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Tribute to Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad, the late Zanzibar First Vice-President

IN the light of President John Magufuli’s recent directive which puts new emphasis on the teaching of the country’s history in all our Secondary level educational institutions; I am encouraged to suggest that the late Maalim Seif Sharif’s political leadership legacy deserves to be given some prominent space in the new history teaching materials that are presently under preparation.

The united Republic of Tanzania is still engulfed in bereavement, following the death of Zanzibar’s First Vice President, Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad, on 17th February, 2021.

Much has already been said, or written, by various commentators about this iconic departed leader, who advanced the view that “his political legacy is worth emulating”. I fully support that view.

This is because, I happen to be among those persons who got to know Maalim Seif pretty closely. My first contact with him was when he was a student at the University of Dar es Salaam during the years 1972 – 1975, at the time when I was that University’s founder Vice Chancellor.

He was a brilliant student. After graduation he joined politics, as a member of the ruling party CCM, wherein he soon got elected to the party’s Central Committee.

He quickly demonstrated his leadership talents. And because I was also a member of the Central Committee myself, I was in a position to witness his brilliant performance; as he and I were sometimes given the same assignments, by being put on the same Taskforce working groups.

Maalim Seif Sharif’s rich political legacy It is my humble submission, that Maalim Seif’s political legacy richly deserves to be included in the written History of Tanzania, basically because it uniquely combines both the negative aspects (of a politician whose strategies are distinctly divisive and destabilising); and the more positive aspects (of a leader who is capable of correctly assessing a difficult situation, and willingly accepting a reasonable compromise, in order to avert political turmoil).

There is this little story, that was told by former President Ali Hassan Mwinyi, on his return to Dar es Salaam, after a short private visit to Pemba; when he was sharing with a small group regarding what he termed as his ‘real surprise’, at what he had been told by the driver who was assigned to drive him around, on a sight-seeing tour of Pemba Island.

This is what Mzee Mwinyi said: “At one stage during our slow drive, I expressed my sincere admiration of the new infrastructure development projects that had been put in place by Zanzibar President Amani Abeid Karume. But my driver’s surprise response was : ‘Mheshimiwa, we don’t care about new projects being constructed, because that is the responsibility of every government. What we really want is to see Maalim Seif sitting on the chair of the Zanzibar Presidency. That is our main interest, and that is what we are anxiously waiting for.”

This little story helps to demonstrate the huge extent of his followers’ unshakable commitment to him personally, and to his cause. But, perhaps even more important for the peace and unity of our nation, it also enhances the value of his willingness to accept a reasonable compromise, in order to avert turmoil.

The ‘books of authority’ on the general subject of leadership also have the following provision:- “Some people become leaders because they possess certain talents, charisma, or passions. Others become leaders because they possess great minds or ideas; and yet others just stumble into leadership because of the times they live in, or the circumstances in which they find themselves. But no matter how people become leaders, no one can really claim to be a leader without having willing followers”.

The late Maalim Seif, Zanzibar’s First Vice President, was, undoubtedly, a charismatic and talented leader who had the ability not only to rally many followers in the sense envisaged by the books of authority cited above, but also to commit them absolutely unshakably to his cause, as revealed by the driver in former President Ali Hassan Mwinyi’s little story.

We will discuss both these aspects a little later in this article, starting with the positive aspects. Indeed, the most visible positive aspect of Maalim Seif’s leadership, was his willingness to participate, and indeed to play a vital role, in the serious negotiations which eventually led to the Agreement (MUAFAKA) between his party, at that time the Civic United Front (CUF), and the ruling party Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM), to form the stabilising ‘government of national unity’ (GNU) in Zanzibar, way back in 2010.

Many young generation Tanzanians may be aware only of Maalim Seif’s recent demonstration of his willingness to join the ‘government of national unity’ (GNU) of President Hussein Ali Mwinyi after the 2020 general election in Zanzibar. But there is a useful background to this latest action, which should also be known in order to reveal the full picture of Malimu Seif’s commendable contributions in respect thereto.

The relevant story is told briefly in the paragraphs which follow below. The genesis of the ‘government of national unity’ (GNU) As we shall presently see, the ‘government of national unity’ was the product of lengthy negotiations that had taken place between the two parties, namely the Civic United Front (CUF) and the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM); aimed at finding a more lasting solution to the constantly recurring Zanzibar election and post-election disputes.

These negotiations actually commenced soon after the first multi-party general election of 1995. The said negotiations had produced in, 1999, the first Agreement, popularly known as MUAFAKA I , to the disputes which had arisen. But alas, this Agreement was soon frustrated, when the post-election disputes reoccurred following the 2000 general election; after which, new negotiations were started again between the two parties, which successfully produced MUAFAKA II in 2005.

