The Formation of
a Colonial Economy
The distinctive features of a colonial capitalist mode of production appeared in Zanzibar between 1915 and 1945. This new system was based on the exploitation of free labour by capital through a money relationship. It took place as labourers and peasant proprietors sold their commodities -- labour power, copra and cloves -- to landlords, merchants and the state in return for cash. What made this capitalism was the appropriation of surplus value by capitalists from producers in the transaction. Because the majority of producers in colonial Zanzibar did not become a landless proletariat as in classical capitalism, the term 'colonial capitalism' has been used for this stage of development. The purpose of this chapter is to explain how colonial capitalism functioned to exploit labourers and enrich capitalists and the state in Zanzibar between the beginning of World War I and the end of World War II.
When slavery was abolished in 1897, shortly after the islands of Unguja and Pemba had been made the British Protectorate of Zanzibar, measures were taken to ensure that the transition to free labour would not upset property relations. Owners received monetary compensation for the property they lost in persons, while their control of clove plantations was not disturbed. Many ex-slaves, unable to find land outside the plantation sector, were bonded with former masters as squatters on the old estates. They were joined by peasants and migrants to form the labour force in the export sector of the colonial economy.