Jamshid bin Abdullah, former Sultan of Zanzibar
Jamshid bin Abdullah, former Sultan of Zanzibar Image Credit: Twitter

Kuwait City: After more than 50 years of living in exile in Portsmouth England, Jamshid bin Abdullah, the former sultan of Zanzibar, returns to Oman after the government granted his request to retire in the Sultanate.

Sultan Jamshid has been living in exile after he was deposed from the throne by a popular African revolt in 1964. By inheritance, Sultan Jamshid became the last reigning sultan of Zanzibar.


“The return of Sultan Jamshid is part of new political era in Oman and is a positive move and a gesture by Sultan Haitham,” Nabeel Nowairah, an independent Gulf analyst, told Gulf News.

Due to security reasons, the 91-year-old former Sultan has been denied permission to retire in Oman multiple times in the past.

“Brining back Sultan Jamshid to live in Oman right after he was ousted in Zanzibar was a sensitive move that could have led to instability in the country,” Nowairah explained.

Sultan Jamshid’s return has not announced by the government.

“It was not announced by the government because technically the return of an Omani to his country is not a big deal, but it was possibly not announced to avoid brining up embarrassing policies of the previous administration,” Nowairah said.

Who is Sultan Jamshid?

Jamshid ruled Zanzibar from July 1, 1963 to January 12, 1964. On December 10, 1963, Zanzibar received its independence from the United Kingdom as a constitutional monarchy under Jamshid. This state of affairs was short lived and he was overthrown by the Zanzibar Revolution.

Like many other political opponents and dependents, Sultan Jamshid moved to the UK. Upon his arrival to Portsmouth, Sultan Jamshid received a payment of £100,000 from the British government, along with a £1,500 monthly allowance, according to an article by the New York Times.

“By allowing them to come back Sultan Haitham is sending the message that Oman is for all Omanis,” Nowairah pointed out.

Omani rule in Zanzibar

The history of Zanzibar is intrinsically linked to Oman, which ended the Portuguese dominance of the Indian Ocean trade routes once and for all after capturing their base, Fort Jesus, in Mombasa (in present-day Kenya), in 1698. It then set its sights on nearby Zanzibar, building the Old Fort in present-day Stone Town in the early 1710s to defend the island.

REG 181119 ZANZIBAR_ Annatto, one of the key ingredients in lipsticks, is also used to colour tandoori dishes, grown in Zanzibar
Annatto, one of the key ingredients in lipsticks, is also used to colour tandoori dishes, grown in Zanzibar. Image Credit: Omar Shariff/Gulf News

Sayyid Said Bin Sultan Al Bu Said took power in Muscat in 1806 as the Sultan of Oman. When, in 1828, he first visited Zanzibar, he was captivated by the charm of the islands – and the potential profits to be made in the spice trade. In 1840 he moved his capital from Muscat to Zanzibar.

Sultan Said encouraged everyone in Zanzibar to grow cloves, even threatening to confiscate their properties if they failed to do so. For centuries, its abundant and varied spices placed Zanzibar – also called the ‘Spice Island’ – at the centre of the profitable spice trade between countries and regions bordering the Indian Ocean.

Shortest war in history

By the late 1800s, the Omani empire was in decline, and the sultans in Zanzibar were increasingly coming under British tutelage. At 9.02am on August 27, 1896, the Anglo-Zanzibar War broke out. The cause of the war was the death of the pro-British Sultan Hamad Bin Thuwaini and the succession by Sultan Khalid Bin Barghash, who was not favoured by the Crown.

British naval forces engaged in sustained bombardment of the sultan’s palace, the Bait Al Hukum, leaving 500 Zanzibaris dead or wounded. The Zanzibari resistance collapsed at exactly 9.40am. Sultan Khalid fled to the German consulate and then on to German East Africa (present-day mainland Tanzania) and was replaced by a British puppet.

The Anglo-Zanzibar War, thereby, officially became the shortest war in the history of the world, lasting 38 minutes. In 1890, the British empire made Zanzibar its protectorate, seriously undermining the authority of the sultan in the decades that followed.

In 1963 the Zanzibar sultanate became a member of the British Commonwealth. In January 1964 a revolt by left-wing African activists overthrew the sultanate and established a republic. This was also a time of widespread anti-Arab and anti-Asian riots that left thousands dead. In April, Zanzibar and mainland Tanganyika decided to unite, leading to the emergence of Tanzania that same year.

After the revolt, many Zanzibar-Arabs fled the island but the sultan of Oman at the time, Said bin Taimur, made it difficult for Omani born East Africans to return as he feared outside influence. In April 1964, Zanzibar merged with Tanzania to form the United Republic of Tanzania, while Zanzibar remains a semi-autonomous region.

Ties that bind

There are about 22,000 people who speak Swahili, an East African language that is common in Zanzibar, as the majority are descendants that moved to Oman after the fall of the Sultanate of Zanzibar.

Many Omani’s travel to Zanzibar often, as some have family still living on the island, while others want to explore their ancestral history.

Oman Air was one of the first airlines to fly directly to Stone Town, Zanzibar’s capital, as most airlines first stopped in Dar Es Salam, Tanzania’s capital, and then continued to Zanzibar.

The shared history between the two countries, led Oman and Zanzibar to sign an agreement in 2018 that would digitalize documents and manuscripts pertaining to their historical ties, Times of Oman reported.

The African island’s demographics are diverse and is reflective of its history. The island’s 1.3 million population, is made up of Shirazis (a native population that dates back to Persian settlers), Arabs, Swahili and South Asians. Almost the entire population of Zanzibar is Muslim.

-With inputs from Omar Shariff, International Editor