Tanzania cannot be allowed to be the new front for state-led Islamophobia
The ruling CCM party has a record of dismissing opposition in Zanzibar as “Islamist”. With tight elections on the horizon, this divisive rhetoric has been turned up.
For over 20 years, Tanzania’s ruling party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM), has attempted to maintain control of the islands of Zanzibar by linking local oppositional activity to the idea of “Islamic fundamentalism” and even “˜terrorism”.
While maintaining a strong authority over the mainland, CCM has faced a more tumultuous relationship with Zanzibar, especially amidst opposition parties’ intensifying demands for greater autonomy. And now, with the 25 October national elections fast approaching – polls which look set to be the closest in the country’s history – CCM is pushing a fear-mongering line even harder as it attempts to dismiss legitimate opposition to the status quo as “Islamist”.
For instance, in a 10 September editorial in The Hill boldly entitled “˜Tanzania Cannot Be Allowed to Be the New Front For Terrorists‘, CCM Secretary-General Abdulrahman Kinana makes the sensationalist claim that unless his party retains power in the upcoming elections, Zanzibar will fall to terrorists, with the mainland following suit. “If [opposition candidate] Lowassa and his opposition supporters win,” he writes, “then the country stands to become a new front for terrorists”.
“A political stunt”
Since the 2010 implementation in Zanzibar of the Government of National Unity, support for CCM has been dwindling, not only on the islands but around Tanzania. For the first time since the inception of multi-partyism, Tanzania may be on the eve of transformative change on a national scale.
On both the islands and mainland, a united coalition of opposition parties presents an increasingly viable alternative to the old system. Leaders of the opposition alliance Ukawa are taking steps to mend relations between Christians and Muslims, and long-faithful CCM members are increasingly abandoning the party. CCM is responding by using the threat of a supposed “Islamic terrorist” contagion originating in Zanzibar to counter demands for democracy on the mainland as well.
In 2013, a grenade attack at an opposition CHADEMA party rally in Arusha killed three people and wounded 70. This assault raised fears that outside groups may intend to disrupt Tanzania’s political process, but multi-party politics on the mainland have typically been peaceful. On Zanzibar meanwhile, where the transition to democracy has been troubled, it is the government that has perpetrated the most egregious violence. Zanzibar has seen the systematic harassment, beating and illegal detention of opposition members and leaders, as well as outright vote-rigging followed by the declaration of martial law.
In his editorial, CCM’s Kinana baselessly claims that the 2013 acid attack on two British teachers in Zanzibar was carried out by terrorists affiliated with the Islamic Uamsho party. However, Uamsho immediately condemned the attacks and demanded that the culprit(s) be found. Zanzibaris overall were horrified by the attack and even organised neighbourhood patrols to ensure foreign visitors’ safety. In fact, even Kristie Trupp, one of the victims, personally responded to Kinana’s claims, describing the persecution of suspects with ties to Uamsho as “just a political stunt”. Whoever is responsible for the attack, exploiting the terrible physical experiences of these women and using them in an anti-Islamic campaign is in poor taste.
The Uamsho awakening
Government surveillance and arrests of Uamsho members are typical fare for a ruling party whose oft-declared fear of “Islamic terrorists” may in fact be a fear of democracy, cloaked in Islamophobic rhetoric. Kinana’s further unsubstantiated claim that Uamsho is affiliated with Boko Haram seems designed to further prevent Tanzanian Muslims from fully participating as equals in national political life.
Observers wondering why Uamsho has gained popularity in Zanzibar should recognise that the party’s rise was made possible precisely by the CCM government’s relentless suppression of the Civic United Front (CUF), an inclusive, multi-religious party founded by human rights activists and intellectuals from both the islands and the mainland.
Zanzibaris who have worked without clear success in the hopes of achieving democracy for over two decades are now understandably exhausted. If CCM and the Tanzanian government are finally garnering the disapproval of Muslims “˜as Muslims’ on both the mainland and Zanzibar, it is the direct outcome of policies and public speech aimed at separating Muslims from “˜Tanzanians’ in general – despite the fact that Islam has been practiced on the East African coast and its hinterland for centuries.
