THE ESTABLISHMENT AND IMPACT OF OMANI RULE AT THE EAST AFRICAN COAST
- The Omani Arabs (Imams of Omani) replaced the Portuguese as the rulers of the East African coast after the capture of fort Jesus in 1698.
- The new rulers initially administered the region through some Arab families;
- The Mazrui (Mazaria) family which ruled Mombasa
- The Nabahan Family which ruled Lamu
- The civil wars back home made it hard for the Omani Arabs to control the coast immediately. There were also threats of Persian invasion. Constant rebellion from coastal towns against Omani governors posed a serious challenge to Omani rule. Pate for example refused to pay tax and even murdered the imam’s messengers. Towns they were loyal to Oman were attacked. The Mazrui established themselves as independent rulers of Mombasa and ordered towns like pate, Pemba and Malindi to pay allegiance to them. Their greatest allies were the Mijikenda who promised them support in case of Omani attack.
The struggle between the Mazrui and the Imams of Oman (1741-1840)
- a) The Omani wanted the revenue from the taxes levied on trade.
- b) The towns also wished to maintain their independence as they were during the Portuguese rule.
- c) The towns were also encouraged by the prevailing weaknesses in Oman due to civil wars and the Persian threat.
- d) The harsh and ruthless rule and manner in which the Oman rulers collected taxes.
- e) Mombasa had fought against the Portuguese and did not wish to be under control of another foreign power
- The appointment of Mohammed Ibn Azthman al Mazrui as the new governor of Mombasa coincided with the death of the Oman Imam Saif Ibn- Sultan of the Yorubi and his replacement with Ahmed Bin Said al-Busaidi.
- The new Mombasa governor refused to recognize the new imam and declared the independence of Mombasa from Oman. The sultan had him murdered and fort Jesus seized. A year later, the brother of the murdered governor recaptured the town and the fort. This became the century long struggle between the al-busaidi and al-Mazrui families.
- Taking advantage of the problems in Oman, Mombasa expanded her power and control over the coastal towns (she took over pate in 1807 and attacked Lamu in 1810). Lamu appealed to Oman for assistance.
Seyyid Said and the struggle
- Further political changes happened in Oman. Seyyid said rose to power as the imam (Seyyid) of Oman. His father, the ruler of Oman had died in a sea battle in 1804 when he was only 13 years. His cousin Badr Ibn saif took over. In 1806, Said stabbed Badr to death fearing domination. With the assistance of the British he had entrenched his position as the Seyyid of Oman at the age of 15 years. The British even promised him support in claiming the east African coast.
- He then sent a governor to build a fortress in Mombasa and to order all towns to recognize the power of Oman. Mombasa’s new governor Abdullah Ibn Ahmed defied the order and even continued to attack Brava.
- By 1817, Seyyid said had succeeded in freeing Pate from Mazrui rule.. in 1822, with the help of Zanzibar, an Oman ally, he liberated Pemba and Brava from Mombasa. In 1823, he gained control of the Bajun Islands. He ordered that no town should trade with Mombasa.
- In 1824, the sultan of Mombasa offered Mombasa to become a British protectorate to protect him from the Oman rule. The new powerful position of Mombasa was however short-lived upto 1826 due to the terms of the Moresby anti-slavery treaty between Seyyid said and the British. The animosity between Mombasa and Oman continued. In 1837, there was a dispute in Mombasa over the succession to the vacant office of the Liwali. This became an opportune chance for Seyyid said to lure the members of the Mazrui family into fort Jesus where he killed them.
Seyyid Said; Sultan of Zanzibar 91840-1856)
- After that Seyyid said consolidated his power and control over the coast as well as the interior of east Africa. He then transferred his capital from Muscat to Oman.
- The transfer of the capital to Zanzibar from Muscat was due to the following reasons;
- a) Seyyid said desired to effectively control the coastal towns through the centrally located Zanzibar.
- b) Zanzibar had a pleasant climate compared to Muscat which was hot and dry. It also had fresh water, adequate rainfall and fertile soils that favoured clove growing.
- c) Zanzibar was easily defensible as an island. It was easy to sea the enemy from far and launch an attack from the island.
- d) The good deep harbours of Zanzibar I which ships could anchor were attractive. Zanzibar’s central position also favoured development of long distance trade.
- e) The town had a long history of loyalty to Oman throughout the Mazrui- busaidi struggles.
- Seyyid said appointed Liwalis to rule important towns. They were give the responsibility of collecting custom dues levied at each port. The Arabs in the local towns were allowed to rule themselves. Seyyid said was keener on the commercial empire than political leadership. He stated “I am nothing but just a merchant”.
- Seyyid said developed an economic programme based on agriculture and international trade.
The development of plantation Agriculture
- Seyyid sad encouraged settlers from Oman and Zanzibar to take advantage of the fertile sols and good climate at the coast to settle in Mombasa. Malindi, Lamu and Pemba venture into agriculture.
- Plantation agriculture largely depended on slave labour.
- The people of Mombasa extended plantation agriculture into the mainland, acquiring land from the Mijikenda in exchange for gifts. They planted rice, maize, millet, beans, sesame and sorghum. Along the island, large plantations of coconut mango trees, cashew nuts and citrus fruits were developed. Grain plantations were developed around Malindi and Takaungu whose land was largely unoccupied and the orma were no longer a threat.
- By 1870, about 1400 to 1500 slaves worked on plantation farms in Malindi which had become the granary of Africa producing all kinds of grains, mangoes, coconut, mangoes and oranges. Seyyid said also established a clove plantation in Zanzibar. He also encouraged people to grow coconut trees by putting in place a policy that for eve coconut tree cut, three were to be planted.
- Plantation agriculture intensified slave trade.