Tanzania Daily News (Dar es Salaam)

Tanzania: Let Us Defend Our Norms, Values

column

I AM tempted to think, though I do not believe, that we are heading for religious acrimony. I do not want to accept it but red lights are flushing profusely and we have to do something.

I was relieved when I heard recently President Jakaya Kikwete advising the registered religious organisation, Zanzibar based Uamsho that they should stick to their original objective of teaching religious virtues rather than opting into politics of conflicts. President Kikwete went further that it is not in the interest of the government to put its citizens behind bars, but if it is forced to do so, "we will have to do it".

It seems the country is highly potent for religious chaos following this religious bigotry that seems to be forced into our people at any cost. What has the Constitution debate to do with the torching of churches and Bibles in Zanzibar? We need cool heads to intervene in what appears to be growing intolerance of our two main religions. Perhaps we are playing ostrich game of hiding the head in the sand while the whole body is naked.

Let us be serious and the government should be seen to be fair in handling this very sensitive and fragile religious issue. It seems there have been always half attempts in solving the inherent issues raised by both religious leaders. The more we keep them pending the more vulnerable our nation becomes and those involved will look for any loophole to spread their venom. It is very unfortunate that religious tolerance is very fast losing ground.

For a good number of years, we were able to carefully and intelligently handle with care the religious anathema much to the admiration of other African countries which already had their shares in such turmoil. We have been able to build a cohesive nation by deliberately defending the tribal barriers, religious and racist's overtures. But of late, they are resurfacing in the guise of democratic dispensation.

Does democracy get better with the infusion of religion? Not at all, it is a question of failed politicians who will resort into either religion or tribal affiliation for seeking their legitimacy. Lest we forget Mwalimu Nyerere's words that "If we do not repair the cracks in our house we will be forced to build the whole wall." That was when the symptoms of religious, tribal and racist bigotry were starting to show up in our country.

Mwalimu reminded us that these vices are always there, they only needed someone to ignite them, and they would explode. He went further that leaders should be very strict and seen to be strict not to allow these vices to show up. He counselled that the peaceful bliss of our country should not be taken for granted; anything can happen as these diabolic bigotries are always there. But how have we found ourselves in this deadly imbroglio? There is a tall order of chronological events that may appear to have built up this unhealthy situation.

Some of the religious leaders (bishops) were last year alleged to have been involved in drug trafficking but the story just disappeared like that. People were anxious to know the outcome based on trial before the court of law. Then the Iddi Baraza that seemed to have annoyed Bakwata when President Kikwete in an unprecedented manner turned down their long time requests on issues raised by Bakwata, a decision which was naturally received well by Christians to the chagrin of their adversaries.

Now the recent Zanzibar dispute on constitution debate that led to the torching of some of the churches is yet another show of mistrust and waning of religious tolerance. As if that is not enough, the recent pronouncements by both Christian and Muslim religious leaders puts this nation at the crossroads. One of the Christian leaders is alleged to have outrageously accused the Police Force in Zanzibar for persecuting the Christian faith.

More disturbing is the recent call by Bakwata asking all the Muslims to boycott the forthcoming census unless a provision is made in the questionnaire forms that include the data of Muslims in the country. Probably they have a good reason, why should they not be listened to? If we do not do it ourselves, others will negatively do it for us. However, the Bishops counter-reacted on this again to the frustration of Muslims. What is the problem of knowing how many Christians, Muslims and Pagans are we having in the country? I see no problem even having the number of tribes.

We used to know that there were about 120 tribes in Tanzania but you never know, there might have emerged some new tribes. After all, we know there are more than six million Sukumas in the country, so what? Another new problem which is now very common is that whenever an appointment is made people will quickly resort into unhealthy imaginations of whether they are Christians or Muslims.

I could not believe my ears when I heard from a respected elder, Edwin Mtei, complaining that the Warioba Constitutional Commission is overwhelmed by Muslims. I presume he was misquoted but if it is true then we are heading for problems. Indeed we are walking with the silhouette of religious bigotry which the government should act fast before it is too late. God forbid, let us continue to build a cohesive nation and jealously defend the tribal, religious and racist barriers. God Bless.

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