A nephew, a Zanzibari by birth, raised and working for the government there had taken me down-town ‘Mji Mkongwe’ for a drink. As I sauntered outside to fetch for a mobile phone voucher, I heard gun shots. That was around 9pm. I almost froze where I stood. And those gun-shots became increasingly repetitive, making me even more nervous.
“Eh! Bwana! What is going on here,” I asked myself. When I returned to my seat, breaking the news to whoever could catch my voice, most of the chaps hearing my alarm gazed at me incredulously. They too heard the loud explosions. My nephew hastened to inform me that he had seen a group of people in a demonstration mould that night as he looked through the taxi window we had hired. He didn’t think much about it until he heard the gun shots.
But it was not until the following morning that what had jolted me in the night was actually much more serious. It was a news-report filed by a Zanzibar Correspondent for one of the TV stations on Mainland Tanzania the following morning that revealed to me things I did not know earlier. A Zanzibari group of people reportedly organised as an NGO identifying itself as “Uamsho” (wake-up call) had been the ones that had been engaging the police to “liberate” their leader currently being held by the police. They had invaded a police station and the police were tear-gassing them.
But the reporter’s camera caught quite some ugly scenes – a real battle between the police and this gang of people some of whom had set tyres ablaze. The report went even further: The “Uamsho” gang had gone ahead to torch churches of various Christian denominations. That was on Friday night. The attacks were repeated for two consecutive days then after! The questions to address here are: What does this group stand for?
Why should it attack houses of worship? What are the overall implications? What do these attacks translate in terms of national unity and cohesiveness? When I was in Zanzibar when these attacks were taking place, I happened to talk to the hotel staff, some of whom happen to be Christians.
As they spoke to me about the attacks on the churches and how those attacks affected their prayers, I could not help to fighting back tears. For once, I felt at loss and not proud any more as a national of this country. I felt ashamed that as nationals of this country we can stoop that low! ‘Uamsho’ – they told me – was a group that had registered itself as an Islamic NGO. But it was anti-Union – it did not want ‘Muungano,’ the Union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar.
Fair enough, I said to myself. But what have churches got to do with the Union? Why set them ablaze? I told my Zanzibari compatriots at the hotel that good Muslims who know their religion well would never attack Christians nor torch their houses of worship because historically it was the Christians who predicted the coming of the Prophet and it was a Christian King who received in his country early Muslims who fled Mecca from persecution by pagan Arabs.
That Christian King was called Najaf in a country then known as Abyssinia, which is present day Ethiopia. So what kind of Muslims was this ‘Uamsho’ group of Zanzibar? A replica of Boko Harram of Nigeria? Adherents of Al-Shabab? Al-Qaida? As for the group being anti-Union, my response is simple. We are now in the process of re-writing the Constitution. We will sort ourselves out in due course. But my line of thinking as always is that we are all better off as Tanzanians and not Tanganyikans, Zanzibaris, Zanzibaras, Wapemba, Wanyamwezi and so forth.
But what I consider most dangerous is the sowing of seeds of hatred within our society as nationals of this country who have lived in harmony together for ages above tribal and religious divide. Actually, the last words of the Founder President of this country, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere or his will to us as nationals of this country was never to erode the foundation of this country built on national unity above religious and tribal divide.
Mwalimu wanted us, our leaders and those who aspire to lead us to continuously fix the cracks that may appear on the wall or the national foundation of this country. We should consider this country as fragile as any other developing country, prone to degenerate into civil strife any time.
The incident in Zanzibar last weekend must be considered the last and if not the worst straw against our national existence and harmony. It is the responsibility of Zanzibari leaders themselves, especially now that they are joined in a government of national unity (GNU) to cement harmony among all groups, regardless their status, minority or otherwise.
I do not know who among our top leaders in Zanzibar or within the Union has strongly condemned last weekend’s incidents that have stirred unrest in the islands. Looked at on any angle, one sees no political capital to be gained for anyone to wear an indifferent face because at the end of the day it is in the interest of everyone towards a successful management of national diversity. Peace assumes the basic bottom line besides everything else!
On the same breath, it is the responsibility of all citizens on the islands and mainland to take these chaps torching houses of worship contemptuously, isolating them; taking their actions as a wake-up call to take care and be on the guard to safeguard national peace all the time.
Makwaia wa KUHENGA is a Columnist for this newspaper. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org