Dar es Salaam — Tanzanian Christians are temporarily prohibited from slaughtering animals for consumption until a government appointed inter-faith committee finds a solution to this simmering issue between Muslims and Christians.
The decree was issued after more than three months of tension and clashes in the Geita and Mwanza regions over the slaughtering of animals.
"Traditionally Muslims have been [the ones who slaughtered animals] in this country, but we have this conflict and I have formed a committee of religious leaders to look for a permanent solution," Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda told reporters on Saturday (February 16th) after meeting with Muslim and Christian leaders in the Mwanza region. "Therefore, [while] the committee will be working hard to get a permanent solution, Muslims will continue to do this job for us all."
The disagreements culminated in Buseresere on February 11th when Muslim youths clashed with a group of Christians who had slaughtered a cow and two goats to be sold at a local market. The clashes resulted in the beheading of Pastor Mathayo Machila, the injury of several others and significant property damage.
Geita Acting Regional Police Commander Paul Kasabago said three people have been arrested in connection to the events, including Pastor Isaya Rutta, who slaughtered the animals on church grounds. The other two individuals in custody are part of Rutta's church. Kasabago said they would be charged for breaking health laws, inciting the public and causing the death of Machila.
Police have not yet arrested anyone suspected of perpetrating the actual violence against Machila.
"The law requires that any slaughtered animal be certified by a qualified veterinarian [to ensure] it is fit for human consumption," Kasabago told Sabahi. "Short of that, you risk consumers' health."
President Jakaya Kikwete condemned the violence, saying a religious war is not in Tanzania's best interest. "We have lived for more than 50 years without having quarrels related to our beliefs as Muslims and Christians," he said in Dodoma.
"It is barbaric to fight for the right to slaughter," he said.
Kikwete dispatched Minister for Home Affairs Emmanuel Nchimbi to Buseresere to reconcile the conflicting communities on the right to slaughter animals.
Nchimbi told Sabahi that the situation was now under control, as negotiations were going in the "right direction". He vowed that those responsible for the violence would face legal consequences.
Slaughterhouse staffing raises religious questions:
In Tanzania, slaughterhouses are owned by town councils. For 50 years, it has been customary for slaughterhouses to be staffed by Muslims, following Islamic guidelines. The meat is then sold to butchers for retail.
Juvenary Mwaikambo, 46, who sells pork at Banana Bar in Dar es Salaam, said he knows of two special slaughterhouses for swine, which Muslims will not slaughter, but very few people use them.
"I know it is illegal to slaughter pigs at home, but it is expensive to do it at the slaughterhouse," Mwaikambo told Sabahi. "They charge 5,000 shillings ($3.10) for slaughtering and the veterinarian has to certify the meat by stamping it. If [the veterinarian] says it is unfit for human consumption, it has to be buried ... there is a lot of inconvenience at the slaughterhouses."
Aran Mashimba, 48, a resident of Buseresere, said the only solution to the conflict is to have separate slaughterhouses to serve residents of both faiths.
"It is not all about satisfying Muslims' faith, it is more than that," Mashimba told Sabahi. "Slaughtering is a big industry that generates employment. Restricting it to Muslims is to deny us [Christians] employment opportunities."
Sheikh Suleiman Mtindi of Mwanza, who participated in Saturday's joint meeting with Pinda, also proposed separate slaughterhouses. Pinda rejected that idea, however, saying it would lead to wider divisions.