The IOC controversy

Something of a hornets nest was stirred up by Foreign Affairs Minister Bernard Membe when he dared to intervene in a Muslim-Christian dispute.

The Muslim people of Zanzibar have been pressing for years for Tanzania (or, at least Zanzibar by itself) to join the Organisation of the Muslim Conference (OIC). The Minister hinted that there might be some economic advantages in joining, even though Tanzania was a secular country. (For background see TA No 89).

The debate then escalated. On October 24 the Christian Council of Tanzania (CCT) called for the Minister’s resignation. His proposal would violate the country`s constitution. CCT Deputy Chairman Bishop Peter Kitula said section 19 (2) of the Union Constitution spelt out that Tanzania was a secular state and that religious issues were separated from all duties of running the country. He said the section was completely against the OIC charter (revised in March 2008) whose Section 1 (11) states: `to amend, promote, and preserve Islamic teachings and values based on modernisation and tolerance, promote Islamic culture and safeguard Islamic heritage. “We do not want religiosity here and we are not talking of any particular religion but there are people who have a hidden agenda while knowing that our constitution does not allow that.” he said.

Chairman of the CCT, Archbishop Donald Mtetemelwa, speaking on behalf of some 64 bishops belonging to the protestant churches, said that Membe was dividing the nation by pushing for membership. Bishop Stephen Munga: “We are here to defend our constitution. There is nobody, even the President, who has the authority to break the constitution. I am surprised by Membe’s move” he said.

Back tracking hastily, Minister Membe said that the government would seek the peoples’ consent before deciding whether Tanzania should join or not. It was considering two options: – registering for full membership or joining the body but agreeing only on issues of benefit to the country and its people.

On November 1 six Islamic organisations registered under the ‘Supreme Council for Islamic Institutions and Organisations’ warned the govern- ment against succumbing to pressure from Christian ministers. They said the IOC had no religious agenda and its mission was ‘development of the people regardless of their religious or political affiliation.’ Then President Kikwete stepped in and made what was described as a passionate appeal to the people to give the Ministry of Foreign Affairs time to deal with the matter. He said “The government has not made any decisions yet” – Mwananchi and many other Swahili newspapers.

Strikes and demonstrations

Several religious leaders have said that the wave of strikes, demonstrations, criminal violence and rows within the leadership of the country showed that all was not well. Talking to the press, they cautioned that remedial action had to be taken by the government since it was the result of failed promises. Auxiliary Archbishop of Dar es Salaam Methodius Kilaini, said that if this was not done things might get worse. He was supported by the Secretary General of the Muslim Council (BAKWATA) Sheikh Ramadhani Sanze who said the government must be ‘legally and politically’ answerable to the people. He also advised President Kikwete to reduce his foreign trips, especially to the USA, arguing that the country was not a genuine ally of Tanzania. A similar statement was given by Archbishop of the Lutheran Evangelical Church, Dr Benson Bagonza, who called upon state leaders to serve the state and stop ‘politicking and campaigning’ – Raia Mwema and other Swahili newspapers.

Plates of food

According to Nipashe, police in Zanzibar South region stormed a house belonging to a lady food vendor and confiscated plates of food from people, including casual construction workers, who were having lunch. After entering the house police put all customers under arrest and told them to surrender their rice plates. One of the workers said even those who had finished eating had their empty plates taken as ‘evidence’. Restaurants in the Isles are usually closed in the afternoons of Ramadhan. People not fasting are required to eat ‘secretively’ so that those fasting are not inconvenienced.

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