The UNPO News July 1997(from UNPO web)

Zanzibar: Act Now to Prevent Conflict

Zanzibaris ask, "must there be a blood bath before the international community will act?"

Tourists stroll down the narrow lanes of Zanzibar City, or enjoy the sun and beaches in one of the island's beautiful palm coves. This small island nation, which -after a brief period of independence- was united with Tanganyika in 1964, seems peaceful and, in some ways, idyllic. Not far under the surface, however, a conflict is destroying the peace and pitting Zanzibari against Zanzibari. The real danger that serious violence may break out is recognised by the government of Tanzania and by the diplomatic community in Dar Es Salaam. But with everyone's attention diverted to the bloody conflict in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), Zanzibar is largely left to slide deeper and deeper into a cycle of repression and resistance. Even the "father" of the Tanzanian state, Julius Nyerere, has been applying all his diplomatic skills to help resolve the crisis in Zaire, while refusing to get actively involved in preventing the outbreak of major conflict in his own state.

The present crisis started with irregularities before and during the presidential and parliamentary elections in Zanzibar in October 1995. These elections were the first multi-party elections since the 1964 revolution whose designers installed a one-party system and engineered the union with Tanganyika. The principal contending political parties were the ruling CCM (Chama Cha Mapinduzi) and the CUF (Civic United Front). UNPO and other international organisations, including the UNDP, monitored the elections. They found that with respect to the counting of ballots in the presidential elections, the Zanzibar Electoral Commission had falsified the results. The Commission announced the marginal victory of the ruling CCM candidate, Dr. Salmin Amour Juma, who, it claimed, had obtained 50.2% of the vote versus 49.8% for the opposition candidate Seif Sharif Hamad. CUF supporters, who felt they had been robbed of their democratic victory, started a non-violent campaign against the "illegitimacy" of the government and its president. The cornerstone of this campaign is the refusal to recognise the president and his government.

The election fraud and subsequent repression of the opposition by the government resulted in the imposition of 'sanctions' by the so-called donor countries (a number of Western governments that have been deeply involved in supporting development programs in Tanzania, including Zanzibar). All new development aid projects for Zanzibar have been suspended, and high level contacts with the Zanzibar government, especially Dr. Salmin Amour, have been avoided. These measures clearly concern and anger Dr. Amour, but have not yet persuaded him to change course.

The opposition's campaign has been largely non-violent, focusing on non-cooperation, boycotting government programs and in some cases sabotage. But increasingly, frustrated villagers who see no improvement in the situation are starting to lose confidence in their leaders and call for more decisive action including violent resistance. Unless CUF leaders can deliver some concrete results, in particular an end to the harassment by government forces, the danger of violence breaking out is nearing fast.

A particularly worrying aspect of the situation in Zanzibar is the creation of regional or ethnic division and tension. The CCM and its government's campaign of harassment has been directed primarily at the WaPemba (the inhabitants of the island of Pemba) who overwhelmingly support CUF and Seif Shamir Hamad. Pembans are fired from government jobs, refused educational opportunities and scholarships, and are harassed by government or CCM party militias.

Propaganda is pitching Ungujans (the inhabitants of the main island, also often referred to simply as Zanzibar, which is also the name of the capital city on Unguja) against Pembans. Pembans are in turn starting to show resentment against Ungujans, and the elements for an "ethnic" conflict are in the making.

The time to act is now. Once open violence has erupted, the consequences are all too familiar. The Commonwealth Secretary General initiated a mediation effort last year. It failed. Some questioned the impartiality of the Commonwealth in this instance, others believed not enough time was taken to seek a solution. In April of this year, the Peace Action Council sent a low-profile mission to Zanzibar to explore possibilities for dialogue and reconciliation. The BBC reported on the mission's extensive meetings with officials and with village people in Unguja and in Pemba, but provided no clue as to the outcome of this process, which is to continue.

Such efforts may be useful. But they will not be effective unless the governments of donor countries increase the pressure on the authorities in Zanzibar and on the Union Government of Tanzania, in particular Union President Benjamin Mkapa. The Union Government can and must take action to prevent a conflict in Zanzibar. Supporting the CCM government of Zanzibar, however attractive that may seem for the CCM Union Government, cannot but aggravate the situation. Support for the implementation of the democratic process to which all parties agreed and which the international community openly promoted is the only basis on which a solution to the present crisis can be constructed.

A fiasco in Zanzibar will not only cause tremendous suffering to the people of Zanzibar. It will also be a blow to those who believe that non-violent action can work. Zanzibaris ask, "must there be a blood bath before the international community will act?"

UNPO(Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization)

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UNPO Mission to Zanzibar;The Elections of October 22, 1995
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