In my journey to search for correct information on the history and tourism in Zanzibar, I met with some unique on the history if this Indian Ocean Islands; the Bububu Railway.

It was the first railway in East Africa and third in the African continent behind the Egyptian and South African railways.

In 1904 the Zanzibar government signed a contract with the American Firm, Arnold Cheney and Co. to build the famous Bububu railway that connects the Zanzibar municipal to a rural area.

A tiny steam engine ran along a light railway, approximately seven miles long from the Arab Fort in Zanzibar Town, before passing the seafront and reaching the coastal village of Bububu.

Arnold Cheney and Co. was the agent for New Zealand of the Colonial Oil Co. formed in New York to supply New Zealand and Australian markets with oil.

The service was most popular and very useful during a period when roads were less established on the island. It was largely used by the native population as a mode of transport while providing a constant source of wonderment for passing crowds. Those wishing to catch a glimpse of the island could use a special first-class coach.

Surprisingly, the railway became an important part of the general electrification of the island.

During its construction, the Americans undertook the task of installing electrical power lines along the track. Wherever the rails were placed, metal poles were installed and power lines strung overhead. By 1906, long before even London obtained them, Stone Town had electric street lights.

In 1911, the railway was sold to the Government, and by 1922 the passenger services ceased. As roads improved and motor vehicles on the island increased, its popularity diminished. Consequently, the railway was then converted into an important component for the haulage of stone which was used to build the port and helped reclaim the seafront. After 25 years of operation, the railway was closed in 1930.

Today the Bububu railway no longer exists as a result of growth and development on the island. However, train enthusiasts can still see remnants of the railway’s bridges and embankments from Zanzibar’s main roads.

The island of Zanzibar, conquered by the Portuguese in 1503-8, was occupied by the Arabs in 1730, and in 1832 the town of Zanzibar, then a place of no note was made the Capital of his dominions by the Seyyid Said of Muscat, who reconquered all the towns formerly owning allegiance to the Imams, Mombasa being taken by treachery in 1837.

On the death of Said in 1856 his dominions were divided between his two sons, the African section falling to Majid, who was succeeded in 1870 by his younger Barghash ibn Said, commonly known as Sultan of Zanzibar. Barghash witnessed the dismemberment of his dominions by Great Britain, Germany, and Italy, and in March 1888 left to his successor, Sayyid Khalifa, a mere fragment of the territories over which he had once ruled. The Sayyid Majid and Barghash acted largely under the influence of Sir John Kirk who from 1866 to 1887 was consular representative of Great Britain at Zanzibar.

Through Sir John’s efforts, a treaty for the suppression of the slave trade throughout the Sultanate had been concluded in 1873. In the negotiations between the powers for the partition of Africa, the supremacy of British interests in the island was acknowledged by Germany and France, thus rendering a treaty made in 1862 between France and Great Britain recognizing the “independence” of Zanzibar of no effect.

On the 4th of November 1890, the Sultanate has proclaimed a British protectorate, in conformity with conventions by which Great Britain on her part ceded Heligoland to Germany and renounced all claims to Madagascar in favor of France. Sultan (Sayyid) Ali, who had succeeded his brother Sayyid Khalifa in February 1890, In August following, issued a decree which resulted in the liberation of large numbers of slaves. Sayyid Ali was succeeded in March 1893 by Mamed bin Thuwain, on whose death in August 1896 his cousin, Sayyid Khalid, proclaimed himself sultan, and seized the palace.

The British government disapproved, and to compel Khalid’s submission the palace was bombarded by warships. Khalid fled to the German consulate, whence he was removed to the mainland, and Hamed bin Muhammed, brother of Hamed bin Thuwain, was installed sultan by the British representative (27th of August 1896).In July 1902 Hamed bin Muhammed died and was succeeded by his son Ali bin Hamud born in 1885. In 1906 the British agent assumed more direct control over the protectorate and again reorganized the administration.

These changes, together with the abolition of foreign consular jurisdiction, led to many reforms in the government and the increased prosperity of Zanzibari.


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