Tanzania: Zanzibar's Troubled Past Should Not Define Its Future

Zanzibar — Zanzibar marks the 55th anniversary of the January 1964 revolution with several development projects being launched or opened, festivities and fanfare.

However, behind the scenes these Indian Ocean islands are haunted by its troubled past of politics of hatred and animosity that has divided the country into two parts which seem not ready to sit at one table, let alone cooperate and work together.

Hopes for reconciliation emerged when the two warring parties formed a Government of National Unity.

The architects of the reconciliation pact were the sixth Zanzibar President, Amani Abeid Karume, and Maalim (teacher) Seif Sharif Hamad. These two decided that enough was enough and sat together to work out a reconciliation pact.

The two sides, after the 2010 General Election formed a government of national unity (GNU) with the two leading Presidential candidates Dr Ali Mohamed Shein (CCM) and Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad (CUF) leading the partnership.

Dr Shein was the President and Maalim Seif took the First Vice President portfolio.

It all went smoothly, without indicators of conflicts within, but the old politics of discrimination and animosity fueled by hate speeches and distribution of leaflets of provocative messages emerged as the 2015 elections approached.

The two sides entered the race as demolition gangs rather than being building brigades. As a result the final stages of the registration of voters, the campaign period, the polling day were what one can describe as organised chaos. The annulment of the announcement of the election results made the situation worse.

Many members of the opposition took refuge on the Mainland and far beyond for fear of harassment, being detained or even killed as it happened in all except the 2010 multi-party elections in which many people lost lives and limbs and dozens taken to court on what the opposition claimed as politically motivated charges.

This year's Revolution Day celebrations is taking place less than two years before the next elections whose preparations have recently been described by CUF and its close partners in the opposition as preparing a strategy of foul play to ensure that the ruling party CCM remains in power both in the Isles and on the Mainland.

There are those who attach the Isles political scenario with the legacy of the past dating back to the colonial era between the Afro-Shirazi Party and two parties - the Zanzibar Nationalist Party and the Zanzibar and Pemba Peoples Party - whose coalition government was overthrown together with sultan Jemshid Abdulla in 1964.

Jemshid is now living in Portsmouth, England while the ousted Prime Minister, Mohammed Shamte who was the leader of the ZPPP died in Dar 'es Salaam almost two decades back.

His ally in the coalition government, Ali Muhsin Barwany of the ZNP died in Dubai about five years ago. Both Mohamed Shamte and Ali muhsin spent five years in detention before being released and decided to stay in Dar es Salaam and Dubai respectively.

Some self-proclaimed historians and political analysts who have never stayed in Zanzibar for more than a week at any given time relate the present political stalemate to the legacy of the past dating back to days before the revolution.

They claim that those who formed CUF were supporters or family members of former leaders of the ZNP and ZPPP and have seized the opportunity of the return of multi-party politics in the country to resume their agenda of retaining power through the back door.

I have always refused to accept this notion which I find it to be childish and it doesn't have facts. This is because almost all the architects and founder members of CUF in Zanzibar and those who joined their band wagon held top posts in the ASP during the struggle for independence or sons and daughters of those who took up arms to overthrow the sultan and his coalition government.

For example one of the founders was Ali Lumumba - the man who introduced John Okello of Uganda who played a key role in the January 1964 uprising to ASP leaders - was an official of a little known political group, the Zanzibar Human Rights Party before the Revolution.

He brought Okello to Zanzibar from Pemba where he was working as masonry and a plumber.

Lumumba was in fact together with mzee Kopa (the father of famous Tanzanian Taarab singer and CCM cadre, Khadija Kopa), Ramadhani Haji (former'Zanzibar Chief Minister, Said Bavuai and Mfaranyaki) and are the first group to invade the Ziwani baaracks on the eve of January 12, 1964 to overthrow the regime.

Other founder members who were either themselves or their fathers leading officials of ASP and some later members of the Zanzibar Revolutionary Council include the Shaaban Khameis Mloo who was the first CUF Secretary General, Khamis Machano, the retired CUF Vice Chairman and Hamad Rashid, former minister of the union government and now minister in Zanzibar.

Other or their parents were staunch leaders of ASP include Musa Haji Kombo, Khatib Hassan (former CCM Deputy Secretary General, Zanzibar and Ali Haji Pandu, former chief Justice of Zanzibar and the trial judge of the treason trial of 54 people accused of plotting and assassinating the Isles first President, Abeid Amani Karume.

Others whose role in the Zanzibar Revolution can't be ignored who at different stages joined or sympathized with the CUF include Mansour Yusuf Himidi who father was among those who took up arms in the uprising and member of the first post revolution cabinet, Hassan Nassor Moyo.

With this testimony how can one dare to come out with a conclusion that CUF is a product of the defunct ZNP and ZPPP?

In my opinion, the problem facing Zanzibar is that some extremists enjoy seeing the Isles political stalemate continue because it serves their personal interests and a hidden agenda.

Another problem is that there was satisfaction that the reconciliation accord which led to the formation of the GNU helped to reduce political tensions, but failed to address the fundamental divisions.

With less than two years before Zanzibaris go to the polls it is worth to remember that all elections which take place after every five years since the gates of multi-party politics were reopened in the United Republic in 1992 raise the political temperature which leads to the loss of lives and limbs.

Records show that in the election process, from the time of registration of voters, during the election campaign, on polling day and when the results are announced and after, Zanzibar drifts further from the statement of its ancestors used to be proud with the famous Swahili saying of Zanzibar ni njema atakaye aje (Zanzibar is good whoever wants to come is most welcome).

These islands have a long history of controversial, closely fought and, violent elections.

The earlier steps are taken to avoid history repeating itself the better. And this should be done by placing the interests of Zanzibar ahead of those of the warring parties.

The Islanders are tired and exhausted by election violence. They need a change for the better and this can't be expected to come from anywhere except from the Zanzibaris themselves.

They must decide with open heart to let the past be part of their history and not a motivating factor to do what is no longer expected in a civilized world.

The people of Zanzibar must realize now, as well as later, they are poor and economically not strong, but they are heirs of a glorious heritage. They must be prepared to lose everything but not peace and stability.

They must understand that they are in a confrontation which will not produce winners, but losers.

Those in authorities, be in the government or political parties, must not forget that they have the obligation to work in the interests of Zanzibar.

The Islanders may have two, three of a dozen different views, but as far as the unity of Zanzibar and its prosperity is concerned they have to speak with one voice. There is no scope for differences on this issue.

They can argue, but not fight, on the approaches. However, whenever they take action they must ask themselves whether by that step they serving Zanzibar and strengthening the unity of its people?

In the past, our ancestors stumbled and fell in their struggle to make Zanzibar a good place where everyone is welcome. They faced several heart breaking reverses, but they didn't give up. They again rose and marched on.

In the same way today they have to have the courage to face the challenges of the present political stalemate so as to come with a reconciliation to rebuild a new Zanzibar.

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