Zanzibar Crisis: Shein Speaks Out at Last
The president of Zanzibar vows to prevent anti-Christian attacks following a recent burning of churches. Christian leaders, however, are frustrated over the failure of the government to bring the perpetrators to justice.
By Mkinga Mkinga
05/31/2012 Tanzania (The Citizen)-Zanzibar. The President of Zanzibar, Dr Ali Mohammed Shein, yesterday had a tough message for those behind the recent violence in the Isles: Nothing will be spared in the drive to ensure they do not create chaos again in the community.Government agencies have also been directed to closely monitor the activities of all religious groups in the isles in order to ensure that they do not break the law and interfere with the right of worship of other people.
Dr Shein was speaking for the first time on the skirmishes in which a number of churches were burnt by unruly youths demonstrating under the banner of a religious group that is pressing for a referendum on the union with Tanzania Mainland.
In his no-nonsense speech, Dr Shein referred to religious groups that have “deviated from their main objectives” and warned that his government would not tolerate violence under the guise of freedom of expression. “Every freedom has its limitations,” he added.
His response came a day after a National Security Council meeting called by President Jakaya Kikwete on Wednesday at Dar es Salaam State House. At the press briefing yesterday, he was accompanied by his first vice president, Mr Seif Shariff Hamad, and several cabinet ministers.
Dr Shein said: “The destiny of our country is facing a political test right now… the root course of all of this is, of course, the new constitution. But we all agreed to have a new constitution… in our meeting with religious leaders on April 25 this year, we asked them to avoid violence and participate fully in the process when it starts.”
The government is now assessing the damage to property and churches so it can chart out plans to assist the individuals and institutions that were affected by the violence. Both governments will also beef up security.
Dr Shein said it had taken great effort to build peace and his government would not tolerate any groups that threaten the nation’s stability.
He added: “We shall protect our peace at any cost, but the government will not interfere with genuine religious activities. Those who have issues with the constitution should follow the procedures. The Constitution Review Act has been passed by Parliament and it has nothing to do with what happened here.” No demonstrations will be allowed unless they have the blessings of the government. “Peace has made tremendous contribution to our economy,” Dr Shein said. “80 percent of forex comes from the tourism sector and there is no way we will allow some people to play with peace.”
President Shein said he was disappointed by the torching of churches and spent about 10 minutes explaining how and why Muslims and Christians should live together amicably.
“Christianity is not new here… the then chief of Zanzibar allowed the first church, which was built in 1844 on land offered by a Muslim chief,” he said.
Dr Shein recalled that immediately after he was sworn in on November 26, 2010, he received a delegation of clergymen who wanted to discuss development issues and he assured them of his cooperation. “I was very happy meeting the clergymen because we assured each other of cooperation,” he added.
The president expressed surprise that the groups demanding a referendum on the Union decided to raid and burn churches, which have nothing to do with Union issues.
The Zanzibar and the Union governments have been dealing with Union matters in accordance with laid down procedures, he added, and there was no need for anyone to take the law in their own hands and try to force the issue. The two governments have been discussing oil and gas with the aim of enabling each side of the Union to own the resources independently. All people were free to debate anything of importance to them, he advised, but they should follow the right procedures.