1964: British troops help Julius Nyerere suppress a mutiny

In 1964 a wave of mutinies swept Tanganyika, Kenya, and Uganda. Julius Nyerere requested military assistance from the United Kingdom to put down the mutiny, as well as a later attempted general strike during which hundreds of workers were arrested.

Submitted by Mike Harman on January 18, 2019

John D. Gerhart was a Harvard graduate visiting Dar es Salaam with Harvard's Project Taganyika. The report was written for the Harvard Crimson (Harvard University's daily newspaper), March 10, 1964. While Gerhart's account is from a liberal American standpoint, it contains a personal account of the events, which have not been covered in much detail in either Tanzania or the UK.

Tanganyika Embarrassed By Need for British Assistance; Calls For Pan-African Force To Aid In Future Crises
By John D. Gerhart,
March 10, 1964

John D. Gerhart '65 is a CRIMSON reporter now teaching in Dar es Salaam with Project Tanganyika.

The city of Dar es Salaam woke early on the morning of Saturday, January 25. At about 6:15 citizens all over the sprawling capital were shaken out of bed by what some thought at first was an early onset of the monsoon season. But the evenly-spaced rumblings in the distance were not thunder; they were a diversionary barrage from the anti-aircraft guns of the British aircraft carrier Centaur. By 7 a.m., when government workers began leaving for their 7:30 jobs, Tanganyika's five-day-old army mutiny was over and East Africa's oldest independent government was back in control.

The short, well-timed action which put down the revolt was carried out by the Royal Marine Commandos with an efficiency that will probably win it a glowing place in British military history. While the barrage went on, helicopters lifted some 60 commandos to a ravine behind the Tanganyika Rifles' barracks about six miles north of the city. As the Tanganyikan soldiers spilled out of their barracks, they were quickly captured from behind by the British troops. One mortar shell broke up the resistance; only three Rifles members were killed; and though several hundred soldiers escaped in the bush, all but a handful were quickly recaptured. The exercise was directed by the commanding officer of the Tanganyikan forces, a Britisher who had escaped the mutiny on Monday and had been hiding in European homes in Dar's fashionable Oyster Bay area during the week.

The Marines' performance was most remarkable because they accomplished it virtually unarmed. According to an official in the British High Commission here, the British quartermaster in Aden had furnished the Marines with the wrong calibre of rifle ammunition, and the mistake was not discovered until shortly before the landing was to take place. The only effective weapons available were mortars and a few pistols. When the troops landed they went immediately to the Tanganyikan armory to rearm themselves, which explains why so many of the Tanganyikan soldiers were initially able to escape. The quartermaster in Aden has since been returned to England for court-martial.

Though they had never been in danger during the revolt, Dar's British citizens were thrilled to have the "shocking do" over with, and "the boys" standing guard. The New Africa Hotel did a landslide afternoon tea business. There was a band concert by the forces on the following afternoon. Smiling Scotsmen bought cases of beer and Fanta for the troops. Our neighbors spoke to us for the second time in six months, the first time having been on Monday when the "do" began.

But in spite of the local European reaction, there were no neo-colonialist overtones. The British offered to withdraw immediately on the wishes of the Tanganyika government, and the President, Julius K. Nyerere' dispelled further doubts in a speech given Saturday afternoon. "Any independent country is able to ask for the help of another independent country," he said. "Talk that the British have come back to rule Tanganyika again is rubbish."

Request Difficult

"But," continued the President, "asking for help in this way is not something to be proud of. I do not want any person to think that I was happy in making this request." The decision was undoubtedly a painful one for Nyerere, who had worked so long to gain Tanganyika's independence from the British, but in the end, it was the only choice he could make and be sure of his government's survival. What had begun on Monday as simply an army revolt for higher pay was beginning to take on much more threatening tones. The story of this deterioration in the situation is the real story of the army revolt.

The mutiny began shortly after midnight on January 20 when the troops of the Tanganyika (formerly King's African) Rifles First Battalion seized the arms at Colito Barracks and arrested their European officers and NCOs. Soldiers then proceeded to surround the State House and to take over the radio station, airport, telegraph office, and other key points throughout the city. Several ministers were arrested before dawn, but President Nyerere and Vice President Rashidi Kawawa escaped.

Though Nyerere reappeared the next day, rumors circulated wildly that he had gone to Arusha in the north of the country, gone to Nairobi, been captured, or was hiding in the embassy of "a friendly country." In actuality, Nyerere remained in Dar es Salaam, but he let his Defense Minister Oscar Kambona come to terms with the soldiers. This was probably because he felt that his first duty to the nation was to survive unharmed, and also because he did not want to demean his office by dealing with the mutineers.

Throughout the mutiny, troop movements were confined almost entirely to the town proper and to the African business quarters of Magomeni and Kariakoo (named for the German Carrier Corps stationed there in 1918). The large European and African suburbs to the north and south of the town were not entered. The first indication I had of the trouble was about 8 a.m. when, upon reaching the Tanganyikan school where I teach, I found classes dismissed and the headmistress, a close friend of Nyerere's, in tears.

Car Halted

With two other teachers, I headed toward the downtown area. We passed milling crowds of Africans and Arabs in the streets, but saw no signs of other vehicles or of soldiers. However, we soon reached a bridge leading to the town's center and ran directly into a roadblock of soldiers who, pointing guns at our tires and faces, quickly persuaded us to return the way we had come. Though not proficient in Swahili, we found that our comprehension was almost perfect.

