It’s one of the strange artifacts of history that Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania, was once controlled by the Sultanate of Oman. In 1832, then Sultan Sayyid Saïd bin Sultan al-Busaidi made the island his capital, with the empire split in two upon his death: one based in Muscat, one based in Zanzibar.
As Seema Alavi notes in her history, Sovereigns of the Sea: Omani Ambition in the Age of Empire, the Omanis extended their reach across the Indian Ocean, preserving their autonomy in the age of European empire–particularly, and perhaps awkwardly, regarding the slave trade.
Seema Alavi is a professor of history at Ashoka University, Sonipat, Haryana. In 2010, she was at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard as the William Bentinck-Smith Fellow. She has written books on the military, medical and religious histories of India, including Muslim Cosmopolitanism in the Age of Empire.
Today, Seema and I talk about Zanzibar, the slave trade, and what the Omani Sultanate tells us about the international system in the age of empire.