The Anglo-Zanzibari war ( The 38-Minute War )

The Anglo-Zanzibari war ( The 38-Minute War )

The Anglo-Zanzibari war

  • If the Battle of Kar├ínsebes is Strange, then this war is also somewhat strange because it was not a war from the perspective that we know, and it may be exaggerated to describe The Anglo-Zanzibari war as an actual "war" because of the short duration of the entire conflict and the terrible unilateral victory, but history considers it so even though this war lasted only 38 minutes.
The slave trade in Zanzibar in the XIX century

  • In the XIX century, Zanzibar was a powerful trading empire in East Africa. From its ports, ships loaded with ivory and spices departed from the African mainland and returned with textiles and guns. But the most profitable trade was the sale of slaves.
  • This trade involved an estimated 25 to 30 thousand enslaved people from Zanzibar in the late eighties of the XIX century.
  • Also at that time, Britain was seeking to expand its influence in the region and ensure its control over the strategic passage in the fjord between the island of Zanzibar and the mainland of Africa.
  • And in 1890, Britain signed a treaty with Germany that provided for separate "spheres of influence" of the two imperialist states in Africa, and Zanzibar became a British "protectorate", that is, not a full-fledged colony, but under the control of the British government and its army.

The Pro-English ruler

Hamad bin Thuwaini of Zanzibar

  • After claiming that Zanzibar had become a British protectorate without the locals having any say in the matter, the British wanted to install a new sultan to put an end to the slave trade on the island, implement the agenda and achieve British economic gains in the region. 
  • Then, their choice fell on Hamad bin Thuwaini, who is described as having been a pro-British "puppet", and became the fifth Sultan of Zanzibar in 1893.
  • Thuwaini ruled for three years before he died unexpectedly on August 25, 1896. Anecdotes say that his Nephew Khalid ibn Barghash poisoned him, before he immediately installed himself as a new Sultan.

Zanzibar governor's desire for independence

Khalid bin Barghash of Zanzibar

  • But the British did not like Barghash, he was independent and unwilling to obey their demands, refusing to accept a successor favored by the British Empire.
  • Britain deployed some of its warships and directed the guns of three naval warships towards the Sultan's new palace, and "politely" asked him to leave by nine o'clock the next morning.
  • Barghash stuck to his position and assured that he would not leave the Palace, fired heavy artillery fire as a warning message and deployed thousands of defenders mostly civilians and slaves around the palace walls.
  • At eight o'clock in the morning of August 26, Barghash informed the British Consul Basil Keefe, that he had "no intention of taking down his flag and did not think that Britain would shoot him".
  • Back then, the response was that the British would prefer not to attack, "but unless you do what you're told, they won't hesitate to do so".

The 38-Minute War

The ruins of the Zanzibar Palace
  • By nine o'clock in the morning, the British had fulfilled their promise, and the warships fired and shelled the palace relentlessly.
  • It took only 38 minutes to completely destroy the Sultan's defenses so that his troops had no chance to effectively counter or defend against the devastating British attack.
  • In less than an hour, Zanzibar fell to British forces, after the destruction of infrastructure and key government facilities, and the British bombing killed 500 Barghash soldiers among the dead and wounded, while only one British sailor was seriously injured.
  • By that time, Barghash himself had left just two minutes after the bombing began, taking refuge in the German consulate before later being smuggled out by the German Navy and transported to what is now Tanzania.

After the battle

Hamoud bin Mohammed of Zanzibar

  • By the afternoon of that same day, the pro-British Hammud Ibn Muhammad was appointed Sultan of Zanzibar, having agreed to all British conditions.
  • Indeed, the New Sultan banned the slave trade by 1897, accepting British demands for the abolition of slavery in Zanzibar.
  • There were no further revolts on the Island of Zanzibar, until the British themselves announced the abolition of its status as a British protectorate in 1963.
  • As for Khalid ibn Barghash, he lived in exile until he was arrested by the British during the first World War, and then died in Mombasa in 1927.

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