Zanzibaris are hospitable people who have for years been interacting with people from around the globe in a peaceful manner. Despite Muslims being the majority, Christians of different denominations have been living in Zanzibar, enjoying freedom of worship since 1870’s.
The recent incidents that saw churches being torched created some tension, thus threatening to breach the good image that Zanzibar has had for all these years. The riots are said to have been engineered by an Islamic awakening group, famously known as Uamsho, amid their agenda to push for their union referendum.
However, the group has denied being responsible in the recent hostile incidents. Whether the group is involved or not it remains in the hands of the Court to preside and judge over the matter. Over 80 people have so far been arrested and their cases are pending in court.
But as we wait for the court to give its verdict on the accused, people still want to know what really happened in Zanzibar. “This is the result of Union government’s tendency to undermine the so called ‘problems of union’. It is obvious that the 48-year old union now poses some questions” says the Civic United Front (CUF) Director of Human Rights and Publicity, Mr Salim Biman.
Mr Biman’s words seem to be appealing to many Zanzibaris who were interviewed by this reporter in various parts of Unguja recently. Some of them say they would neither be happy nor sad if the union would break today or if the union continues with its current structure. “The current structure of the union is still vague to many of us today.
It is not clear to many of us. We are supposed to be involved in all steps that our government make,” says a resident of Stone Town, Mr Salum Rashid Salum. He says that the union needs to be restructured, taking into consideration years that have passed since the founders of these two nations (Tanganyika and Zanzibar) agreed to form the union.
“I believe that even the Uamsho leaders who support the idea of breaking the union are trying to create attention as a way of reminding the government that some people in Zanzibar are not happy with the union structure,” says a minister in the Zanzibar’s Government of National Unity (GNU) who prefers anonymity.
The minister sees the Uamsho’s demands as a very valid structure, though he seriously condemned the use of chaotic tactics in furthering some demands. “This union has made Zanzibar a landlocked country when it comes to freedom of looking for economic opportunities in terms of international partnerships, I find this very exorbitant to our economy which was very strong in 1960’s,” says the minister.
The minister notes that Zanzibar had a strong economy in the past, and it was in a position to assist Tanganyika financially. But after 48 years, he says, such strengths remain a tale of the past. Some of the things that Zanzibaris are proud of as the icon of strong economy their country had in the past include the Michenzani flats which were constructed by the government for poor Zanzibaris.
In the streets, ordinary people also have a strong feeling that under the current union structure, Zanzibaris are not benefiting enough in terms of economic freedom and that they would like their country to be given more freedom to engage in economic partnerships with other countries.
It should be noted that majority of Zanzibaris are Muslims and most of them would wish to join the Organisation of Islamic Countries (OIC) but they also have a strong belief that they are unable to do so because such decisions depends on the wishes of the union government.
“If we had joined the OIC we would have developed so fast economically because we could have access to interest free loans from fellow member countries but under the current state of union Zanzibar’s ability to decide on the matter remains limited,” said Ms Nasra Thwaiba.
In the 2010’s general elections campaigns, the current First Vice President, Mr Sief Sharif Hamad who was then vying for presidency was quoted as saying "Under my Government, the issue of joining the OIC is a must. If Uganda has only 12 per cent of Muslims joined the OIC, why not Zanzibar that has 97 per cent of citizens as Muslims".
To date some people still believe that such utterances by politicians notwithstanding the fact that the matter needs the blessings of the union government are instigating movements against the structure of the union. The OIC is the second largest inter-governmental organization after the United Nations which has a membership of 57 states in four continents.
Under the presidency of Dr Salmin Amour Juma, Zanzibar decided to join the OIC but it was, however, forced to pull out from the same on the grounds that it is the part of the union and it cannot make an independent decision on such relations. However, the tenth amendment of the Zanzibar’s constitution recognizes the Isles as a country and not a part of the union as it was written before but the changes in the actual sense does not mean that Zanzibar is out of the union as the union’s constitution presides over that of Zanzibar.
Mr Seif was also quoted criticizing the Union over denying Zanzibar the door to get into international relationships the matter which is still in the agenda of those who are against the union to date. The decision of the Union Government to include the issue of natural oil and gas discovered in the Isles as Union matters notwithstanding the decision by the Zanzibar House of Representatives to remove the same from union matters is also among the things that angers some Zanzibaris.
It is also in the mouths of some people in the Isles that the Bank of Tanzania (BoT) is not flexible enough in serving the economies of the Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar. Some ordinary people as well as politicians have noted that the dividend got from the BoT amounting to 4.5 per cent to Zanzibar for loans and aids should be reviewed and make sure that Zanzibar gets at least 11.5 per cent as per its shares in the establishment of BoT.
Still in the economic welfare of Zanzibar, some Zanzibaris believes in the single revenue collection entity for increased efficiency instead of the current situation in which the two separate boards-Zanzibar Revenue Board (ZRB) and Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) are operation parallel.
However, the government had already ruled out on the revenue collection issue, saying that the current system is beneficial for Zanzibar as all the revenue collected remains in Zanzibar whereas TRA workers are paid their salaries by the union government.
Some sources also said that the speed at which the government was moving in tackling the union challenges was not impressing, they pointed out some of the things such as the Joint Financial Committee (JFC) which was formed way back in 2003 but it has not produced any report to date.
“The JFC has been reviewing various sources of income in Zanzibar and in the Mainland and given various advices but such reports have not been made public and no implementation so far,” said a senior government official in Zanzibar. The President of Zanzibar, Dr Ali Mohamed Shein in his recent press briefing at the state house in Zanzibar admitted that his government was not happy with the current state of the union.
“We have about twelve issues on the table which are the main union challenges being discussed between the government of Zanzibar and that of the union and we are optimistic that we will reach a desirable conclusion,” he said. He named the issues on the table as including, the need to remove from union the natural gas and fuel matters, the better way of Zanzibar’s participation in East Africa Community, deep sea fishing, freedom of Zanzibar in international relations and employments in the union.
Others include, Zanzibar’s ability to borrow without seeking permission from the union, car registration, and issues related to electricity availability in Zanzibar which is mainly sourced from Mainland, piracy activities in the Indian Ocean, constituency development funds and the report on the implementation of the Joint Financial Commission (JFC). Dr Shein said that meetings that discuss these matters are chaired by the Union Vice-President, Dr Mohammed Gharib Bilal and there are 12 representatives six from both sides.