Certainly Uamsho is an Islamic party that, like all religious organisations, works both locally and globally. But religious activity should not be seen as suspect. Uamsho’s political platform is both pro-democracy and pro-human-rights. That Uamsho is habitually accused of terrorism is evidence of deep anti-Muslim sentiment within Tanzania’s ruling party.
Given that over 90% of Zanzibar’s population is Muslim, ‘Islamic activity’ should be nothing to remark on, and was not very much remarked upon until the inception of multi-partyism in 1992. In fact, “anti-Muslim” rhetoric in Tanzania is used by the ruling party whenever democracy appears to be gaining ground. Perhaps what really troubles CCM is that Zanzibaris have, since 1992, been very clear about their attachment to this new form of governance: they have been enormously well-organised, actively educating themselves and others; and they have not given up despite significant obstacles placed before them by ruling party stalwarts and the security organs they control.
Zanzibar may be a problem for CCM not because it supposedly fosters Islamist ambitions but because its people have modelled for the rest of the country what commitment to democracy looks like and what it can achieve.
Uniting or dividing?
Whatever his other qualities, Ukawa presidential candidate Edward Lowassa, one of the target’s Kinana’s editorial, has repeatedly demanded due process for imprisoned Uamsho members and expressed dismay at the treatment of CUF leaders in the past. Himself a prominent Lutheran Christian, Lowassa has publically insisted on recognising the contributions of Muslims to national political life. Among other things then, Ukawa is providing Tanzanians with a vision of a potential future in which citizens from all denominations can support democracy together. This new inclusive vision poses a significant threat to CCM’s established habit of dividing Tanzanians along religious lines.
As to the possibility of violence erupting in the upcoming elections, if there is extremism to fear in Tanzania it may be that of a ruling party bent on suppressing the political will of its citizens. Ordinary Tanzanians, and Zanzibaris in particular, have much to fear from political violence. News of Rwanda and Burundi – with old footage of massacres luridly televised by CCM in Zanzibar at every election cycle to frighten the population – is of serious concern to Zanzibaris, who continually express fear that such violence will reach them too. Yet those they imagine perpetrating such massacres are not Uamsho or anyone acting “˜as a Muslim’, but the Tanzanian government and CCM.
Since January 2001, when (at the government’s own admission) state forces were ordered to shoot pro-democracy demonstrators with the intent to kill – resulting in 40 deaths and hundreds wounded – Zanzibaris are sadly correct to fear that election-related violence may be more likely to come at the order of the government itself.
In his piece, CCM’s Kinana also reminds us of the vital importance of tourism to Zanzibar’s economy. The country is rightly renowned for its beauty, and tourism has in recent decades brought great benefits. But Kinana should note that tourism in Tanzania increased markedly with multi-partyism, and at each stolen election and instance of state-led violence, tourism has declined. Anti-democratic measures taken by the government pose a far greater threat to tourism than Uamsho.
One might also add that Zanzibar’s dependence on tourism as it is currently structured is arguably a result of economic policies that continue to disadvantage the islands’ poor. The government’s tired reliance on large-scale, elite-driven tourism may be preventing a real discussion about economic transformation, investment in education and infrastructure that could benefit Zanzibaris as a whole. While tourism is obviously important, it should be remembered that, regardless of whether tourists come, most Zanzibaris lack clean water, healthcare, education, and jobs. Yet all of Tanzania has enormous human and natural resources, including gas reserves in the coastal waters. Zanzibaris are correct to suspect that there might be other ways forward.
Kinana is right to believe that “the choice facing Tanzania at this coming election has ramifications both at home [and] far beyond”, and that extremism poses a threat. Yet extremism – religious and otherwise – may be more likely to come not from the population (either on the islands or the mainland) but from a ruling party that insists on separating the country’s citizens and inciting fear and distrust among them.
