Formation of the British Consular Court in Būsa‘īdī East Africa in the Mid-19th Century
025 , 2015-09
The East African dominions of the Arab dynasty Būsaʻīd centering on Zanzibar experienced a commercial heyday in the midst of the flourishing maritime trade of the mid-19th century. Following the entry of North American and European merchants into East African waters beginning in the early part of that century, a Būsaʻīdī-British commercial treaty was concluded in 1839. This article attempts to clarify the yet-to-be-examined process of the establishment of the British consular court in Būsaʻīdī East Africa through an analysis of British Indian sources from two distinct epochs.The first epoch, dated a few years before and after 1842, marked the arrival of the first British consul in Zanzibar. Through an examination of cases occurred at that time concerning criminal behavior, which was not covered by the treaty, the author finds that both the Būsaʻīdī and British authorities handled the cases with mutual deference, as exemplified by measures taken by the Būsaʻīdī sovereign in one case and the surrender of an Englishmen accused of murder. Regarding both criminal and civil cases after that epoch, a custom was being formed based on the principle that a defendant’s nationality determined the court of jurisdiction.The second epoch, dated a few years before and after 1866, was marked by the procedures of the consular court becoming part of English domestic jurisprudence. The demands of the British consular officers who had been forced to determine criminal justice without any ground in English law deter- mined the legislation concerning the consular court at Zanzibar. An increase in both the number of and the amount claimed in civil suits filed at the court after the legislation clearly shows expanding use of the court as an option for the settlement of disputes. The research to date on the consular court presents a fairly linear account of increasing British influence in Būsaʻīdī East Africa after the conclusion of the commercial treaty, ending with the sultanate’s eventual subjugation as Zanzibar Protectorate. However, as the author has shown, the institutional framework of the consular court at Zanzibar was by no means completed in one single stroke, nor was it entirely forced upon the Būsaʻīd by the British. Rather, this framework was formed gradually over a span of 30 years through the careful handling of actual cases by the both authorities via negotiations conducted between them.