The book grew out of the author's PhD thesis at SOAS, though it was developed considerably since then. The author notes that what initially started out as a 'purely economic history' was soon found by him to be inadequate in fully explaining the development of Zanzibar, though the work is definitely economically driven. After giving a brief summary of the main points of each chapter (pgs 1-4), the author puts forth the convincing argument that to attribute Zanzibar's commercial development to Sayyid Sa`id bin Sultan, as many writers before him had done, is flawed logic. There were many currents set in motion (particularly shifts in the production sector) long before Sa`id arrived, though as a powerful merchant prince, "when he jumped onto the bandwagon, he gave the wagon a powerful shove." (Of interesting note, the author refers to Marx quite a bit throughout the chapter, which might give a hint as to his ideological inclinations and perhaps even those of his analysis. That, however, remains to be seen).
Chapter 1: The Rise of a Compradorial State
Sheriff notes in the introduction that the term 'Compradorial' is a Portuguese term for 'purchaser'. In the East it referred to brokers or comission agents, and in China to substantial agencies which carried out commercial activities on behalf of foreign traders and supplied their needs, and even workers to the trading factories.
In his description of the geography of East Africa, Sheriff notes that the coastal belt is rather narrow near the north, being bounded by the nyika (dense wilderness) on the West; this precluded an import-export economy based on production in the interior and outwards trade, for communication with the interior was difficult at best. The farther south one travels, however, the wider the coastal belt grows, as does the potential for production and trade. The Swahili coast's strategic location along the longitudinal path of the monsoons, however, allowed for the development of entrepot economies along the coast; because catching winds at different times would take ships to different places, the port cities were mostly economically independent of one another (and entirely politically independent), though they were all heavily dependent on the monsoon trade.
Out of this dependence on monsoon trade developed socio-economic structures, many of which were profoundly influenced by the outside world, that made them further dependent on trade with the outside world. Though there was some degree of production, it was mainly mundane commodities (such as food grains and mangrove poles) for domestic consumption (and, interestingly, trade with the Gulf - which lasted well into the 20th century, as evidenced by Gilbert). (Interestingly, Sheriff notes that the Omanis imported slaves from Africa to work the date fields and Basra imported them to work the marshlands, though little about this is ever written in Gulf history). This international trade stimulated the growth of market towns, which provided the base for the emergence of a ruling merchant class, who were for obvious reasons dependent on the outside world (as evidenced by the large storage rooms found in the palaces).
When the Portuguese arrived in the Indian Ocean and attempted to divert trade around the Cape of Good Hope, the Swahilis were particularly vulnerable. Although they resisted Portuguese dominance as much as they could and tried to circumvent their control of trade both legally and illegaly, politically they fell to the Portuguese. It was only the Omanis who would later expel the Portuguese from East Africa (Sheriff says that the Swahilis called on the Imam of Oman to help them), though it was not so clean cut because of Oman and Portugal's shifting fortunes (particularly the Omani civil war, which diverted attention) - even the Swahilis, who did not know who the victor would be, pledged allegiance to both sides to try and preserve some autonomy (sounds familiar...). When Oman did take the Swahili Coast from Portugal, the role of the Swahili merchant classes changed considerably - they become shipper and coastal traders.
Turning his attention to developments in Oman, Sheriff notes that the with the Ya`ariba, the Omani state began to lean more towards commerce than ever before. This became far mroe acute with the rise of the al-Busa`idis (who came to power after a revolution against the Ya`ariba because the new commercial nature of the Imamate disagreed with the principles of Ibadhism), who brought in slave labor to develop the date and coconut palms as well as the aflaj; the capital was even moved from Nizwa (the traditional seat of the Imamate) to Muscat, which was better placed for trade. Thus, Omani society (or rather Muscati society) changed from being one of nobles and commoners to one of merchants and nobles. Initially, Omani activities were characterized by raiding (particularly Portuguese settlements and the Gulf) and limited trading, though the latter took one a greater share as time went on. The Busa`idis soon allied themselves with the British (who were fighting the French for influence) because of the guarantees they gave to the safety of commerce. The only real challenge to Omani hegemony in the region were the Qawasim, whom the British destroyed after they were attacked by them (despite the fact that Oman asked them to help fight the Qawasim long before that, though the British turned a deaf ear).
