Telegrams to Khrushchev and ... a letter to the President of Zanzibar

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Nowadays young people from different countries of the world can get higher education in Russia both on commercial basis and at expense of a scholarship (state quota). Rossotrudnichestvo helps with information, and many Russian centers for science and culture (RCSCs) abroad offer Russian language courses. Every year, more than 270 000 prospective students from 168 countries come to study in Russia! They are attracted by affordable and high-quality education, by large selection of educational programs and the Russian openness to foreign visitors. The tradition of coming to study in Russia has been around for a century and a half. Back in 1865, Emperor Alexander II appointed special government scholarships to students from the Balkan Peninsula in order to support talented young people from Serbia, Bulgaria, and Albania… Gradually, students from other countries started to arrive. The journey to a higher education was not always easy for them, especially if there was a difficult political situation in the applicant's homeland. But perseverance and determination had overcome all the challenges.

Oleg Teterin tells Harub Osman’s story. A fellow from faraway African Zanzibar (Tanzania) was able to get an education at Moscow State University and build a career in his homeland.

- I have been familiar with the hero of this article since 1962. The Zanzibarian Harub Osman studied in Moscow and lived in Cheryomushki in the Moscow State University (MSU) hostel. He shared a room with one of my classmates at the Institute of Oriental Languages of MSU, where I entered in 1960 in the Swahili language group – the first of the African languages teaching of which began just in the same year at Moscow University (since 1970 - the Institute of Asian and African Countries /ISAA/ MSU).

Then, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, while working as the Bureau Chief of the Novosti Press Agency in Tanzania (I was also the chief editor of the weekly newspaper «Urusileo» published in Dar es Salaam from 1969 to the early 1990s), I met Harub more than once. At that time, he was teaching at the University of Dar es Salaam and practicing as a lawyer in Zanzibar. Later he became a professor and started managing the Institute for Development Problems of the University.

Our new meeting took place in Dar es Salaam in 2004. At the age of 66, Harub still taught at the University where he lived. And he still spoke good Russian, and spoke warmly about his studies in Moscow.

All these years, I thought I knew Harub and his past well, but I never asked myself how and under what circumstances he had received a higher education in our country. Rifat Pateev, a Swahili language specialist, director of the RCSC in Tanzania advised me: «Ask him how did he end up in Moscow?».

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Russian Centre of Science and Culture in Tanzania

The Sultanate of Zanzibar was Great Britain’s protectorate, and very few Zanzibarians could travel outside it. Especially difficult it was for those who wanted to come to study in the Soviet Union. So how indeed could he arrive in Moscow?

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And this is the story Harub Osman told me.

«From 1960 to 1962, I was working in Beijing as a radio announcer in Swahili language. It was the beginning of China’s radio broadcasting in this language.

In August 1962, I left China on the Beijing-Moscow train, and I had a ticket to Helsinki. On arrival in Moscow, I was surprised to find out that several Zanzibarians were already studying at the Patrice Lumumba Peoples ' Friendship University. And I decided to try it too.

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Historical photo of Zanzibar

I visited the Peace Committee, and from there I was sent to the Soviet Afro-Asian Solidarity Committee (SKSSAA), then to the African Friendship Association, and finally I was in the Ministry of Higher Education. And I got the same answer everywhere: "You are late, the student recruitment is over, the school year is about to start, come back in a year...". Anyway, I had to leave.

At that time, Zanzibar was ruled by the colonial administration, and I knew that if I returned home, I would hardly be able to leave again, because a couple of years ago I had already left the country, almost in secret.

I had a Russian friend in Beijing who worked in China. Once, while talking with him, I told him about my desire to study in the USSR. He advised me: «If you don't succeed, write to the higher authorities». And I decided to take this advice.

A friend of mine, also from Zanzibar – Harusi worked at the «Moscow Radio» as a Swahili announcer and lived in the «Leningrad» Hotel from where I sent a telegram to the Kremlin addressed to Nikita Khrushchev. Just the day before the next launch of the Soviet cosmonaut had taken place, so I began my telegram with congratulations on this event, then noted that I was from Zanzibar, and I would like to study at Moscow University, and that the Committees and the Ministry refused me. In the «sender» address, I listed Harusi's hotel room. To tell the truth, I didn't really believe that something would work out.

But three days later, the phone in Harusi's room rang asking for me. On the same day Harusi told me that as «the sender of the telegram» I had to go to the Ministry and meet up with a civil servant. That's what I did.

At the Ministry of Higher Education, I was received by the Deputy Minister. He immediately asked me why I had written directly to the Kremlin instead of going to his ministry at first. I had to say that I had already been there, as well as in the SKSSAA and other organizations. And after that we had something like this dialogue:


– What would you like to study?


– I would like to study law.


– And at what university?


- Interesting question. Do you now give me the right to choose?! Of course, in the best Moscow university!


The Deputy Minister said that there were no vacancies at the MSU Faculty of Law. So I asked him: «Is it possible to go to the Faculty of Journalism?» and he answered «Fine».

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Faculty of Journalism of Moscow State University

That’s how I entered the Faculty of Journalism at first, and the MSU Faculty of Law was in the neighborhood, on Herzen Street. A month later, I turned to the dean for work with foreign students of my faculty with the question about whether I could transfer to the Faculty of Law. A few days later, the dean said that it was possible. And I became the Faculty of Law student, although I studied at the preparatory faculty for the first year, where the main subject was Russian. And in 1967, I received a diploma of Higher Law Education».

H. Osman's «communication» experience with the Soviet leader was useful to him on the return to his homeland. I will quote the end of his story: «When I returned to Zanzibar, I found myself without a job, I looked for it, but in vain. I decided to write to Karume. (Abeid Amani Karume, 1905-1972, first President of Zanzibar, Vice-President of the United Republic of Tanzania). I described the situation that I studied in the Soviet Union, graduated from the MSU Faculty of Law, that I was looking for a job for five months. He invited me to the Government House and asked me what I was doing. I told him. Karume summoned his party Deputy - Aboud Jumbe. At this meeting, it was decided that I would go to Dar es Salaam to get a job there.

After arriving in the capital, I found out that the University needed Tanzanian lawyers. Since then, since 1968, I have been working here and have made my entire scientific career».

Harub Osman died in the fall of 2010. I found out about it at the Department of African Studies of the ISAA MSU, with which Harub had been working for many years. The last time I met him was at the University of Dar es Salaam in 2005.

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Author: Oleg Teterin, Soviet and Russian Africanist, translator and journalist. Candidate of Historical Sciences. First Deputy of the Editor-in-Chief of the «Asia and Africa Today» magazine.


The main photo:  Institute of Asian and African Studies of Moscow State University.