17 December 2012

Tanzania: Constitution Review Exercise Test for Zanzibar GNU

THE recent wave of political squabbling involving the ruling CCM and Opposition CUF on the Union structure is a worrying trend that is proving a tough test for the Government of National Unity (GNU) on how best it can handle the situation.

Tension has especially been growing at the public forums organised by the Constitution Review Commission (CRC) as the first phase of the exercise, aimed at collecting views from individuals, closes here after covering all regions. CRC Chairperson, Judge Joseph Warioba, and one of the commissioners, Professor Mwesigwa Baregu, admit that the exercise in Zanzibar has been a very challenging one, which analysts opine is due to the uniqueness of the isles politics.

There had been times when the CRC had to ask for assistance from the police to ensure security and complete the exercise peacefully at the views collection gatherings followings threats to peace. Groups of unruly youths had on a number of occasions posed a security risk, threatening to obstruct some people picked to give their views.

According to CRC procedures, all the people are free to give their opinions in any of its forums, anywhere, which some political party leaders opposed, saying that arguing that only residents living around a certain area should be allowed and not 'outsiders'. CCM and CUF followers and even their leaders were divided on this process. While CCM blamed CUF for organizing its supporters to occupy front seats, CUF complained that CCM were ferrying followers in almost all forums.

Top CCM leaders in Zanzibar, including Isles President Dr Ali Mohamed Shein, Second Vice-President Ambasador Seif Ali Iddi and the Deputy Secretary General (Zanzibar), Mr Vuai Ali Vuai, vowed in public to defend the current union structure of two governments, urging members and supporters to follow suit.

Ambassador Seif has said that all those who were using the constitutional review process to comment on the need to restructure the Union were wasting their time, stressing that the merger was "here to stay in its current form." On the other side, CUF's strongman and First Vice-President, Mr Seif Sharif Hamad, stood in various forums and ask Zanzibaris to give views that will lead to the isles' sovereignty, including having a seat in the UN.

Some CCM members, including veteran politician Hassan Nassor Moyo and Mr Mansour Yussuf Himid voiced a similar demand. When the CRC started collecting views in July in the ongoing process towards having a 'new Union constitution' before 2015, Uamsho, an Islamic propagation group, was condemned for interfering with the process, particularly persuading people to either boycott or demand the nullification of the Union.

But at this time when almost all Uamsho leaders are in jail for instigating unrest in October this year, CCM and CUF have gone back to the old days when they accused each other of responsibility for the instability at the forums. The CRC is blaming political leaders who have been interfering with the process of collecting views from the people on the new constitution by influencing their members in Zanzibar on what to say.

This is not the first time CRC has accused political leaders in Zanzibar of meddling. But the political situation in the isles is far from changing. CCM and CUF leaders cannot distance themselves from their followers. Judge Warioba said when the exercise was taking off that the commissioners had the responsibility of gathering views, urging people to air their opinions without fear since this was a national exercise aimed at letting the public have their say on what they want and how they wish to be governed.

"The mandate we have is to collect views of the public and we cannot block them from saying whether they want one, two or three governments," Judge Warioba said. Background The present political skirmishes in Zanzibar had started with emotional statements by members of the Zanzibar House of Representatives on the Union last year before it was picked up by UAMSHO, which arguably managed to reach all districts of Zanzibar, asking people to 'demand for change in the Union.'

Both CCM and CUF members of the House seemed to be strongly united to demand for more Zanzibar authority in the Union at least freedom on foreign relations and signing international agreements, freedom for members of the Zanzibar business community to sale their commodities in the Tanzania mainland without double taxation, and delisting of oil and gas from Union matters.

Owing to the very close relationship of Zanzibar society and GNU, the structure of the Union now stands out as the most crucial distinction between the rival visions of CCM and CUF regime on Zanzibar's political discourse.

"It is a challenging time and a political test for GNU and the people of Zanzibar as we move towards having a new Union constitution. There has been an open division among leaders in Zanzibar on what should be the future structure of the union," Hassan Kombo, a university student says.

He observes and warns that the current controversy over the Union between Zanzibar and Tanganyika would drive Zanzibaris back to the unwanted era of immature politics, including unnecessary hatred in the politically volatile islands. "Without doubt, Zanzibar's political environment has dramatically changed since retired President Amani Abeid Karume from CCM and Mr Seif Sharif Hamad- Secretary General of the Civic United Front (CUF) agreed to end political crisis in the islands following a secret deal on November 5, 2009," said Kombo.

The Attorney General (AG), Mr Othman Masoud, said here last week that Zanzibar was undergoing a political test following open disputes over the Union. "Let the people be free in the decision-making process. Leaders should always avoid driving their followers," he added.

All in all, the AG has advised that in the presence of coalition politics, there should be ways to deal with such issues - and that ideological difference should play out in determination of various policies aimed at uniting the people. CCM and CUF rivals had agreed to share power to end the repeatedly post-election crisis in the isles.

Earlier negotiations between CCM and CUF lasted since after the first multiparty elections, stalling several times. "Compromise was necessary for the survival of this country," former Zanzibar President Amani Abeid Karume had said.

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