Extracted from: "Zanzibar" IN Compendium of Elections in Southern Africa (2002), edited by Tom Lodge, Denis Kadima and David Pottie, EISA, 408.
Zanzibar, like many other African countries prior to colonisation, had its own form of local administration in which people lived under local leadership.
Some of these traditional governing structures, which are well researched by historians, were in southern Zanzibar and in Tumbatu.
However, things changed dramatically with the coming of the Arabs. The political history of these isles is by and large associated with the establishment of the El-Basaidy rule in 1832 and the subsequent British rule that made Zanzibar a protectorate in 1890. After consolidating his power in Oman, Seyyid Said focused his attention on the east coast of Africa and decided to make Zanzibar his capital.
The local representative structures in Zanzibar disappeared with the arrival of the colonialists and after their complete demise the colonial rulers established their own form of government to safeguard their interests.
Because of its geographical location, Zanzibar became a major slave trade centre in East Africa. The slave trade was introduced to Zanzibar in the eighteenth century but developed significantly in the nineteenth century. Zanzibar also became an important business and diplomatic centre in East Africa. In 1837 the United States opened its diplomatic mission and was followed, in due course, by the United Kingdom in 1841 and France in 1844. Thereafter, Portugal, Italy, Belgium and Germany opened diplomatic missions. Zanzibar's constitutional development started in 1926 when the British colonial government, passed an order in council providing for the establishment of a legislative and executive council. The establishment of the two councils strengthened the British government's grip on Zanzibar. It was no longer possible for the sultan of Zanzibar to promulgate any law without the prior consent of the legislative council. In that same year a constitutional amendment was made stipulating that the British resident would receive instructions from the British minister responsible for colonial affairs and not from the sultan of Zanzibar. Although this amendment was made under the pretext of safeguarding Zanzibar's independence, in reality it reduced Zanzibar to a British colony.
In March 1954 the colonial government of Zanzibar, with the understanding of an ethnic association, came up with a constitutional proposal to increase the appointed members to the legislative council to 12. In 1956 the British government appointed Walter F. Coutts to serve as adviser to the government on the procedure to be used to obtain non-official members of the legislative council. In his report issued in the same year, Coutts suggested that an election based on a prepared list of people from whom six unofficial members would be elected, be conducted. It was suggested that only those who owned property, who had a specific level of education and who were more than 40 years old be allowed to stand. It was suggested further that this property qualification should also extend to voters. This meant that less than 14% of the people of Zanzibar were eligible.
The election was conducted in 1957. It was the first election on the island of Zanzibar and in East Africa (see 1957 Election for details).