May 27, 2012 just a month after the celebration of the 48th anniversary of the Tanganyika and Zanzibar Union hundreds protesters fled into the streets of Zanzibar and main shopping centers. Sources said the rioters were agitating for the dissolution of the Union between Zanzibar and Tanzania Mainland. The situation become worse when members of a group calling itself the Association of Islamic Awareness and Public Discourse, also known as Jumuiya ya Uamsho na Mihadhara ya Kiislamu (JUMIKI) in Swahili blocked roads with stones and raided without success the Mjini Magharibi central police station pressing for the release of their leaders who had been arrested following the mayhem.
Undetermined numbers of people were injured, and properties worth millions of shillings including two churches a motor vehicle were destroyed. Police quickly stepped in to quell the riots using teargas canisters and water cannons as thugs pelted them with stones and seven leaders of the group in connection with the demonstrations were arrested.
Police ensuring peace and order in the streets of Zanzibar
Speaking on behalf of his fellow protestors Sheikh Farid said Zanzibaris just like any other citizen of country around the world have a constitutional right to demand for their country. “Just like any citizen of any country around the world, we have the constitutional right to demand for our country, if the South Sudanese did it why not us, we shall present all our cries to the UN secretary General Ban Kin moon that now Zanzibaris wants their independence” Said Sheikh Farid while the crowd shouted to show support for his arguments.
Sheikh Farid added that the Zanzibaris are fed up with the Union that has existed for last 48 years with no benefits for the people of Zanzibar. Sheikh Farid said they will not support the constitution referendum until issues related to the Union are resolved. He promised that they will continue organizing forums and protests as much as they can till the government listens to their cries.
This is not something new many of us may be familiar with these debates have existed for quite sometimes. Perhaps what fluctuates from time to time is the temperature manifested in the tone and the dimension of speeches, statements and public views in general being aired by a vocal cross section of the society, including politicians, activists, journalists and ordinary citizens. The debate is more vocal than usual in process of rewriting the new constitution which begun this year and re-energized the debate around Tanganyika and Zanzibar.
Vehicle destroyed during the protest
The positions taken by the contending sides have not changed much either. Each of the main positions has their own criticisms. Proponents of the two-government system believe it is the best way forward and the problems that exist in the arrangement are mere annoyances “kero”.
The debate on the Constitutional Review is one among contentious issues that speaks volume of the challenges facing the marriage. Zanzibaris however seem to have been complaining more than their mainland counterparts. Some Zanzibaris for instance have arraigned before a court of law in Zanzibar over illegal assembly and holding banners, calling for dissolution of the union. According to media reports, the suspects oppose the ongoing process to collect views on the constitution, which they have termed as "useless document."
Church destroyed by the protestors
Fishing in the Indian Ocean's Special Economic Zone, exploration and drilling of natural gas and oil are also contentious issues. The mainlanders on the other hand argue that if Zanzibaris want to benefit solely from their natural resources natural gas and oil, then proceedings from mining in the Mainland should benefit Mainlanders only. The business community in the island has also been complaining against double taxation on commodities imported through Zanzibar to the Mainland, but according to the State Minister the issue has been resolved through the design of an import-export aluation database by Tanzania Revenue Authority (TRA) that will be used in Zanzibar and in the Mainland.
The debate has been also in the education sector. Maalim Abdulhafidh Malelemba blames the union for retarding the Zanzibar education system. He added that the ineffectiveness of the national examination body (NECTA) has resulted into many students failing national exams as the number of university entrant in the side of Zanzibar has kept on declining as students continues to fail. A group of the teachers in Zanzibar claimed that the failure for Zanzibar to have its own independent examination body is the main reason why the students have continued failing to progress in higher institution of learning. Giving evidence of the recent form four national examinations, teachers also argued that NECTA made student fail intentionally in an attempt to make the student of Zanzibar very weak in academics.
So which way forward? The good news is that all the major divergent views recognize the need to sustain the union. They only differ on how to achieve that objective. The majority agree that the union is not “an alien idea” or something imposed by the leaders. To achieve that, a comprehensive debate on the status of the union is crucial in order to build national consensus. The authorities should encourage dialogue between the rival opinions, with a view to charting the best way forward. But above all, Tanzanians should consider the Union as a stepping stone towards a greater African regional and continental unity. That was the dream of the founding fathers.
Even with some good things to be proud of in some cases, it remains true that the union between the two countries has passed through a lot of challenges, some of which still haunt the union 48 years down the lane. There have been complaints from either part of the union, with the parties trading blames against each other. The voices from Zanzibar are particularly becoming more and more startling. Many people would recall how the issue of Zanzibar “statehood” became so sensitive in the House of Representatives a while ago.
There are also issues related oil matters, exploitation of deep sea resources and equitable distribution of union revenues, among other contentious subjects. Many Zanzibaris still hold the view rightly or wrongly that Tanzania Mainland is benefiting more than the Isles from the current union arrangement. Meanwhile, some Mainlanders claim that Zanzibaris are unfairly favored in some political and economic aspects. While the union may look particularly fragile this year, history suggests that it will once again survive another constitutional review. I believe that many problems facing the union can be solved and the best way is to discuss them transparently.
SOURCES: WANANCHI, THE CITIZENS, WAVUTI.COM, ALLAFRICA.COM, BBC NEWS and ZANZIBAR YETU
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