Tanzania: Let's Preserve the Union Despite Trials and Tribulations

(file photo).

Today Tanzanians are celebrating Union Day, marking the 54th anniversary of the merger between the former Tanganyika and Zanzibar republics in 1964.

It is not a secret that the Union is facing some challenges, and sweeping them under the carpet by way of denying them isn't the best solution.

The Tanganyika-Zanzibar merger is the longest surviving political union in Africa and even if it was created in a Machiavellian move as wildly claimed in certain quarters, it is nevertheless a shining example that must be recognised and preserved as such. Indeed, Tanzanians should be proud of their Union.

Whatever the reasons that led to, and resulted in, the Union, they were all most noble, courtesy of President Julius Nyerere of Tanganyika Republic (December 9, 1962-April 25, 1964) and President Abeid Amani Karume of the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar (January 12, 1964-April 25, 1964).

In order to understand the present political predicaments besetting the Isles (Zanzibar), it is essential to delve into the past.

I recently saw photographs of apartment buildings that were built during the President Abeid Karume's reign (1964-1972) for common Zanzibaris. Since then, no such tangible socioeconomic developmental activity has been undertaken on the Spice Islands.

Subsequent leaders - including Mzee Karume's son, Amani Karume (November 8, 2000-November 3, 2010) - seem to have ignored the poor Zanzibar population in socioeconomic developmental terms.

If it was possible to build such apartments in 1964, why is it the case today that a majority of Zanzibaris - especially in the rural areas - are living in mud-and-wattle, grass-thatched houses?

Union problems are largely economic, not political, specifically high poverty levels in the Isles.

Just step out of urban Zanzibar and grinding poverty is immediately felt. Both Unguja and Pemba islands are rich in resources, but the general population remains poverty-stricken. WHY?

I visited Zanzibar last September to see a patient at Mnazi Moja Hospital. The hospital was in a pathetic state. The quality of healthcare was poor by many standards. There was only one qualified pathologist, who was from Mainland Tanzania. Thus one can easily extrapolate the healthcare standard in remote rural areas.

The education sector is also in bad shape. When I was teaching at the Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences (Muhas) in Dar es Salaam, we had students from the Isles, the majority of whom had difficulty following lectures and needed extra coaching.

For development, you need a recipe of three variables, namely arable land, skilled labour and capital. Food comes from land.

The backbone of a modern economy - housing, factories, infrastructure, etc. - must be supported by land. Being an archipelago, Zanzibar may not have land aplenty, but, with modern farming techniques and good practices, one can get relatively bigger yields per unit of land farmed.

Labour comes next, and a combination of the two as inputs will yield outputs whose surplus will account for capital.

As with land, labour needs skilled human resources which unfortunately are in short supply, and very little is being done to fill the gap. Zanzibar needs to plan for the future needs of experts in every field.

The biggest problem as regards capital is that there is serious capital flight from Zanzibar. Unfortunately, the politicians do not seem to see this, or are part of the problem. If all the monies that are locally accrued were reinvested in Zanzibar, there would be noticeable poverty reduction.

Plausible answers are needed as to why Zanzibar is mired in a cesspool of poverty.

There is a special committee in government to work on and resolve "Union issues". Is it dormant? It is time that there was more transparency regarding the committee's performance.

There are Articles of the Union which may no longer be in line with the Union Constitution. It is only through constructive dialogue that the Articles can be reviewed and, if need be, the constitution amended.

It is indeed the onus of the fifth phase government under President John Magufuli to provide support to efforts that would create growth and development.

Admittedly, there have been some improvement in Zanzibar in recent years, but the rate and the magnitude is disproportionate to the timeframe and population growth.

In any case, it is crucial that every effort be made to safeguard our exemplary Union.

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