In Oman's subjugation of the Swahili Coast, Mombasa was the primary goal. However, because of their precarious position there (the Mazru`i governors, from the Ya`ariba days, refused to pledge allegiance to them) and because the Portugese kept fighting back for it, it was decided to move the seat of the Swahili part of the empire to Zanzibar. Slowly, the Busa`idis encroached onto Mombasa, first taking Pemba (the breadbasket of Mombasa) and then the Lamu archipelago. Fearing their demise, the Mazru`is approached the British for protection, which was granted but then removed after Bombay said that it was against their interests with the Busa`idi sultan to do so. When the Busa`idis finally took Mombasa in 1837, the Mazru`is fled and the merchant class was integrated into the commercial empire.
Chapter 2: The Transformation of the Slave Sector
The integration of East Africa into the world capitalist system from the last third of the 18th century onwards distinguished its modern history from all preceding eras. This particularly applies to the slave trade, which witnessed dramatic transformations during this period. After criticizing existing literature for being too general when it came to the slave trade (writers did not recognize that there were different phases of it), Sheriff states that two considerations need to be kept in mind: the assimilation of the E. African economy, including the slave sector, into the world capitalist system; the other is the transformations of that sector following the abolition of slavery. This, he says, forced the internalization of the slaves, putting them to labor to produce commodities for export, which prompted the transformation of the Omani commercial bourgeoiuse into a landowning class (though they persisted in commerce).
Despite overblown accounts of the number of slaves absorbed into Arabia, Sheriff maintains that the number could not have been more than 500 or so per year. Most slaves imported into Oman were there to serve in the army, though lots were agricultural slaves (see last chapter) and some served as domestic servants or concubines. A large number of slaves going into the general Gulf area were used as crew members and divers on trading and pearling boats. Other places, like the Red Sea and India, also imported slaves but in limited numbers. The demand for slaves reached a peak in the 18th century, after which it plateaued and may have even declined as the merchant classes of Oman moved to Zanzibar following the burst of the commercial bubble there (apparently it was characterized by massive, unsustainable growth during the Napoleonic Wars, though he doesn't explain this too well).
During the late 18th century, French interest in slave purchasing increased dramatically for work on their islands of Ile de France and Bourbon. They began to purchase slaves from Kilwa, where a Captain Morice recieved a favorable price. Soon, the demand rose and the price did as well, shifting the economic center of gravity to Kilwa, whose rulers were recieving a great deal of revenue and were looking for chances to declare independence (though not cut off trade ties with the Omanis, on whom they depended for merchandise from Surat). This ticked off the Omanis, who were the overlords of Kilwa, and prompted forceful action on their parts. The slave trade with the French would continue (to the dismay of Omani date producers, who wanted prices to remain low) until the Moresby treaty of 1822, which limited the export of slaves. Soon, slaves were pushed into the production sector of the Swahili coast.
While at first many different types of produce were being grown in Zanzibar, the clove soon eclipsed the rest. The first plants may have come from Pemba, but some certainly were brought from the French islands by one of the sons of the Sultan. When the popularity of cloves was realized (especially with the integration into the Atlantic economy and the visits by American ships) there was a feverish move to grow cloves, the land for which was appropriated from indigenous peasants (who had it from a land tenure system that existed at some point). Soon, clove production took the place of the production of many different things, and Zanzibar had to start importing rice, sweet potatoes, and other forms of produce that they once farmed for domestic consumption. The rise in the supply of cloves was attributed to the non-taxation policy taken by the Sultan, though soon he had to tax production to ensure that there was not so much supply that it would drive down the price.
Overproduction of cloves, however, could not be contained, especially with the expansion of plantations in French and Dutch territories. Soon the price of cloves plummeted and pulled the slave industry into a glut; slaves were depreciating in value as the years went by, especially in the face of new restrictions and the eventualy abolition of the slave trade. Many clove growers and merchants had to mortgage their lands to Indian moneylenders, to whom they turned for financing. To revive the spiralling clove economy, the Swahilis and Arabs turned to the production of sugar (not too profitable in the long run) and returned to the production of grains, mainly millet and sesame (which was exported to Arabia regularly). Orchilla weed, used for dyes, was also produced in large amounts for export. The people working these plantations were mixes of slaves and local peasants, particularly as one moved farther toward the north (where the slave prohibition did not apply for a long time and was not really enforced for even longer.
Chapter 3: Commercial Expansion and the Rise of the Merchant Class
The decline in the export of slaves transformed the Omani merchant class into a landed aristocracy, while the commercial sector rcieved a boost with the development of the ivory trade (sparked by the collapse of that trade between Mozambique and India). In this new trade, many sections of the merchant class found a new lease on life with coastal trading and trade with the interior. The class that initially captured the ivory trade with India, however, was Indian (surprise surprise - merchant networks); they then began to undermine the landed aristocracy through moneylending schemes that eventually meant that the surplus production was appropriated by them.
