1964, he was among the progressive, leftist members of the Zanzibari government sent to take up cabinet positions in Dar es Salaam.[2]

As a Secretary of the Zanzibar Nationalist Party prior to the Union, Babu had built close relations with the Chinese leadership and was probably the first liberation fighter from East and Central Africa to visit China in 1959. As a result, the British called him ‘the best known Sinophile’ in Tanzania. His ideological affinity and work with the New China News Agency made him a good channel of communication with Beijing.[2]

Babu had a key role to play in the establishment of TAZARA Railway with the help of Chinese aid. According to his memoirs, Julius Nyerere wanted to build on Zanzibar’s close ties with China and create benefits for the whole country. Babu was named head of the trade delegation that preceded Nyerere’s presidential delegation to China in 1964. The outcome of his trip was a trade agreement (separate from the £11 million aid agreement) for £5 million a year for five years. Under this agreement the Tanzanians were to buy whatever they could afford from the Chinese but the Chinese were to buy £5 million worth a year from Tanzania. The Chinese would pay cash for the balance not taken up by purchases from Tanzania. Due to his personal experience with the Chinese and his ideological affinity for their progressive model of development, Babu seized the initiative and mentioned the difficulties his government faced in trying to secure financing for the TAZARA Railway. On 1 July 1965 the Chinese Government made a firm offer of tied aid to the Governments of Tanzania and Zambia, worth £75 million and £150 million to enable them to build the railway line.[2]

A few years later, Babu was sentenced to death along with 34 other people, while 23 others were acquitted for their alleged role in the 1972 assassination of the then Zanzibar President, Sheikh Abeid Amani Karume. Babu and 12 other prisoners who were held on the Mainland were freed by then President Julius Nyerere in an amnesty to mark the 14th anniversary of the Union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar in April 1978.[citation needed]

Babu, 72, died on August 5, 1996, at the London Chest Hospital after a short illness. At this point, he had been staying in London for years as a scholar. He returned to Tanzania one year before his death from his exile in London (since 1978, when he was freed in an amnesty after being sentenced to death in 1973 for treason).[3]

Positions held

  • Chair - Africa Centre (London) (1985–89)
  • Foreign Minister of Zanzibar (January 1964 – April 1964)
  • Founder - Umma Party (Zanzibar) (1963)
  • Secretary General - Zanzibar Nationalist Party (1957–63)
  • Minister of Economic Planning (1964–1972)[4]
  • Picked as the presidential running-mate for the NCCR-Mageuzi ticket in the 1995 elections. However, the charges against and consequent conviction of Babu led to the Electoral Commission rejecting his bid to run for the Vice-Presidency.[4]


  • Babu, Abdulrahman Mohamed (1981). African Socialism or Socialist Africa?. London: Zed Press. ISBN 0-905762-19-3. OCLC 8343925.


  1. ^ "A biographical note on A. M. Babu". Archived from the original on 20 February 2007. Retrieved 26 November 2016.
  2. ^ a b c Altorfer-Ong, Alicia (2009). "Tanzanian 'Freedom' and Chinese 'Friendship' in 1965: laying the tracks for the TanZam rail link" (PDF). LSE Ideas. London School of Economics (LSE): 655–670. Retrieved 2010-09-16.
  3. ^ "I feel Prof. Babu's death deeply". Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 26 November 2016.
  4. ^ a b Davies, Carole Boyce, ed. (2008). Encyclopedia of the African Diaspora: Origins, Experiences, and Culture. A-C. Volume 1. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. p. 139. ISBN 9781851097005.


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