One question that has not yet been resolved is the political origin of the Zanzibar demonstration of Saturday May 26th, as it seemed to be a spontaneous demonstration of Muslim radicals, wishing to eradicate Christian installations in Zanzibar, and at the same time screaming at those they identify as Mainlanders to quit the Isles.
Since a breadth of islanders have shown excessive excitement and anger about the Union since the whole idea of a new constitution came up, perhaps the Union itself will be the first casualty of the debate. One doesn’t allow taboos to come into the open and expect to rein them in.
The rule about the formation of nation-states is that it is conducted by sovereigns, and once this has been done it remains in that state, until another power destroys that state, or there is sufficient political upheaval to unmake that state, that is, internal revolt. In our case an effort by Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda to please bishops who were in a unified chorus for a new constitution – on top of statements that Chadema candidate Dr Wilibrod Slaa had won 64 percent of the votes but State Security cut it down – led to this situation. The premier promised to advice the president about the issue and the president accepted.
As such, the act of forming a nation-state no longer has to be unmade by a powerful revolt within its own borders as in Sudan (as colonialism put together the two parts of Sudan, despite their cultural disparities and ethnic animosities) and instead made it a matter of debate. It is not possible to conduct things as CCM – or rather the government – is doing, opening up the Pandora’s Box of state creation and expecting to bring up a consensus about the state as it exists. The old position of Mwalimu Nyerere that the policy of CCM is a union of two governments, and everything else belongs to others was the right outlook; Premier Pinda and the bishops would have been told that new constitution is Chadema policy.
Having compromised all along the way, and now opened the constitution – the very existence of the state and the mode of separation of powers – to debate, the government has given plenty of room for all sorts of agitators to unmake the Union and civil society as a whole. When kanzu-clad demonstrators supported by baibui-covered demonstrators pass on the streets, that is a vote for a certain form of state which at the same time makes burning churches reasonable because such installations do not match with a state of the sort that they want.
The question is thus: who is behind political Islam and its rise in Isles?
Tanzania Daima of Tuesday 29th May, had a story where Isles First Vice President Maalim Seif urges Muslims all over the country to turn out in large numbers to air their views, before the commission for a new constitution, so that they ‘solve their problems.’ It will be remembered that when the Civic United Front (CUF) candidate failed in a recent House of Representatives by-election, where CCM cadre Mohamed Raza won the seat and the second was a Chadema candidate, Maalim Seif and his close associate, deputy secretary general Ismail Jussa Ladhu sought to explain the displacing of the CUF candidate as due to churches. Was it therefore surprising that his followers should be burning up any churches they saw?
What is uncertain is how far the seemingly civic leadership of the demonstrators, that is, the CUF leadership, seeks a form of state that conforms to the character of the demonstration, or is merely using Islamic identity for purposes of tearing Zanzibar from the Union, and then condemning political Islam, to rule in a secular manner. The precise relationship between Maalim Seif and political Islam is a vexing issue, because it seems he is converting his civic power base, which isn’t capable of being mobilized for bigger things under the constitution, into a new political outlook, with an all or nothing mentality. Is it possible that Maalim Seif remains civic and secular, and simply uses Islam as an identity to attain a secular end?
If that is the case it portends fairly well for Zanzibar, because on the basis of the new political trend that seems to be quite popular in the Isles, all talk about a new constitution becomes untenable. When the very notion of church becomes anathema in the Isles political identity, and top leadership in the national unity government are evidently behind violent demonstrations, it constitutes an expression of political will, a new expression of Zanzibari identity. This sentiment and way of explaining things in order to unite the people of Zanzibar has taken a long time to be constituted, that a singular idea that can fuse Zanzibaris is Islam.
In order to arrive there, plenty has been written in books and internet blogs over the past 10 years such that it is hard to distinguish history from hearsay in Zanzibari folklore. Even last week someone as learned as Abdul Sheriff, Isles museum curator and veteran professor of history at the University of Dar es Salaam, was declaring that when Sheikh Abeid Karume signed on the Act of Union (or Articles of Union) he was under the impression that it was a realization of the dream of East African Federation. Some things don’t need to be debated, as nowhere was Milton Obote or Jomo Kenyatta in the signing ceremony, but Zanzibar needs such intellectuals now.
The core reason for the burning of churches in Zanzibar, apart from the worldwide trend of ancilliary groups tied to Al Qaeda in one way or another, whose principal point of animation is revenging the crusades where Islamic world power ended, is elsewhere. It constitutes in the process or recapitulating Isles history, by efforts of an indefatigable group of Zanzibari radicals in London, who have explained the 1964 revolution as engineered by Mwalimu Nyerere to remove Islam, as Arabs were of course the best defenders of Islam.
That way, Isles animosities are covered up.
This historical misrepresentation is tied up with the Mainland anti-Mfumo Kristo campaign which, thanks to historian Mohammed Said, has rewritten the history of nationalism on the Mainland as one where Mwalimu was adopted by several Muslim activists and then betrayed them after independence, favoured Christians and thus Muslim positions in government are fewer, etc. The point about this matter is simple – each community in the country has orientations of culture and economy, where Muslims are mainly traders and Christians tended to be bookish and civil servants. So if there is an issue of sharing out positions in the government, should we also seek to share spare parts shops in the central business district, or other businesses?
Added to the country's economic policy confusion, where the most profound clamor is difficulty of making ends meet, but the ruling party talks only about public goods – roads, schools, hospitals built – a sense of desperation arises. And as Mwalimu explained in his Kilimanjaro Hotel press conference in 1995, when a person reaches a point of desperation, it is religion or ethnicity to which he will run to, in which case the vacuity of policy alternatives (as no one, as far as anyone can tell, wants real economic reform in the country except perhaps nationalization of mines), the issue boils down to what leaders we should have. On the Mainland rebels have put up a more or less credible party of government which looks like it could win in 2015, while in the Isles a sense of paralysis prevails, so an alternative identity is sought.
So in the final analysis the shifting sands of political loyalties on the Mainland (the vua gamba vaa gwanda craze) and evident radicalisation of identity in Zanzibar is a result of the refusal to engage in economic reform, in which case the dynamism that was introduced in the post-1980s liberalisation drive has run its course.
With CCM oozing with venom from all pores, where its cadres hate each other like vermin, and hardly any of our intellectuals has any awareness of economic reform now that they are all surrounded by global anarchy and its indulgent contempt for liberalisation, it seems that Tanzania should sit up and learn the hard way. The government now stands between a rock and a hard place – suppress Isles identity or break the Union.
Whether or not Premier Pinda will now advice the president to allow a referendum in Zanzibar so that they choose to take back their country, or this time CCM will rally behind a show of force in order that patriotism and a clear enemy (friends of Boko Haram) should shore up its power base remains to be seen.
The issue however is that a point of no return is being reached in relation to the Union now that CUF is operating as a religious party in Zanzibar without acknowledging it.
And when such identity is acknowledged it will claim its rightful place in Isles institutions once they attain proper nationhood, perhaps with a new Maalim Seif at the head; who knows?