During the Anglo-French rivalry in the region, Oman remained neutral and was able to capitalize on its position to dominate the trade. While the Swahilis at Zanzibar were only involved in the local coastal and interior trade because of their lack of capital and ships, the Arabs dominated the foreign trade. When Arab fortunes declined with the slave and clove trade, however, the Indian merchant class began to rise, dominating the ivory trade between Zanzibar (which traded heavily with the interior) and Kutch and Surat (and to a lesser extent Gujarat). Ivory was in high demand in India because of the ceremonial uses of it, and East African ivory was considered to be of the highest quality. The trade suffered from structural deficiencies, however: the recurrence of famines in West India meant that trade fluctuated violently; more importantly, however, the British subjugation of the Indians and the undermining of Indian industry in favor of British industry meant that Indians were mostly trading in British goods. Moreover, the British were siphoning off the ivory trade with Zanzibar, relegating the Indian trade with the latter as merely an entrepot trade for London. In Zanzibar, however, the settled Indian merchants began to establish themselves and even recieved the customs posts for years to come, as long as they declared themselves subjects of the Sultan, as so large a number of foreign traders was considered a potential political threat.
With the boost in English demand for East African ivory came a few expeditions from London that tried to trade directly with Zanzibar. These failed, however, due to restrictions placed on them by both the customs master (a Hindu, so probably looking out for Banian interests) and the Sultan. The Americans soon followed suit, and the first expedition (detailed on pg 92-3) bought a large amount of ivory and copal. A few expeditions later, the Americans felt that they were at a disadvantage when it came to the Indians, and so they negotiated with Sayyid Sa`id a commercial treaty that allowed them to trade freely, except in muskets and balls, because of the recent rebellion in Mombasa (the restriction was lifted after the island was subdued in 1837). The treaties were of a rather vague nature and didn't exclude American trading on the Mrima coast (reserved for locals in the entrepot trade), though the restriction was observed anyway. Americans were at a disadvantage, however, because they didn't have a consul in Zanzibar and were thus late for most of the trading. Also, they started off by trading in specie, which wasn't very popular (though this was soon replaced by the popular merekani cloth). Soon an agent was appointed, though he complained bitterly of Jairam (the customs master) and his monopoly on the trade. Soon, other traders came in from different areas and the Sultan went out on ventures of his own that threatened the American position, though this was soon put to an end when they threatened to trade with the Mrima coast.
The intense competition for African goods, coupled with the limited supply of those goods and the high supply of foreign goods coming into Zanzibar, meant that the local merchants were profiting quite well from this. Among these were the Indians, whose austere lifestyles and agreements with the Americans for short-term credit arrangements meant that they accumulated large amounts of capital fairly quickly. This capital was used for moneylending to the foreign trading firms, but also to finance caravan expeditions into the interior by Arabs and Africans, and financing the clove industry. When the latter fell apart, Indian moneylending was key in sbverting the landowning classes, who had to mortgage their land to the loan sharks. Finally, the death of Sa`id and the division of his inheritance among all of his offspring meant that the new Sultan, Majid, had to buy off all of his brothers and sisters, for which he borrowed from the customs farmer. The farmer sed this debt to ensure that the position stayed with him and when the Sultan tried to replace him, the British Consul stepped in and made sure that no firm was to take the spot until the debt was repaid. This illustrates the dependence of the Sultan on the Indian firm, which was by the 1860s dependent on British support.
Chapter 4: The Structure of the Commercial Empire
Zanzibar's economy was made up of 2 sectors: the production sector and the transit trade. The former, which was based on production in the offshore islands of Pemba and Ujunga, depended mostly on slave labor and financing from the merchant class, which eventually subordinated the Omani landowners. Also, most cloves were exported by merchants (though sugar and coconuts were also grown). The transit trade grew out of Zanzibar's strategic position in the monsoon system, where people could reach it with 80 percent reliability (how does he get this figure?), as well as it's position opposite the Mrima Coast, known to be the richest part of the hinterland (although interestingly enough, Zanzibar was chosen out of political reasons rather than economic).
The Mrima Coast, as stated before, was off limits to foreign traders, which served a two-fold purpose: to encourage Arabs living there to penetrate into the interioir for trade and to ensure that the trade between the coast and the islands was reserved for locals only. The coast was heavily taxed, though the closer one got to the peripheries, the less they were taxed (to avoid rebellion and to encourage them to ship through Zanzibar). The customs farming system also applied in this regard, and served the purpose of not letting the governor get too attached or close to the people, which would allow for greater independence. The growth of Zanzibar's entrepot trade is reflected in the amount the customs were farmed out for, which multiplied almost eight-fold in less than 40 years.
