Revolution in Zanzibar: An American’s Cold War Tale
By Don Petterson
Westview, 2002, 304 pp.
Petterson, who served as U.S. ambassador in Sudan, Somalia, and Tanzania, began his African diplomatic career at the U.S. consulate in Zanzibar shortly before the island's independence in December 1963. From a ringside seat, he observed the overthrow of the Arab-dominated independence government a month later, the maneuvers of foreigners pressing for influence with the new regime of Abeid Karume, and the decision of Karume and Julius Nyerere of Tanganyika to merge their two countries in April 1964. It is a well-told story that emphasizes the extent to which American and British Cold War preoccupations left both governments inadequately attuned to the racial and ethnic factors driving Zanzibari politics. Critical of the habitual deference of American policymakers to the British in former colonial Africa, Petterson lambastes British policy at every stage, portraying it as short-sighted, biased, and ill informed. The Americans come off somewhat better, collectively and individually. Spiced with many instructive anecdotes about diplomatic life, this could be useful reading on several levels for Foreign Service trainees.