Nathalie Arnold Koenings is an anthropologist, writer and Swahili translator. She has worked for Human Rights Watch and published work on Zanzibari history and culture.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act of 2002
After 9/11 the United States passed the Patriot Act of 2001. Soon after it had sailed through the Congress in record time the United States pressurised other governments to pass similar anti-terror legislation and join in its campaign against terrorism. Through diplomatic manoeuvres and veiled threats many African governments passed what came to be known as Anti -Terror Legislation. Tanzania passed the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 2002, which in all intent and purpose replicated the United States Patriot Act of 2001. Due to under representation of Muslims in parliament the Act sailed through without any difficulties notwithstanding Muslim opposition outside the parliament. What concerned Muslims more was the fact that the law was not only draconian but also targeted Muslims. Muslims realised that with the Act in force any conflict between them and the government could be tried under that legislation and this would have very dire consequences. The Prevention of Terrorism Act was a piece of legislation, which was imposed on Tanzania with the intention to open up the country for covert operations against enemies of the United States. Although the act does not say so in so many words but it is clear the legislation is meant to protect United States and provide it with political and legal powers to expand its military hegemony in countries, which it did not enjoy, such freedom before.
On 17th May 2003 with the anti terror legislation in place the police in collaboration with the FBI (who were already in the country waiting for the president to assent the bill) arrested Muslims suspected to be â€˜terrorists.â€™ But those arrested had nothing to do with terrorism; they were Muslims leaders who the government arrested for being â€˜opponentsâ€™ of the government and ruling party the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM). Among those arrested were leaders of various Muslim charitable organisations – foreign oriented and local, who have distinguished themselves in providing social services to Muslims like building mosques, schools, orphanages etc. These were targeted for being â€˜terrorist sympathisersâ€™ or for being directly involved in â€˜terrorist activitiesâ€™ or for â€˜providing logistic support to terrorists;â€™ and bank account of one prominent Muslim school â€“ Al Furqan was frozen for suspicion of being a conduit of funds from abroad to support terrorism.
In response to these arrests Muslims staged a mass demonstration against the government and the United States opposing the mass arrests of the Muslim leadership, harassment by the local police, the FBI and against the Anti â€“ Terrorist Legislation. The demonstration was the first of its kind, as never before had Muslims shown such solidarity against a foreign power. Ignoring the feeling of Muslims the then United States Ambassador to Tanzania Robert Royall addressed the Tanzanian Parliament expressing his governmentâ€™s satisfaction in Tanzaniaâ€™s support in its war against terrorists and pledged USD 100m in aid to East African governments to help combat terrorism. Investigations revealed that none of the arrested Muslims had any kind of military training whatsoever or had in anyway engaged in terrorist activities and they were quietly released without being charged. Investigations also failed to prove that the account of Al Furqan had at any one time used to transfer funds from abroad for illegal use. All this notwithstanding there was no apology from the government, the FBI or the police.
Probably unknown to the United States, the government in Tanzania had other reasons for passing the legislation completely unconnected with terrorism. The government was under pressure from Muslims to review the status quo. The government was and still is functioning as a Christian establishment completely marginalising Muslims. The Church particularly the Catholic Church is in control of the government by proxy. It controls 75% of the seats in the parliament. Among these seats Catholics hold 70% and the rest are divided among Muslims and Christian of other denominations. Muslims controls mere 6% of the total seats in parliament. Since independence in 1961 the Church was able to manipulate the political system in such a way that, its influence permeates the state machinery, mass media, higher institutions of learning, employment, promotion to political office etc. etc. It also has influence in the Executive, the Judiciary and most important it controls the Parliament the highest law making body in the country.