But even this MUAFAKA II was soon frustrated, when the 2005 postelection disputes re-surfaced. However, never willing to give up hope, negations were again restarted between the two parties; which eventually led to MUAFAKA III, which was the Agreement that produced the ‘government of national unity’.

MUAFAKA III was subsequently incorporated in the State Constitution of Zanzibar, and became effective in time for the 2010 general election; and Maalim Seif willingly joined the ‘government of national unity’ which was formed by the then Zanzibar President, Amani Abeid Karume.

Thus, in order to appreciate his vital role in these negotiations, it is important to remember that Maalim Seif was, at the material time, the top leader of the Civic United Front, the main opposition party in Zanzibar; and was therefore in a position to influence, and determine, his party’s responses to these negotiations. He could, for example, have chosen to boycott them; just as he was instrumental in creating the recurring postelection boycotts in Zanzibar.

But, commendably, he very wisely avoided doing that. Therein lay his unique political strength, which must be appreciated. The lengthy negotiations actually commenced immediately after the first multiparty general election of October 1995, because CUF had refused to recognise the results of the Zanzibar Presidential election, arising out of valid suspicions of foul play allegedly committed by the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC).

To start with, CUF had protested against ZEC’s undue delay of four days in announcing the Presidential election results, although the results relating to members of the House of Representatives had been announced. This created understandable suspicion, that the Presidential results were probably being “doctored’ in order to give victory to the CCM candidate.

This suspicion was intensified when the results were eventually announced, which gave the CCM candidate a razor-thin majority of only 0.4 per cent. In these suspicious circumstances, CUF refused to recognize the said results, and further decided to boycott participation in the proceedings of the Zanzibar House of Representatives as well as of the Union Parliament, which its candidates had won handsomely.

This immediately led to a political impasse in Zanzibar, which lasted for the next four years, until it was temporarily resolved with the first Agreement between CUF and CCM in 1999, known as MUAFAKA I; whose process had been assisted by the intervention of the then Commonwealth Secretary General, a Nigerian citizen called Emeka Anyaoku.

Similar boycott repeated after the 2000 general election Unfortunately, the 2000 general election was again marred by serious irregularities, which included an unexplained unavailability of ballot papers on election day, in all the 16 constituencies of the Urban West Region of Zanzibar, prompting ZEC to nullify the results in all these constituencies, and set a new date for the election re-run in those constituencies.

Dissatisfied with ZEC’s decision, the Civic United Front, supported by most of the other opposition parties, imposed a similar boycott on the re-run election; and subsequently refused to recognise the results of the entire general election; followed by an imposition of similar boycotts of the proceedings of the two Legislatures, by forbidding its duly elected members to attend them.

In the aftermath of this non-recognition of the results of the 2000 general election, an extraordinary act of violence occurred in Pemba, on 26th and 27th of January of the following year (2001). What happened is that CUF had organised a mammoth ‘protest demonstration’, but which, unfortunately, turned violent; causing the killing of a policeman who was on duty guarding the said demonstration.

Thereafter, the demonstrators moved towards the nearest police station which had an armory, shouting threats that they were going to capture the arms stored there. Hence, most probably in self- defence, and in order to protect the armory from being captured; the small police contingent at the said police station, opened fire against the demonstrators, which resulted in the killing of more than twenty people.

The nasty political impasse which had seemingly been resolved with MUAFAKA II ; was effectively re-enacted. Thus, once again, and very wisely too, CCM and CUF agreed to resume serious negotiations between them, and this time without any outside intervention, aimed at resolving this new impasse.

These new negotiations successfully led to the signing, during 2005, of MUAFAKA III between the two parties. It is this new MUAFAKA, that brought about the Government of national unity (GNU) which, it was agreed, would be put in place after the next general election in 2010; after the Zanzibar Constitution had been suitably amended to accommodate this Agreement.

Thus, being himself the top CUF leader in Zanzibar, Maalim Seif once again played a positive and very vital role, in facilitating the achievement of this Agreement. Thus, after the 2010 general election, CUF, which had secured the second place in the number of votes obtained at that election; became, under the terms of the amended Zanzibar Constitution, entitled to join the government of national unity in Zanzibar; and Maalim Seif was accordingly appointed First Vice-President.

His demonstrated willingness to join the government of national unity, firstly in 2010 (when he was the top leader of the Civic United Front CUF) ; and repeated this willingness after the 2020 general election (when he had migrated from CUF to his current party, ACT-WAZALENDO); made a huge contribution to the peace and political tranquility in Zanzibar; which we all should highly cherish. May his departed soul rest in eternal peace. AMEN.

piomsekwa@gmail.com /0754767576

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