The economy depended on strategic commodities. Zanzibar's main exports were ivory, gum copal and cloves. Ivory was in high demand by both the Americans and Indians (details are given in this chapter), while copal from the Mrima Coast (Zanzibar's was considered to be of inferior quality) was in demand in India. The cloves, which were discussed earlier, were in demand by all. Zanzibar also produced coconut products as well as sesame, which they traded with the Arabs and French, and it exported cowrie shells, which the Germans bought to transport back to East Africa. (To all this I would add Mangrove poles, which the Arabs imported heavily but are not mentioned here) The only disruption to this system was when the American Civil War occurred and the price of American cotton went up, meaning that the Americans were priced out of the market by the Indians. Their export of specie to the island helped recover temporarily, the damage had already been done.
Slaves were allowed to work their own plots for 2 days out of the week and sell their surplus at smaller markets. Although some had commente that few merchants invested their capital in infrastructure, Sheriff says this is not true, and goes on to detail the urban development of the town (pg.137-60).
Chapter 5: The Hinterland of Zanzibar ( good map of trade routes on pg. 191)
There are a number of competing hteories in explaining how the hinterland became linked to the trade system of the coastal cities: some argue that it was the result of an African initiative whereas others point to key commodities, namely slaves and ivory, as the stimuli; because these commodities had no value in the hinterland and were in demand overseas, the integration was natural (pg. 155-8). Soon this cahnged to the slave production system described earlier, though the south was still involved in slaving to a degree.
The most important point of the southern hinterland was Kilwa, from which trade routes to Mozambique developed. It is important to note here that because the monsoon system did not allow for an extended stay in Kilwa, it was dependent on the trans-shipment trade with Zanzibar for survival. Both Swahilis and Arabs were involved in the hinterland trade, as evidenced by Arabs living there (158-9). In this coastal belt large quantities of millet and sesame for export to Zanzibar and Arabia also existed ( p. 159). Kilwa soon declined, partly due to silting (pg. 161) but also because of the general decline of the French slave trade, on which it was dependent. Still, the port exported ivory, gum copal, mllet sesame, tobacco, rhino horns, and other items (p. 162-3). Some smaller ports also developed as termini of long- and short-distance caravans, namely Tungi and Lindi, the latter of which was under an independent Arab ruler not loyal to the Imam untl his death in 1834; after this, the Sultan re-imposed control over it (pg. 163-4).
The northern coast and hinterland were much more accessible to the Arab traders than the south. The Benadir ports of the south Somali coast had their own trade with the Arabs going and traded with Zanzibar ocassionally as well; their trade was mostly in ivory, hides, sesame, and orchilla weed (pg.165-6). The coast of Kenya was fragmented, with the northern Lamu providing Arab and Indian traders with ivory and other commodities and acting as an entrepot for goods coming in from interior markets of northern Kenya via the River Tana (pg. 166). Mombasa was a different case; because of its political character (the Mazru`is) at the turn of the 19th century (1790s-1820s) and its location, it was more of a threatr to Zanzibar. However, this was not the case until developments in the hinterland; because ofthe thick brush blocking access to the interior, the economy of Mombasa did not develop until the interior Mijikenda tribe expanded due to population growth and had to turn to hunting and trade. Of the traders grew a class of mercahtns who soon established strong contacts with the coastal cities and provided them with ivory (pgs 167-9). Soon, however, the hunting took its toll on the ivory supply and the Kamba (Mijikenda) had to resort to collecting dues and providing labor for the penetrating Arab and Swahili caravans. Mombasa's dependence on ports and town soon captured by the Busa`idis (pg. 170-1), however, meant that it was economically fragile; it was eventually subjugated by Sayyid Sa`id in 1837, though it was not included in the Mrima reservation because of its profitability as an independent port (pg. 171).
The hinterland trade of the Mrima Coast is described in pgs 172-83. What is of note is that there were some socio-economic transformations in the interior due to growing demands for commodities by the coastal citis as well as population growth. While Sheriff notes that there were lesseer trade routes already established in the interior for local trade in iron and salt, the Arabs are the ones who really established interioir trading routes, moving them around whenever political conditions dictated so. In this respect, the role of the interior tribes was gradually reduced to that of porters for Arab caravans. By 1873, Zanzibari traders had stretched the canvas of that island's hinterland to its furthest, penetrating as far as eastern Zaire. Some ended up overstretching themselves, however, adn came into contact with Belgians and were gradually sucked into a commercial and political domain oriented to the west.
