20 December 2012

Tanzania: Beware - Brewing Tensions Could Lead to Genocide

THE government should consider incorporating the law on genocide crimes in the Penal Code as part of legal preparedness just in case of eruption of violence that may escalate to genocide in the future.

A senior lecturer at the University of Dar e Salaam, Dr Khoti Khamanga, told the workshop on genocide, war crimes and related effects, attended by a section of religious leaders that it was important that the state prepares an Act to contain such problems if they erupt.

"We have to pressurize the government to come up with the legislation and constitution to address this problem. Neighbouring countries like Kenya have already managed to incorporate it in their constitutions. We can equally do the same," he pointed out.

The heated debate that started on Tuesday continued yesterday with speakers cautioning that the state should act deliberately to iron out some issues that trigger religious tensions. According to Dr Khamanga, the country should revisit its early warning system to detect harmful conflicts before they are out of control.

He added that the same should be shared among members of the public. It was at this juncture that a section of speakers remembered the Kadhi Court saga. One of them said that denying Muslims the right to establish the court might lead to disaster.

Another speaker, Sheikh Hassan Abeke from Mwanza, went as far as demanding an explanation why some church owned health facilities force patients of different faiths to put on dresses and sheets labelled with offensive pictures. "The government is supporting this major hospital with subsidies but why then it still operates and offer its services religiously?

Why force all the patients to put on garments bearing pictures of the Cross?" he queried. He insisted he was irritated seeing many public transport buses always playing Christian gospel music and guest houses are supplying Bibles only and not Holy Qurans.

Commenting on the allegations, the retired Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT), Eastern and Coastal Diocese, Dr Elinaza Sendoro, said that basically the government has already given a go-ahead for the Muslims to establish their Kadhi Court.

He said religious conflicts cannot come simply because one faith based organization or the denomination has been denied the right to worship. He advised the government should keep distance with religious activities. But another speaker called for the denominations to have common goals on their basic principles and activities.

He said that divisions among themselves might lead the country to more religious-based conflicts. On her side, Ms Shamim Khan from the Muslim Women Association said country borders should be tightly guarded against what she referred to as foreign intruders who might come in to infiltrate unethical elements.

She also cautioned the media to be careful when reporting on religious and tribal conflicts to avoid catastrophes that occurred in other neighbouring countries.

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