Tanzania: Church Locks 2,000 Out of Polls Exercise

MORE than 2,000 eligible voters from Watch Tower Church have been denied their constitutional right of enrolling in the local government election register due to strict religious teachings, under which the process is perceived to be a grave sin.

Local government elections will be held countrywide on November 24, this year.

The church is located at Kitika area in Kasanga Ward along the shoreline of Lake Tanganyika in Rukwa Region's Kalambo District.

The area is the headquarters of the Watch Tower Church in the world and is popularly known as "Vatican City".

A survey conducted by this reporter revealed that although the church was established 105 years ago, it has not been officially registered by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Rukwa Regional Commissioner Joachim Wangabo told the 'Daily News' that he will make a close follow up by engaging relevant authorities to establish the reason behind the church operating in the country illegally for a long time.

"It is a big surprise to me ... I have never heard of this church because it has not been registered; I will make a close follow up to find out why it has not been registered," he said.

The spiritual head of the church is known as "Holy Pope" whose followers are also in neighbouring Zambia.

Traditionally, according to this paper's investigations, followers from as far as Zambia gather twice each year to celebrate Christmas on October 01, while New Year celebrations are held on April 14.

The church, according to its records, was established more than a decade ago by a Tanzanian, Enock Sindani, who was its first Pontiff.

Information gathered here from impeccable sources indicates that the founder was living and working in the United States.

One of the Church's bishops, Silas Mulunga, told the 'Daily News' that more than 2,000 followers, some ofwhom are spiritual leaders, have been barred to register themselves for local government elections due to church teaching and beliefs.

"We are not allowed to join or support any political party because, according to church teachings, we can't serve two masters simultaneously; we are also not allowed to vote in any elections. "We regard politicians as liars and lying is a big sin; and elections are reported to be rigged and for us it is a sin to solicit and receive bribes," Mulunga said, adding: "Our Church is governed by Ten Commandments of God which all Church followers regardless of the status must adhere to," he further said.

Some of the church followers interviewed by this paper admitted that they were not allowed to register their mobile phones' SIM cards themselves, but assign other individuals to do so on their behalf.

Reached for comment, the Kalambo District Commissioner, Ms Julieth Binyura, noted that after learning of the restrictions imposed on the worshippers, they started sensitising them to register.

As a result, according to the DC, a few members of the church have agreed to register.

She pointed out, however, that most church followers whom she characterises as diehard believers have rejected to register themselves, maintaining that the process was against their church teachings.

The Minister of State in the President's Office-Regional Administration and Local Government (TAMISEMI) --- Mr Selemani Jafo, has urged Tanzanians to turn up in large numbers for registration.

The minister reminded wananchi to seize the important opportunity for exercising their constructional rights, stressing that every Tanzanian who has attained 18 years of age and above is an eligible voter and has the right to register and vote in local government elections.

One of the officials supervising the registration exercise in the area who opted for anonymity stated that voting was voluntary, adding that no individual would be forced to do so.

"But it is paramount to sensitize citizens who are eligible voters that for them to exercise their constitutional rights of electing individuals of their own choice they must first be registered," he added.

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