About noon on Monday the road blocks were removed and another teacher and I, with a Tanganyikan friend, took the opportunity to drive through Kariakoo to the Muhimbili hospital, where my friend had a surgical appointment. This time cars were in sight, but most of them contained soldiers with large guns who had commandeered taxis and private vehicles for cruising the streets.

Entering the first rotary intersection in the bazaar district, however, we saw a frightening sight. Looting had broken out during the mid-morning and the soldiers, aided by normal police forces, were firing at and beating looters in the street. On the opposite side of the intersection a hatless soldier was casually aiming his rifle, not at a looter, but at a family of Indians watching the scene from a fourth-story apartment nearby. The bullet smashed over their heads. The soldier laughed, turned back down the street and shouldered his weapon.

Proceeding down the main street about two blocks from the African market, we were soon stopped by a group of soldiers and forced to wait outside the car for about twenty minutes. Actually, this provided us with a relatively safe viewpoint from which to watch the soldiers in action. They seemed content to let the more efficient police restore order; the streets cleared rapidly and occasional shots rang out, often fired into a trash can "for effect."

Civilians Killed

We soon continued to the hospital where casualities were being brought in. One of the first was a soldier with a bullet fired clean through the chest. His agonized expression seemed to frame an ironic question about the value of his comrades' revolt. On Monday, four soldiers, six Arabs, and about a dozen African civilians were killed, all in "non-military" action.

On Monday afternoon the government agreed to give "urgent consideration" to the troops' demands for a pay increase and the removal of all expatriate officers. The soldiers returned to their barracks and Kambona announced he had "mediated a dispute between African and British soldiers in the Tanganyika Rifles" and that the troops were still "loyal to the government." On Tuesday the capital returned to almost normal.

As the week continued, it became increasingly apparent that the government could not continue to operate with the army able to seize power at will merely by entering and occupying the city. Negotiations over pay increases were conducted with the mutiny's leaders, but by Friday they had become, as Nyerere later said, "analogous to the negotiations between a blackmailer and his victim." One reliable source says that the mutineers were demanding the right to name three new ministers. Nevertheless, the government wanted, if at all possible to avoid calling in outside (namely British) help.

Strike Plotted

In the meantime, a group of politicians and trade union leaders including an Area Commissioner who had been a long-time TANU stalwart, had begun conspiring with the ringleaders of the mutiny to bring about a real overthrow of the government. They planned to initiate a general strike on Saturday, followed by a coup on the following Monday in which, it was rumoured, Nyerere and his ministers would be removed.

Nyerere got word of this on Friday afternoon and Friday evening he asked for British aid. Fortunately for the government, the British were close at hand and the more serious threat was stopped before it could materialize. On Saturday night police detained about 200 persons, including officials of five major unions and the General Secretary of the Tanganyika Federation of Labour. Most of the officials are only now being released. The government has announced plans to disband the TFL and its eleven affiliated unions and to institute in their place a single, giant trade union representing all the workers in the country. Though the trade unions have opposed the government in the past, they have paraded through Dar es Salaam almost daily for a week to demonstrate their present loyalty.

External Impact

In fact, the revolt may have more important implications for Tanganyika's external than its internal affairs. The 98 per cent of the nation's people who live outside the capital had little or no knowledge of the mutiny at all, and though the army is being disbanded and security measures increased, there are no sweeping changes in store for anyone outside the unions. Nyerere is calling for a constitutional one-party state which will only make Tanganyika in name what it is in fact. The most widely felt "internal" result of the revolt so far has been the banning of the Nairobi-based Daily Nation for publishing an "exaggerated account" of the disturbances.

Conference Called

Externally, Tanganyika's reputation for stability was undoubtedly damaged. Foreign investors may lose confidence in the country, although such a loss would not be justified and should not be severe. And the fact remains that Tanganyika is embarrassed, though not apologetic, about having British troops in the country. It was for this reason that Nyerere called for the emergency meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Organization of African Unity, which opened in Dar es Salaam on Feb. 12, and which makes a proper concluding chapter to an account of the revolt.

The conference, with Tanganyika's Oscar Kambona as chairman, held its opening session in the attentive view of the world press, the TANU political hierarchy, and the local diplomatic corps. Although the ambassador of the Chinese People's Republic was tactfully seated some distance from his American counterpart, the reporters from the New China News Agency vied openly with those of the USIS for picture positions, while the representative of the Vatican press religiously took notes. Though the Morrocans looked like French grocers and the Liberians like American businessmen, the assembly was an impressive one and Nyerere made an equally impressive opening address.

"The presence of troops from a country deeply involved in the world's cold war conflicts," he said, "has serious implications in the context of African nationalism and our common policies of non-alignment... The presence of British troops in Tanganyika is a fact which is too easily exploited by those who wish to...play upon natural fears of neo-colonialism in the hope of sowing seeds of suspicion between the different African states."

In a matter minutes, Nyerere neatly converted the revolt from an internal to a pan-African affair. He also pointed out that the African Liberation movements, with headquarters in Dar es Salaam, might be damaged by the existence of just such a state of affairs in Tanganyika, and that this was also "the concern of the whole of Africa."

Nyerere then asked for an African armed force to help replace the British while Tanganyika trains its own forces. This proposal was accepted later in the week. Thus, though the practicalities of compiling an all-African force may be difficult (Tan-