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Zanzibari depressions

by jandsm Sun Nov 27th, 2005 at 12:55:19 PM EST

from the front page. Powerful first hand testimony. Jerome

I am writing an article right now for the Afrika Post - a German quarterly on African affairs, in which I am supposed to comment on the recent elections on the islands of Zanzibar. I am taking a break, because it is too painful to continue at the moment. This may sound strange, but writing on the Tanzanian election 2005 means to think again of the Tanzanian election of 2000 - an event that ruined my life for a long time. It is - strangely - easier to write a diary about it. So, I give it a shot and I promise it'll be interesting and informative.

In 2000/2001 I was on an exchange programme of my University in Hannover with the University of Dar es Salaam. One month after I arrived in Dar, the elections took place.


Tanzania is one of the best places to visit in sub-saharan Africa. Not only for his natural beauty...it is actually very typical that I refer to this typical European/Western way of viewing Africa through the eyes of the "discoverers". Finding natural beauty, inhabited by "good" in our days "authentic" "simple" people, there are quite a good books on the meaning of Africa as imaginatory landscape for Europeans, but since I am always for destroying as many illusions as possible, I recommend to you: Nigel Barley's "The Innocent Anthropologist". The poor guy got fired for writing it.

Anyway, I am referring to the natural beauty, because as in every other periphiceral area of the world, Tanzanians have developed tourism as an industry. Tanzania has the Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti, the very very beautiful Usambara mountains, the great Lake Tanganyika and last not least the islands of Zanzibar. Tourism of course generates only very low paying jobs, but it created an infra-structure that made this country far away interesting to go to. I was not for going to Africa and living in the lifestyle of a subsistent peasant.

Actually living in Dar es Salaam was a fantastic experience - another rotten word. Most modern African cities are largely ignored by Western media that is busy of permanently recreating the image of a backward and rural continent with drums and so on. When a friend of mine once working at an embassy in an African country which was going through a food crisis told reporters he could not show them to places with starving children because malnutrition works differently, they did not show up at all, but used "archive material". Thanks Bob Geldof: Live8 gave us the starving child as the eternal image of continent.

Dar was cool: The swahili Hip hop was just getting started and as a young city, everyone was vibrant. I never heard as many good rappers as in the greater Dar es Salaam area. People just sitting together making up lyrics was great. Dar is also a very beautiful city. The Indian quarter and the Kariakoo market are fantastic to live around.

The University is the only institution for higher learning in the country. There are other colleges, yet the UDSM is the only university. In numbers this means that only 0.16 percent of all pupils that finish secondary school, get a chance to go there. 10.000 out of 30 Mio.

On October 29, 2000 Tanzania held the second multi-party elections. Students had protested in the week before against raising cost of living on a campus where 4-6 of them were normally sharing a 2-bed-room. I was out that night for a concert and I came back to campus at around 5 a.m. As I passed through the dorms entrance I read a new declaration by the UDSM administration that the University would be closed for an undetermined period of time. All students (except foreign) were orderd to leave the premises of the UDSM by 10 otherwise, the military/police would clear the area.

I went to bed and when I woke up, everyone was gone. It is strange to see a campus emptied. Matraces all over the area, garbages, but most of all: silence. So I thought: this means living in an authoritarian state. Then again, Tanzania is far from this. It became independent and developed under the guidance of Julius Nyerere into a heaven of peace and a save haven for refugees. Nyereres economic policies didn't work out fine but he and the political system he designed managed to create a stable and peaceful society. He even stepped down 1985, something unthinkable for many leaders of the founding generation. Since then, Tanzania has seen an exchange in the political leadership every 10 years. Elections are held every 5 years but Ali Hassan Mwyni and Benjamin Mkapa got reelected for a second term. It is extraordinary that such a change of leadership works in sub-saharan Africa. Even though all presidents were members of the fromer single party Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM). Yet, there were tough contests within the CCM.

1995 was the first multi-party election. The CCM did not loose his overall control in the country was only small parties emerged. The exception was Zanzibar - and things went downhill from there.

