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Part 4: State of Political Turmoil in East Africa


The Sagar Samrat is still at sea on its way to Zanzibar as the wise Brahmin, Haricharan Acharya's discourses on Omani Arabs continue. In this chapter, Acharya narrates the state of political turmoil in East Africa.

As the morning sun shone on bright young faces with a gently blowing wind, Haricharan Acharya continued his discourse. It was gratifying for him to see the young innocent faces so eager to learn. Their friendship was slowly growing to affection.

"News of Sultan Bin Seif's victory over the Portuguese spread like wind in all regions of the Indian Ocean reaching East Africa. Mombasa's Mazrul tribe and also heard of it. They had long been at war with the Portuguese. Secretly they appealed to Sultan Bin Seif to rescue them from the hands of the infidels. Sultan Bin Seif acceded to their request and immediately dispatched a small squadron of ships to Mombasa in 1652 AD/1063 AH (After Hijra). The fleet manned by fierce, nomadic. Hinawi clans attacked the Portuguese at Pate and Zanzibar, chasing them away".

"The mambaos, the people of the coast, rose simultaneously against the Portuguese, thus reinstating the Mazruis. However, the Portuguese regrouped with their superior forces they regained Mombasa again from the Mazruis. The disheartened Mazruis once again appealed to Sultan Seif to assist them. Consequently, the Omani Imam's well equipped and trained fleet arrived in Mombasa in 1660 AD/1071 AH and went on to recapture it".

"No sooner had the Sultan's fleet sailed away from the harbor than the Portuguese returned in greater strength and recaptured Mombasa. Not being content, the Portuguese chastised the inhabitants severely. The people hated them bitterly and vowed to one day avenge the wrongs done to them for so long".

"On his return to Oman, Sultan Seif did not live long. He had grown old and weary. His young son, Seif Bin Sultan succeeded him. Like his father, Seif Bin Sultan was brave, strong, adventurous, and well trained in the martial arts. Once again, a call came from the people of Mombasa to release them from the bondage of the Portuguese".

"Seif Bin Sultan sailed to Oman with a fleet of 28 ships. Soldiers and sailors were hand picked".

"In March 1696 AD/1108AH, Seif Bin Sultan arrived in Mombasa and beseiged the city for three months until it capitulated. He proclaimed himself as the ruler of the island and mainland strip. He and his men stayed in Mombasa whose people rejoiced in him".

"From there, he fought the Portuguese at Pemba and Kilwa, chasing them out. He then sailed southwards towards Mozambique, where the Portuguese had one of their strongest fortifications. A fierce battle ensued, and the Sultan's forces were driven out of the harbour".

"One by one, the Portuguese possessions fell into the hands of the Omani Arabs who harrassed them throughout the coast. The Portuguese power was fast dwindling. They had lost many ships and much manpower. By 1700 AD/1112 AH, the coastal sector of East Africa came under Omani rule".

"Seif Bin Sultan had to return home in order to settle his affairs and bring peace and order amongst his people. However, before his departure from East Africa, he appointed loyal and responsible administrators at each major port".

"The wise ruler of Oman, Seif Bin Sultan, died in 1711 AD/1123 AH. Following his death, the state of Oman plunged into turmoil".

"All over the region civil strife and tribal fueds arose. The Portuguese, who all this time had been waiting for an opportunity to pounce on the Arabs, felt that now was the time to strike".

"Accordingly, they sent out a strong armada of ships to East Africa in 1727 AD/1140 AH. They attacked and captured the fort of Mombasa. Little did they realize, their victory would be so short lived. The Omani Arabs, hearing this, launched one of their biggest attacks two years later. In a fierce battle, the Arabs defeated the Portuguese in Mombasa, expelling them once and for all".

"However, in Oman, things had taken a turn for the worse. Amidst war and tribal skirmishes, the grandson of Seif Bin Sultan proclaimed himself Imam. He was a weak, insecure young man. Instead of mastering the situation himself, he appealed to the Shah of Iran for help".

"The Shah of Iran, seeing and opportunity, arrived in full force. He invaded Oman and added it to his kingdom. The people of Oman were taken unawares; they ultimately found out that the young Imam had betrayed them and decided to get rid of him. In 1741 AD/1154 AH, they elected Ahmed Bin Said their new Imam. Ahmed Bin Said was from the Al Busaid family; the earlier Imams were from the Al Yoruba family".

"The new Imam was wise and courageous. No sooner than he was elected did he rally his troops, assault the Persians, and chase them out of his country. Ahmed Bin Said brought law, order and prosperity to his people. He began the Al Busaid dynasty, the dynasty that is presently ruling Oman and East Africa from Zanzibar".

"While there was turmoil in Oman, what was happening in Mashriki Africa?", asked Meeru.

Acharya replied, "Imam Seif Bin Sultan left East Africa to be administered by Arab chieftains while he returned to Oman to settle the squabbles of his people".

"In the meantime, the powerful chieftain of the Mazrui clan in Mombasa controlled the area stretching from Malindi in the north to Pangani in the south, including the island of Pemba. The chieftain of Pate, severed his allegiance to the Imam of Oman and proclaimed himself leader of his area. He was of the Nabhan clan".

"Throughout the last century, the Mazrui and Nabhan clans feuded with each other for control of East African possessions. As a result of upheavels, the people suffered through a period of conflict and uncertainty".

"While mainland East Africa plunged into chaos, the island of Zanzibar remained fully faithful to the Imam of Oman. Both the Nabhans and Mazrui had set their sights of this island for a long time. Forseeing this, Seyyid Ahmed Bin Said dispatched a strong garrison to Zanzibar in 1746 AD/1159 AH as he was unable to be there himself".

"Ahmed Bin Said died in 1775 AD/1189 AH. He was succeeded by his son, who opposite to his father, was an indolent and oppressive ruler. The Omani people rose in rebellion".

"In the larger scene, while Oman was asserting itself in the Indian Ocean, the British watched with satisfaction as its old rival, the Portuguese, were being driven out of strategic areas. In 1798 AD/1213 AH Seyyid Sultan Bin Ahmed foresaw Britain as an emerging power in the Indian Ocean. He chose to have Britain as his friends rather than fight against them. Correspondingly, he signed a treaty with the East India Company which was concerned with keeping the French and Portuguese away from India and surrounding areas".

"Seyyid Sultan Bin Ahmed died in 1804 AD/1219 AH and was succeeded by his cousing Badar Bin Seif. Badar Bin Seif, a pretender to the throne, was later killed by Said Bin Sultan al-Busaidi in 1806 AD/1221 AH. At a palace party, he drove a jambia dagger into his uncle's belly. He thereupon claimed the throne and became the ruler of Oman".


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Last updated December  2007 Copyright Mahmood Fazal 2005 - All Rights Reserved Created By Husain Fazal