Racism and Racial Discrimination In Early Independent Tanzania

You go through two stages in these colonial countries. One is when midnight comes; the clock strikes, and you are independent. Fine. But then begins a whole process of changing conditions and changing people. I had been talking to the people, telling them that the second process would not be easy… But one thing must change after midnight: the attitudes of the colonial people, their way of treating Africans as nothing. This must change after midnight. The colonized are now the rulers, and the man in the street must see this! If they have been spitting in his face, now it must stop! After midnight! This cannot take twenty years! We had to drive this lesson home.
— Julius Nyerere, Prime Minister and President of Tanzania (1961-1985)

In colonial Tanzania (known as Tanganyika until 1964), the sense of white superiority necessitated the segregation of colonial society spatially as well as socially, the later included space for enjoyment of leisure time. When Tanzania became independent in December 1961, it was a momentous time not just politically but also due to the expectations that independence conjured in African minds; especially changes concerning how their former colonial masters would treat them. However, their former European colonial masters, who continued to behave as though independence meant nothing, dashed African expectations for better treatment and racism and racial discrimination continued as if nothing had changed.

The first year of independence, 1962, witnessed several racist incidents that led the government to take drastic measures.  One incident occurred in Dar-es-Salaam, the capital of the newly independent nation. One evening the British manager of the Palm Beach Hotel in Dar-es-Salaam asked four Africans – one of whom was the mayor of Dar-es-Salaam – to leave the hotel bar. The government immediately declared the manager persona non grata and deported. Another incident occurred at an inn at Korogwe, 130 miles northwest of Dar-es-Salaam. At the inn, three Britons got into an argument with a young African who turned out to be a parliamentary secretary. The government had all three immediately deported.

An even more bizarre incident occurred at Lindi, a coastal town near the Mozambican border. A Swiss citizen who had lived in Tanzania for nine years prior to independence disparaged the country’s independence by pinning an Uhuru (Independence) badge to his dog’s collar and ‘paraded the animal in front of the people . . . He was heard to say that his dog was just as good as the people who were celebrating independence’. He too was immediately deported.

Foreign news coverage of these expulsions was altogether negative. The British press charged that the government did not give the deportees a chance to answer their charges. Both The Economist and the Guardian blamed Nyerere for not intervening to stop the expulsions. The expulsions were also a subject for discussion in the House of Commons. Even in Tanganyika, many observers seemed to believe Nyerere was simply allowing the African elite a bit of self-indulgence.

However, the above racist incidents indicated that Europeans just did not seem to accept that they no longer could claim and enforce racial superiority in an independent country with a majority African population. Therefore, further racist incidents caused more expulsions. In June 1963, the government ordered the Safari Hotel at Arusha to close without warning; its twenty-eight guests, mostly whites, had an hour’s notice to find other lodgings. Later the government explained what had led to the hotel’s closing. It turned out that the hotel had insulted Guinea’s President Sekou Toure, who was in Tanganyika on a state visit. On the previous day, when Toure’s party, led by Foreign Minister Oscar Kambona, arrived at the hotel for lunch, nobody stood up as the distinguished visitor passed the lounge. The Safari Hotel’s manager denied that any insult to the visiting dignitaries had been intended. The government allowed the hotel to re-open a few months later.

The case of the Dar-es-Salaam Club (hereafter the Club) was even more illustrative of entrenched racism and racial discrimination against Africans. The German administration established the Club for the use of its civil servants about 1903. The only Africans that could set foot in the Club were, of course, the servants employed to cater to the orders of the club’s clientele. Then after World War I the Club was taken over by the British who, like their predecessors, made use of it mainly to cater to British civil servants as well as other Europeans who happened to be in town. Later on, the administration somehow and for reasons best known to the administration handed over the Club to private British individuals in spite of the fact that it was Ex-Enemy Property and the building should have remained government property. These individuals formed themselves into a Company that assumed the running of the Club, enjoying all the privileges of a social club such as non-payment of income tax and rent in spite of the fact that it was a registered company. 

From 1921 to 1941, the Governors of the Territory presided over the board of the Club, and the proprietors operated the Club for European members only. The Club did not only privately serve its members but through it, the members created a community that was exclusive and discriminated especially against Africans. However, unlike its Kenyan counterpart, Muthaiga Country Club, the Club seemed not to have been a haven for those who revelled in hedonistic and bizarre escapades although there is no doubt it was a scene of some heavy drinking.

After independence the Club’s constitution still reflected the racist nature of its membership. The Club’s policy of racial discrimination was challenged in early 1963 when sixty-nine members of the government and party applied for membership. The Club refused to take them, but implied that the Club could later accept the applicants if they were properly proposed and seconded.

In 1963, the Club had nine hundred and eighty registered members of whom nine Africans were honorary members. By late 1963, the Club’s refusal to accept more African members led to a Parliamentary debate in which several members called for the government to dissolve the Club and take over its assets. Although President Nyerere remained aloof from the controversial debate, a few years later when the reorganized Club fell into bankruptcy he promised personally to see to it that the government paid all its bills.


  • A Tanzanian-born professor of African history, is based at the History Department, William Paterson University of New Jersey (USA). He is the author of several books, including the latest entitled Miscegenation, Identity and Status in Colonial Africa published by Routledge (UK)

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