First, it is important to understand that Tanzania is a  federation. Mainland Tanzania became independent as Tanganyika. It was a British mandate territory. Tanganyika together with Rwanda and Burundi formed the German colony of German East Africa, one of the more shamefully exploited colonies (this year is the 100s anniversary of the Maji Maji war)

Zanzibar was a formally independent Sultanate. It was one of the centers of the Swahili culture that  dominated the East African coast for a long period of time. It was part of the great system of the Indian ocean commerce and migration. The Sultanate was finally set up with the moving of the Sultun from Oman to Zanzibar. The economic backbone of Zanzibar was the production of spices through a slave based economy and slave trade to the French colonies. Zanzibar became part of Britains informal Empire in the late 19th century.

Later, many people wrote of the differences between the Arab elite and the Africans. But you have to remind yourself, that these group identities were very complex and the greatest slave trader of his age was Tiputip, and he ould have fallen in the category "African". Zanzibar through his exploitive economic system with sharp income diversity developed as it included racist elements an explosive political and social crisis. Another similar example is Rwanda: Feudal system that implemented colonial rule (British), a racist dimension, social conflict.

Independence came with an explosion: In 1964 a so called "revolution" took place on the islands of Zanzibar. In effect, of a population of 400.000 betwenn 15.000 and 40.000 were murdered, and a socialist state was created. All propery was nationalised. The killings took place in an instigated but not organized way. Again, a striking similarity to Rwanda.

Nyerere realised the situation on the small island not far away from Tanganyikas coast was getting out of control. Because he wanted no "African Cuba", he pressed through a unification, the United republic of Tanzania. It worked out, no one wanted to talk about the killings, and everything was forgotten - at least outside of Zanzibar, where nothing was forgotten, or forgiven.

This explains the different political frameworks in the Union. Zanzibaris were never quite happy with the unification. There was always a struggle about resources and participation. Other regions of Tanzania thought the 600.000 Zanzibaris being privileged to the 29 mio. mainland Tanzanians.

In any case, it was on Zanzibar, that the CCM got a true political challanger, threatening to win a majority in the Zanzibari parliament and cutting of the CCM's elite access to the resources and the beginning revenues of the tourism sector. The Civic Unites Front lost only by a few hundred votes in 1995 and claimed the vote was stolen. Probably, they were right.

I got into all this after the UDSM was closed. I moved to Zanzibar to work for three month as an Intern, developing a strategy for cultural tourism. The 2000 election was even more obviously rigged than the one in 1995. Voter registration was corrupted, the vote was even interrupted in several voting districts. The CUF called for 100 days of peace to negotiate a solution.

I am careful not to charactarize the CUF. It can be safely said it is a nationalist Zanzibari party. It claims to be democratic and pro human rights.

The 100 days ended in January 26. On that morning, the CUF hold demostrations in Dar es Salaam and in Stone Town, the ancient capital of the Zanzibari Islands. Stone Town, a world heritage site, was surrunded by police forces.

Human Rights Watch sums up, what happend next:

Some of the worst violence on January 27, 2001, occurred in Wete town in northern Pemba. Although exact numbers are not known, Human Rights Watch was able to confirm that security forces killed at least thirteen people, wounded 213 and detained over 400 participants in the demonstration. Wete is a town of nearly 10,000 people in northwest Pemba. As the home area of the CUF leader Seif Shariff Hamad, it is often portrayed by CCM as the center of political opposition.[...]

in Micheweni:

Several police climbed into nearby trees and shot down into the crowds.74 Behind the police station, a young man who had been heading towards the demonstration was shot in the leg. "People were falling down like chickens that have been poisoned," one observer said.75 Although police had already begun to beat demonstrators, and several demonstrators had already been shot, witnesses told Human Rights Watch that they observed the district commissioner, Ramadhan Shaib, emerge from his house flanked by four policemen during a lull in the violence, and order the police to use force.76 Some fifteen to twenty-five police officers were lined up in two rows in front of the police station. The first row knelt down and took aim, while those in the second row remained standing. The police first fired into the air, and then directly into the crowd of demonstrators.

At Chake Chake, security forces fired into the crowd, beat, harassed, robbed and raped demonstrators and local residents. Human Rights Watch believes that about five people were killed while over one hundred were injured, and fifty-seven were arrested. The town, with a population of 10,000, is the regional administrative center for southern Pemba and a major crossroads. Demonstrators were instructed to gather five kilometers north of town at Gombani Stadium and march at 8:00 a.m. to the Tibirinzi football field just north of town center for a rally by local CUF officials.