While the boundaries had extended, the interior remained very fragmented and extensive areas had limited or no trade connections with Zanzibar. Also, because Africa w3as still in the age of human porterage, there were limitations on the quality and quantity of goods being moved and how fast they could be transported - many were to expensive to carry the whole way. Finally, the hinterland of Zanzbar was being encroached upon from all directions. As the supply of ivory depleted, the coastal trade was more and more dependent on slim lifelines. Furthermore, while the Sultan did have representatives in the hinterland, his control over them was weak at best, and thus the interior of the empire was rather fragmented politically.
CHAPTER 6: THE EMPIRE UNDERMINED
A number of factors led to the decline of the Omani empire, among which were the structural weaknesses of its hinterland, the vulerability of its economy to external forces, and treaty clauses regarding extra-territorial jurisdiction, even sometimes in the case ofZanzibaris themselves (pg. 201). However, it was the British influence that really undermined the empire. Slaving treaties gave them the excuse to penetrate, and the Indian merchant class gave an excuse for it to exert influences on the empire's policies. After Sayyid Sa`ids death in 1856, the British were convinced that a partition would be necessary, long before the canning award of 1884 (pg. 201-2).
While most of the Indians in Zanzibar were indigenised and had established links with Arabs on the island, the British wanted to use them to gain leverage over the Sultan, particularly with regard to slaving issues. Bombay, however, was not interested in slaves nor was it interested in Zanzibar; in fact, when Sa`id moved the capital there in c. 1840 and the British consul was forced to follow him, Bombay asked to be relieved from all care for British interests in Zanzibar, though this later proved to be a little premature (pg. 202). The Britihs tried to establish extra-territorial jurisdiction over the Indians, who were the most prominent members of the Zanzibar merchant class, though this was difficult because they were from Kutch, which was not subject to British domestic jurisdiction (pg. 203). After a bit of a toss with the Sultan and the merchants (most of whom did not want British interference in their affairs and were pissed off about the whole anti-slavery thing), the British won the right from the Rao of Kutch to interfere in their affiars (pg. 207). Soon they interfered in all of the Indian affairs and succeeded in driving a wedge between the Indians and Arabs on the island (pg. 208).
At the time, there was growing social and economic distinction being made between Omanis in Muscat and those in Zanzibar, who were disliked by the former. Still, it was recognized that Zanzibar was where the money was and where the merchants would make money, so many went (pg. 209-10). After Sa`ids death in 1856 on his way back form Muscat, the question of succession came up. Sa`id was not interested in Muscat and for some time had been wanting to split the two territories up between his two sons (pg. 209). However, when the time came, it was clear that Majid wanted to be the ruler of Zanzibar (which he offered to pay his brother Thuwaini 40,000 MTD per year as subsidy for), though Thuwaini saw the whole empire as rightfully his, being the eldest of the three eligible brothers (the younger Turki was ruling Sohar) and being the elected ruler (he also had the support of Barghash, the nationalist brother with no claim to rule). He tried to send an expedition against Majid in Zanzibar, but the British intervened (pgs. 210-11) on the latter's behalf. After many discussions as to who should be the ruler and why (pg. 212-4) the British ruled in favor of Majid, who then had to acknowledge that his debt to them. The British position in Zanzibar was almost cemented.
On Majid's death bed, however, the British Consul was quick to appoint Barghash, whom had changed his attitude towards the British before then (pg. 218-9). No sooner than one day later, however, did Barghash repudiate any claims that he might have agreed to limiting the slave trade (pg. 219). His tone became ultra-nationalist, which the British attributed to the rise of the Muttawa`a (a movement by Omanis to try and reknit the empire which they felt the British robbed them of) (pg. 220). As soon as the consul changed, however, Barghash's tone changed considerably, which Sheriff attributes to the threats made against his sovereignty by the Muttawa`a (p. 221).
Abdul Aheriff returns to his discussion of the slave trade, where he reiterates that colonial accounts distroted the amount of slaves exported (particularly to the 'Northern Arabs') and didn't take into account the amount of slaves absorbed by East African plantations, the trade in which the British also wanted to limit (but to no avail) (pg. 223-33). It was only after the cholera epidemic of 1869-70, which wiped out one-third of Zanzibar's population, and the hurricane of 1872, which destroyed a number of plantations and dhows, that they were able to enforce this more strictly (pg. 234-5). The Consul (Kirk) pushed it onto Barghash, who rejected it again and again and even sought French protection (pg.235-7) against this. In the end, however, the British cabinet agreed to blockade the ports of Zanzibar if Barghash did not agree to stop the trade; all attempts by Barghash at compromise were rejected, and in the end he had to capitulate.