The government was engaged in its own silent war against Muslims who were opposing Christian hegemony over the country and several times the government had to use force, harassment and arrest of the Muslim leadership in trying to contain the agitation. Corresponding to this awakening, Islam has gradually been gaining ground over Christianity in Tanzania. There is a noticeable number of Christians reverting back to Islam. The Church is facing opposition on two fronts. It is facing Muslims on the political front agitating against the status quo and on the second front there is Islam as a doctrinaire attacking the very foundations of Christianity. The Catholic Church is the most affected and naturally it is showing concern. The government saw in the Act an opportunity it could manipulate in its war against Muslims and roll back the tide of Islam in Tanzania.
The United States government in supporting the Tanzanian government in its war against terrorism was in actual sense supporting the Christian lobby in the government in its anti Islam stand. In so doing was creating out of Muslims an unwilling adversary who had never threatened American interests. This state of affairs forced Muslims in Tanzania to open up yet another line of defence against the United States fanning an already volatile state of affairs. Muslims had now two powerful adversaries to watch out. Muslims had to confront local adversaries as well as the United States. The Christian lobby in the government had found an unexpected ally. Muslims had to organise a line of defence against the United Statesâ€™ interference into what was previously purely an internal power struggle between Muslims and Christians vying for dominance in the local political arena. The entry of the United States in the conflict on the side of the government gave the conflict religious undertones, which were translated by Muslims as an impending American crusade hidden behind the faÃ§ade of war against terrorism. What was worse is the fact that in the last ten years there had been a large influx of Pentecost churches into the country from the United States and these churches were not openly hostile towards Islam but were also very aggressive towards other Christian sects. However with the passing of the anti-terrorist legislation it seemed all Christian churches in Tanzania where united in combating Islam under the banner of terrorism.
The Act was therefore seen by Muslims as yet another strategy by the government to keep Muslims under perpetual bondage. The government of Tanzania had succeeded to manipulate the Prevention of Terrorism Act for its own selfish ends. The government had shifted from its long standing progressive policy of commitment to freedom, justice and equality overtime transforming itself into an â€˜allyâ€™ of the United States whose oppressive policies it once lead other African nations to oppose. This change of policy and ideological stand unsettled the established political equilibrium. It is now out of tune for Tanzania to identify itself with the people of Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kashmir. The government was able to kill three birds with one stone. First by passing the anti terrorism legislation it had found a partner in its efforts to weaken Islam and its influence in Tanzania. Second it managed to alienate Tanzanian Muslims from the rest of the Muslim world where Islam was under siege; and lastly the government managed to position itself correctly as an â€˜allyâ€™ of the United States and hence be considered legible for aid, the aid which will eventually strengthen the status quo.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act is fraught with legal defects. It is beyond the scope of this paper to go into all the shortcomings. Suffice to say that the act curbs democracy, free association, exchange of information, the right to own property, etc. There are also sections, which give the Minister of Home Affairs undue powers to declare any person a â€˜terroristâ€™ on mere suspicion. In a country where the Church controls the government, one can only imagine the dangers facing Islam. The law empowers the Minister to freeze bank accounts of any suspected â€˜terrorist organisationâ€™ or individual. Nowhere is the law frightening than in part V 28 (6). This section deserves special mention. It stipulates that:
A police officer who uses such force as may be necessary for any purpose, in accordance with this Act, shall not be liable, in any criminal or civil proceedings, for having, by the use of force, caused injury or death to any person or damage to or loss of any property.
Muslims were concerned because the parliament was being manipulated by a foreign power in partnership with the Christian lobby to legitimise oppression against them. It was now legitimate to kill â€˜Muslim fundamentalistsâ€™ or suspected â€˜terroristsâ€™ on mere suspicion. There were many good reasons for Muslims to register concern. There had been incidences in the past where state organs have used excessive force against Muslims resulting into deaths of Muslims. The act in a multi racial society like Tanzania incites racial and religious hatred against Muslims particularly those not of black African origin. The Act managed to fan fear and hatred against Muslims whipping up a frenzy of Islamophobia in the country. The smoke bombing of mosques and mass arrests of sheikhs over the years, were one of the means of intimidating Muslims and rescuing the Church from its predicament. What was there to prevent state organs from applying the Act in subverting Islam?
