At the end of May, as discussions on the proposed new constitution continued around the country, a segment of Zanzibar’s young people turned to violence to press their views. In what the Citizen described as skirmishes, 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 between Zanzibar and the Tanzanian mainland.
President of Zanzibar, Dr Ali Mohammed Shein had a tough message for those behind the actions. “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.”
In his 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. “The destiny of our country is facing a political test right now… the root cause 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 25th we asked them to avoid violence and participate fully in the process when it starts.” 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 a tremendous contribution to our economy – 80% of our foreign exchange comes from the tourism sector and there is no way we will allow some people to play with peace….. 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… The first church in the Isles was the Anglican Church at Mkunazini. It was followed by the Roman Catholic twin towers…. There has been a high level of religious tolerance in Zanzibar”. The president assured all religious groups in the Isles that they could carry on their activities safely.
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 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, but they should follow the right procedures.