The Anglo-Zanzibar War

Sultan Khalid bin Barghash barricaded himself inside his palace in Stone Town.
Sultan Khalid bin Barghash barricaded himself inside his palace in Stone Town.

Anglo-Zanzibar was a military confrontation on August 27, 1896 between the Sultanate of Zanzibar and the UK fought for less than 45 minutes, thus making it the shortest war ever recorded in history. As per the 1886 treaty, the British consul was to issue permission for any individual to ascend to the position of the sultanate. On August 25, 1896, the pro-British Sultan Hamad bin Thuwaini died and Sultan Khalid bin Barghash ascended to the sultanate position that the British hoped would have gone to the friendlier Hamud bin Muhammed. Khalid did not fulfill the requirements of the 1886 treaty and Britain interpreted this as a provocation for war, consequently issuing an ultimatum for Khalid and his forces to stand down. Khalid defied these orders and barricaded himself inside the palace.

The War

Hamad died on August 25, in an apparent assassination by his 29-year-old nephew Khalid bin Bargash. This attempt was Khalid’s second to be a sultan, the previous being three years back. Just like the first time, British authorities warned Khalid who, this time round did not heed the warning and installed 2,800 armed troops to protect him. The next day, each side prepared for battle as Britain brought in more reinforcements while still negotiating with Khalid who refused, leading to the issue of an ultimatum that expired the next morning. By August 27, at 9:00 AM (EAT) the British had gathered gunboats, cruisers, over 100 sailors and marines, and 900 local Zanzibaris near the harbor, ready to face the over 2,800 Zanzibaris defending the palace with guns pointing towards the British troops. At 9:02 AM, an all-out war broke out, with heavy British firepower that disabled those who were defending the palace. On the naval side, the British Royal Navy sank the Zanzibari Royal Yacht and two other smaller boats. By 9:40 AM, pro-British fighters brought down the palace flag, ceased fire, and declared victory.


There were at least 500 men and women pro sultanate casualties and only one British sailor severely injured who later recovered. Most of the casualties were as a result of the fire that burnt down the palace. German Consulate offered Khalid and some forty followers asylum and later on transferred them to German East African territory on the mainland Tanzania despite Britain requesting for their extradition for trial. The war also saw chaotic and opportunistic looting of property especially from the Indian businesses leading to the loss of a further twenty people. Britain brought in 150 Sikh troops from Mombasa to restore order and many more sailors to put out the fire that had crossed from the palace to the nearby structures. Because the war damaged the palace, it was demolished and the space used as a garden and a new palace built. British protagonists got honors and several appointments in the military. Captured Khalid’s supporters had to pay for the cost of shells fired at them and the costs of looting. Later on, during WWI’s East African Campaign of 1916, British forces captured Khalid and exiled him to Seychelles, although they later on allowed him to return to Mombasa where he lived until his death in 1927.

The New Sultan

Britain did not waste time replacing Khalid with their preferred Sultan Hamud who became very loyal. However, Hamud headed a puppet government because Britain increased its influence in the government to an extent that Hamud became just a ceremonial head. Britain forced Hamud to abolish all forms of slavery which lead to tens of thousands being emancipated in ten years. The Anglo-Zanzibar war was very effective for the British, as no other Zanzibari rebelled against Britain for the remaining 67 years that Zanzibar was a British protectorate.


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