 The thrust and vision of the Church in East Africa was to turn Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika into Catholic states through control of indigenous governments. The Church therefore established â€˜The Islam in Africa Projectâ€™ with its headquarters in Kenya of which its specific aim was to convert Muslims to Christianity. This project was under Rev. James Ritchie advisor to the National Christian Council of Kenya. The White Fathers are in Tanzania and are still involved in the work, which brought them to the country more than a hundred years ago. The position of missionaries in Tanzania has not changed as detailed above.
 For a detailed account see Mohamed Said, The Life and Times of Abdulwahid Sykes (1924 â€“ 1968) The Untold Story of the Muslim Struggle against British Colonialism in Tanzania, Minerva, London, 1998.
 This has to be seen with this background – Muslims have clashed with riot police in Zanzibar (1988), Morogoro (1992), Mwanza (1983) and several times in Dar es Salaam. In these clashes Muslims have been killed and maimed. However not a single policemen has been prosecuted in a court of law. The most saddening miscarriage of justice was in 1998 when riot police smoke bombed the Mwembechai Mosque in Dar es Salaam in which four Muslims were killed. Following the Mwembechai crisis many sheikhs were arrested and put under custody without trail. In 2001 riot police attacked a mosque in Zanzibar during â€˜salat fajrâ€™ and the imam was killed. No investigation was carried out and therefore no one was prosecuted for the killing.In parliament debate on the Mwembechai crisis the parliament congratulated state organs in the way they had effectively and decisively handled â€˜Muslim fundamentalist. The government statement went further it stated that in future such operations to deal with â€˜Muslim fundamentalistsâ€™ would be carried out by Tanzania Peoples Defence Force. Few months later all the officers who took part in the Mwembechai operation were promoted and transferred to other areas for fear of Muslim reprisals.
 Christian converts have formed an association â€“ Tanzania Revertees Association.
 50% of Tanzaniaâ€™s expenditure and recurrent budget is donor funded.
 There is opposition in United States to the renewal of the anti-terror Patriot Act unless changes are made to provide greater protections of civil liberties.
In Sumbawanga a predominant Catholic area at one time 2000 Christians converted to Islam and in Kagera 3000. In Kagera Yusuf Makaka a pastor from the Lutheran Church reverted to Islam and converted 3000 of his followers back to Islam and built a mosque. See Mizani, 21 December 1990-January, 1991.
Thanks Natalie for good move on responding to kinana.
Thank you Nathalie for replying Kinana
I’m so grateful to Mohamed Said for the *excelllent* reminder. Such powerful information. Wishing for everyone’s safety.
Thank Nathalie for rebuking Kinana’s editorial. Evil only succeeds when good people remain silent.
Nathalie and Mohamed Said have chosen not to remain silent thus the evil perpetrated by Kinana won’t succeed. Big up to you both.
Thank you so much Nathalie for your article and setting the record straight with Kinana (this guy should release names of TZpoliticians & the elite involved in elephant poaching if he is so concerned about fighting terrorism!) Grateful for Mohamed for providing such transparent information on the ‘politics’ of Western donor funded and favorite- the filthy corrupt Tanzania govt.
The article is a mixture of both great insights and serious blind-spots on the part of the author. As far as the role Islam plays in Zanzibar’s opposition politics, Natalie position is as uncomprehending as CCM’s is irresponsible. The following paragraph makes this very clear:
“Certainly Uamsho is an Islamic party that, like all religious organisations, works both locally and globally. But religious activity should not be seen as suspect. Uamshoâ€™s political platform is both pro-democracy and pro-human-rights. That Uamsho is habitually accused of terrorism is evidence of deep anti-Muslim sentiment within Tanzaniaâ€™s ruling party.”
