Tanzania: Uamsho debate – IS it religion, politics or a disease?

By Elias Mhegera – IS it religion, politics or a disease? This is how one could sum up the debate which was meant for discussing access to information to just end up with the Uamsho debate.

Leader of the Uamsho group Sheikh Farid Hadi Ahmed

Leader of the Uamsho group Sheikh Farid Hadi Ahmed

On Tuesday this week at the Courtyard Protea Hotel the media stakeholders and lawyers were discussing the topic “is viable constitution possible amidst inadequate information?” in the breakfast debate that was convened by the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT).

Three presentations were made one by Erick Kalunga from Daraja an NGO based in Njombe who dealt with findings on the level of access to information at district levels.

A second presentation was made by Charles Mkude from the National Organization for Legal Assistance (NOLA), who presented on the legal aspects of the constitution making process and the Bill that was amended for the formulation highlighting its strength and weaknesses.

However it was the discussant Deus Kibamba chairperson of the Jukwaa la Katiba which is an independent Constitution Forum an umbrella body of the civil society who provoked serious discussions.

For his part ‘Uamsho’ an Islamic religious awakening has turned into a political machination to voice the Zanzibaris demand for discussing the Union matter in the process of formulating a new constitution.

“I can tell you Uamsho is no longer a purely religious movement but it has been manipulated in order to fulfill political ambitions,” noted Kibamba.

Followers of the Uamsho group in one of their protest rallies

Followers of the Uamsho group in one of their protest rallies

This then became the main theme of discussion in a meeting which was predominantly made of Tanzanians from the Mainland side of the Union.

Probably the debate was sensitized by the fact that the self proclaimed religious movement has arisen after so many years of dormant operations just to gain momentum now when the Union matter is being queried by some people in the Zanzibar Isles.

Impliedly contributors noted that there must be a big wig machination behind the Uamsho affair as it was noted by one Beda Msimbe an editor with the Tanzania Standard Newspapers.

He revealed that he belongs to the Roman Catholic Church and he had an opportunity to live in Zanzibar and therefore he knows of the existence of Uamsho for more than fifty years but he has been stunned by the recent turn of events.

“I have once lived in Zanzibar it is true that these people were uncomfortable whenever they saw one attending a church this stance was quite different from other normal Muslims, but they had never attempted to destroy any property therefore I am confused by the recent happenings,” he commented.

Ms Mesha Pius a postgraduate degree student in Development Studies at the University of Dar es Salaam said that it was high time the two sides of the Union had resolved the squabbles commonly known as “kero za Muungano”.

“In secondary schools our civics teachers taught us that Zanzibar was just one of the regions forming Tanzania but when I grew up to attend a tertiary institution I was told Zanzibar is a sovereign country “within the Union” this is very confusing,” she commented causing laughter at the hall.

This then tempted one Suleiman Seif Omar the MCT the manager Zanzibar Office who said that it was not proper to assume that all Zanzibaris do not need the Union, instead he noted if a survey was to be conducted today those who are against the Union would not exceed 30 percent of all residents in the Isles.

 He assured attendants in the occasion that majority of his colleagues in the Isles were pro the Union but what they were querying was the nature of the Union and for the fact that resources are not distributed equitably to the two countries and that is the main cry of the Zanzibaris.

He also warned that the dissatisfaction was felt in the diplomatic representations where a good number of ambassadors emanate from the Mainland while there are many people from the Isles with similar or even far off better qualifications.

He was quick to add that the budget allocation for Zanzibar and many of grants from donors never reach his fellow Zanzibaris.

“But I do not see this as a justification for attacks to churches and bars because those who ambushed bars they later celebrated by drinking beers openly a sign that these are not devout Muslims,” he concluded.

But this did not resolve the matter either because participants said that it is very difficult to separate the Uamsho movement from the recent chaotic events taking into consideration that attempts to arrest a few of those who were implicated drew a massive support from other residents in Zanzibar.

On this issue Kibamba called for a mature approach from leaders of the Christian denominations because any strong statements could provoke serious repercussions of retaliations.

One journalist who preferred anonymity added that the movement might be a continuation of the Zanzibaris efforts to go alone in the Islamic world after their first attempt was interrupted when legislators from the Mainland called for the revival of Tanganyika if Zanzibar was to join the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) in 1994.

He noted that for quite some time there have been rumours that the Mainland is suspicious of the security threats if it were to release Zanzibar free. His argument concurs with the notion that Zanzibar could have turned a ‘Cuba of Africa’ after its revolution which was a concern to the US, in early 1960s but currently the main threat is Islamic fundamentalism if the same was to happen.

This theory was supported by other members who said there are big wigs of Zanzibar origin in the Uamsho phenomena from the Government of National Unity (GNU), in Zanzibar and some currently working in the Union Government in the Mainland Tanzania.

Kibamba summarized his discussion by warning that even in Tanzania Mainland there are people who say Zanzibar is benefiting more from the Union he cited the recent survey which indicated that in Zanzibar 2000 people are eligible to elect a legislator a population which is far below for the election of a councilor in the Mainland.

Concluding his remarks Mkude warned that the constitution formulation process could as well be affected by illiteracy he called for the CSOs, media and political parties to foster the peoples’ agenda otherwise the new constitution might turn up to be a tool for few individuals to satisfy their political agenda.