History of the House


Zanzibar was ruled by various foreigners including Portuguese, Arabs and British. However the modern history of Zanzibar can be conveniently traced from 1832 when Seyyid Said bin Sultan of Busaidi dynasty established his headquarters in Zanzibar; that event symbolized the formal establishment of the Arab rule in the Isles. During the reigns of Seyyid Said and his successors in the nineteenth century, government was largely the personal prerogative of the Sultans. It was the Agreement for Protection between Great Britain and the Sultan of Zanzibar signed at Zanzibar on 14th June 1890 that put Zanzibar under the British protectorate. That Agreement consolidated the British influence in Zanzibar and it also marked the beginning of Zanzibar’s constitutional history. In 1891 constitutional government was established, with General Sir Lloyd Mathews as His Highness’s First Minister.


On the 1st July 1913, the administration of Zanzibar was transferred from the Foreign Office to the Colonial Office and the posts of “First Minister” and “Consul-General” were abolished by creating a new post of “British Resident” in their stead. The change did not please the Sultan (Seyyid Khalifa bin Haroub who had come to the throne in 1911) as it deprived him of power and seemed to degrade his governance. From the Sultan’s grievances, the British proposed the establishment of Protectorate Council chaired by the Sultan himself as President, and the British Resident as Vice President. Then, the Protectorate Council Decree (Decree No 6 of 1914) was passed. This decree established the Protectorate Council under the presidency of the Sultan and the British Resident as Vice President. There were other six members including three ex-officio members (Attorney General, Chief Accountant, and Head of Government Affairs) and three unofficial ones nominated by the Sultan (Arab, Asian, and European). The council was an advisory body to his Highness the Sultan.

The Protectorate Council lasted for 12 years. Decree No. 1 of 1926 (Councils Decree of 1926) was enacted and it established Executive Council (EXCO) and Legislative Council (LEGCO). The Executive Council, which mainly consisted of senior British administrators, was led by the Sultan. The Legislative Council, presided by the British Resident was given legislative power, but the bill passed by the LEGCO had subsequently to get the assent of His Highness the Sultan. The Legislative Council chaired by the British Resident consisted also of 12 members; some of them were from government side (three ex officio members and three official members). Another six were nominated unofficial members. For the period of twenty years there was no African representation in the Legislative Council. The African representation in the LEGCO started in 1946 when Sheikh Ameir Tajo was nominated to represent the African population. In 1947 Sheikh Ali Shariff was also nominated to the LEGCO to improve the Africans’ representation.

The nomination of two Africans caused racial agitation where other racial groups demanded their representation as well. The situation appeared intolerable to the British Resident who had improved people representation to four Africans, four Arabs, three Asians and one European without affecting the nomination of the ex-officio members.

Council Decree of 1956 came to repeal the previous Decree of 1926. The newly enacted decree re-established Executive and Legislative Councils plus a Privy Council in the same year. W.F Coutts who had been appointed to advise on the methods to be used in choosing the unofficial members of the LEGCO recommended that out of twelve unofficial members a common roll election be held for the six unofficial members, based on male suffrage, property and educational qualifications. That recommendation was accepted and it was the basis of the 1957 elections under the procedure laid down in the Legislative Council (Election) Decree of 1957.

By then, the struggle for independence was growing and in the mid 1950’s racial groups were organized to political parties demanding independence. The first elections were conducted in 1957. Since then the unofficial members of the LEGCO were obtained from the election results together with the Sultan’s nominees.

The council’s Decree of 1956 was amended in 1960. These amendments were far reaching because for the first time the posts of Speaker and Deputy Speaker were introduced. Hence, British Resident was no longer the presiding officer of the LEGCO.


Later on, other elections were conducted in January 1961, June 1962 and July 1963. The Constitution of the State of Zanzibar 1963 (Decree No. 10 of 1963) did establish a Parliament consisting of Sultan and National Assembly. The Constitution provided also for the posts of Speaker and Deputy Speaker of the Assembly. However, that constitution was short-lived and abrogated by the January 12, 1964 Revolution in Zanzibar.

The newly Revolutionary Government was led by the Revolutionary Council, which in effect, assumed both the executive and legislative powers for 16 years. The current legislature can be traced back in 1980 when the Zanzibar House of Representatives (HRZ) was created. It was born on 14th January 1980 as a product of the 1979 Zanzibar Constitution. Its establishment was stipulated in section 21 of the 1979 constitution.


In 1984, the 1979 constitution was repealed and replaced by the new document that is referred to as the Zanzibar Constitution of the year 1984. This document is valid hitherto and has become the legal foundation of the House of Representatives of Zanzibar. Section 63 of the 1984 Constitution provides its legality. In addition to that, section 106 of the 1977 Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania (URT) does recognize the House of Representatives of Zanzibar. The House of Representatives of Zanzibar is an institution of democratic representation for the people of Zanzibar. It has legislative, financial and representational functions on all non-union matters for Zanzibar.