Let’s digest this a little. Firstly, is Uamsho an Islamic party or an Islamist party? While to me the difference is only in semantics, these two words mean different things to most people in the world. I have talked to Muslim friends who hail from the islands and they tend to denounce Uamsho as Islamist.
Second, even if a political party was just Islamic, should that make it suspect or not? Ms. Koenings argues that is should not. Above everything nothing reveals the weaknesses in the article than this position. One, let us ask ourselves: what if the party had been considered a Catholic party with an allegiance to the Pope, would that appear suspicious or not? Surely those who do not share the faith would have reasons to question which other interests are being fostered apart from the said political interests. While people can be both religious and political activists, surely it is possible to organise them without using the religious platform. That Uamsho does that IS suspect. Two, Zanzibar is not immune to the other global Islamic trends. Ms. Koenings only has to review the political and human rights practices in nations with the kind of Muslim majority that Zanzibar has and ask herself what is it that is keeping Zanzibar from following the same pattern? Only one thing: the Union. Within the Union the overwhelming Muslim majority on the islands amounts to very little, and given the religious freedoms guaranteed in Tanzania, it would have been very suspicious for Zanzibaris to pursue an overtly pro-Islamic course. It is my opinion that the calls for increased autonomy of the Islands are informed first and foremost by the need to safeguard that Islamic interest. Only CCM stands between that goal and Uamsho supporters.
Third, is CCM anti-Muslim? I have said many things against CCM but what I cannot say is that CCM is anti-Muslim. If there is one positive within CCM, however irresponsible it is as a party, is the fact that history and greed have made it a truly national party. Yes, CCM can use pro-Muslim or anti-Muslim sentiments to try to increase its support, and it has done so in the past, but CCM does not stand for anything apart from, much to our disadvantages, remaining in power. Ms. Koenings assumption that Uamsho is innocent and CCM is anti-Muslim could not have been more misguided. (Apparently the author tends to think that Lowassa is some kind of a reformer, representing some all-inclusive democratic vision. Well, even though I have declared that I am going to vote for Lowassa, one can hardly understand that degree of what I can only call ‘self-delusion’. Lowassa has CCM DNA in his blood. He also stands for nothing but power and his interests.)
Now, the religious angle aside, the article contains many positives. Natalie rightly captures CCM’s fear about Zanzibar with these words:
“Zanzibar may be a problem for CCM not because it supposedly fosters Islamist ambitions but because its people have modelled for the rest of the country what commitment to democracy looks like and what it can achieve.”
And that is why CCM could not allow CUF to take power: it would have spelled its end on the mainland too. Again, Natalie wonderfully describes why Zanzibaris (and Tanzanians in general) are becoming increasingly disillusioned with CCM:
“While tourism is obviously important, it should be remembered that, regardless of whether tourists come, most Zanzibaris lack clean water, healthcare, education, and jobs. Yet all of Tanzania has enormous human and natural resources, including gas reserves in the coastal waters. Zanzibaris are correct to suspect that there might be other ways forward.”
There are indeed other ways forward, most probably starting with the removal of CCM.
Finally, Natalie nails it when she writes these words:
“Yet extremism â€“ religious and otherwise â€“ may be more likely to come not from the population (either on the islands or the mainland) but from a ruling party that insists on separating the countryâ€™s citizens and inciting fear and distrust among them.”
As I have written before only when CCM is in real danger of losing an election will we see its true character (as a popular dictatorship.). I am not sure whether this is the year that that will happen but as a Tanzanian if I have any anxieties about violence in the election to come what I am afraid of is not what the opposition can do but what CCM will do when it emerges that it is losing the election. Zanzibar’s elections of the past come to mind. Similarly, Zimbabwe and Kenya come to mind. That is what Tanzanians have to fear at this point. While Ms. Koenings appears to completely miss the nature of the Islamic influence in politics not only in Zanzibar but also anywhere in the world, she at least makes up for that in this quite insightful comment. For that I can only say ‘thank you’.