Bibi Titi Mohammed (1926-2000)

Bibi Titi Mohammed
Bibi Titi Mohammed
Photo in Public Domain (CC0)

Bibi Titi Mohammed was a Tanzanian politician and activist. She was born in June 1926 in Dar es Salaam, then the capital of the British colony of Tanganyika. Mohammed was a member of the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), the party that fought for Tanzanian independence, and she supported Julius Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania. After Tanzania gained independence, Mohammed held various ministerial posts.

Mohammed was a Muslim woman born to a businessman and a farmer’s wife. She received only a minimal primary education and, like many young Muslim women in Tanzania, had to enter purdah, a state of seclusion, at puberty until she was married off to an older man at age 14. After she gave birth to a daughter, Mohammed was divorced. She then married twice more, this time to men of her choice.

In the early 1950s, the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU), under the leadership of Julius Nyerere, emerged as a major political party that gave voice to the people’s aspirations for freedom. Mohammed emerged as a strong voice in the national liberation struggle, becoming president of the Union of Women of Tanganyika (UWT), and is credited with bringing more than 5,000 women into TANU and uniting women across the country.

After Tanzania became independent in 1961, Mohammed helped write the national constitution in 1964. She was elected to parliament and became junior minister for women and social affairs, a post which, through her leadership, allowed women to be given a place in the Tanzanian government. She also helped found the All-African Women Conference later that year.

Bibi Titi Mohammed Campaigning, No Date (Public domain)
Bibi Titi Mohammed Campaigning

In 1965, Bibi Titi Mohammed lost her seat in parliament and, with it, her power. In 1967, she resigned from her position on the party’s Central Committee because she protested a provision in the Arusha Declaration, Nyerere’s Plan for African Socialism, that prohibited all members of the Central Committee from renting out their real estate. Since most women lacked education, the right to rent real estate was one of the few things that offered them a stable income.

Mohammed, former Labor Minister Michael Kamaliza, and four army commanders were arrested in October 1969 and charged with conspiring to overthrow the government. In Tanzania’s first treason trial, Mohammed was sentenced to life in prison after a 127-day trial. Her political allies abandoned her during the trial, and most of her friends left. Her husband divorced her and left her alone to prove her innocence while she was in prison. Mohammed’s sentence was commuted after two years, and she was released from prison in 1971.

Bibi Titi Mohammed disappeared from public life in Tanzania after her release from prison. She spent the rest of her life in Johannesburg, South Africa, dying there on November 5, 2000, at the age of 74. Mohammed made an important contribution to women’s education and equality, and over the years, her reputation was gradually restored. In honor of her outstanding contribution to Tanzania’s independence, one of Dar es Salaam’s main streets is now named after Mohammed.