The fourth demonstration, planned for the capital city of the islands, Zanzibar Town on Unguja Island, was prevented from occurring, and was also put down violently. Again, exact figures were not available, but Human Rights Watch believes that at least five people were killed by the police; in addition, some 373 were arrested and over 300 were injured. Police arrested anyone found outside their home, and hundreds of residents were beaten by police within their own homes, as well as in police stations, the courthouse and the jail.

It felt to be inside the police cordon. The houses of Stone town often have open roof tops. I was with my boss on his roof in the center of Stone Town. We could hear thedemostration approaching Stone Town due to the chants and everything. Then the Shooting started. It was weird. For more than an hour shots were fired, more and more distant, as the police forced the demonstrators away from the city. I am not going into detail about what we saw, but the afermath was gruesome. The city was in a state of shock. The streets empty. Then special ships with reinforcement landed on Stone Towns main beach [link].

As one of the very few whites in the city, I was able to move freely as the rest of the city was under curfew, I was together with a friend able to walk through this traumatised city, basically being traumatized myself. We got all the rumors. Indeed, the police helicopter from Dar had dropped bombs on boats with fleeing civilians, hundreds were reported missed.

The strangest thing happend at lunch time. The MS Berlin - a luxury cruiser - arrived and all the passengers, mostly Berlin, were led through the empty city - wondering where people were. It was disgusting.

I left Zanzibar 2 weeks later to work at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, but the screams and the shots have haunted me ever since - though my therapist thinks, I have an early childhood traumatization. I am not that sure about this one.

In the aftermath of the 2000 elections a peacr process, MUAFAKA, was started, but one has to admit, it failed. Apparently within the CCM there is a rift between at least two different factions. Outgoing president Mpaka called for peace and reconciliation, admitting mistakes, while another wing is taking a hard line.

The 2005 elections were different. All union elections were postponed after the natural death of a vice-presidential candidate. Yet the elections on Zanzibar went ahead on October 30th. Even before there were again violent clashes. Oppositon groups put out legitimate claims about violence and torture [link]. Again, the elections ended with a "clear" CCM victory. In the subsequent riots, at least 9 people were killed. The difference was that this time the international media was there. Last time, there was nobody. When we filed a report at the German Embassy, they had already been briefed by the Government of Tanzania. And that was that.

I don't know what is going to happen next. December will see the rest of the elctions and who knows? All I know is that something is going seriously wrong.

Personally, I decided not return there. Even though - again - Tanzania is a great example how much can be done right in Africa, there is also a dark side to it.

My hope is at some time people will recognize that behind the walls of the Robinson Clubs and beyond the Safari resorts, real people are in a real struggle for democracy and participation. They are desperate, getting tortured, being hungry, getting killed. Their fight is ours, too.

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Thank you jandism for sharing your experience here. It is difficult to respond to it - interesting just doesn't cover it. It has so many levels, guess will have to chew and ponder and digest first.
by Fran on Fri Nov 25th, 2005 at 05:50:10 AM EST
Yeah, quite a brainful.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 25th, 2005 at 05:59:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I spent about five minutes trying to make a comment earlier and gave up.  I just recommended instead.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Nov 25th, 2005 at 06:02:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Excellent, fantastic, and...difficult story. Super well written, thank you. As I have a growing interest in Africa, this is fascinating and informative. So complicated.

And by the way, I have worked with trauma for years (personally and professionally), and actually am writing on trauma after disaster right now...and included in disaster is conflict. The definition of trauma is literally that a person directly or indirectly experiences a life-threatening experience (included in this is: witnessing), and experiences a sense of horror or terror about this event. It is NOT a mental illness, it IS a normal reaction to an abnormal event. Of course, if a person doesn't have a chance to sort it out, these kinds of things can definitely cause problems.

And I think writing and talking about it can be very helpful in sorting this out. I respect you for sharing the experience with us. Its tough stuff...hang in there!

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia

by whataboutbob on Fri Nov 25th, 2005 at 06:47:32 AM EST
is the best book ever written on earth.

Forget about el Quijote, or Shakespeare, or whatever..
Barley is the best of the best!!!

I am dead serious, the innocent anthropologist is a very special book for me....

I will encourage everyone to read it.. it may be not the best book in the world for you.... but you would love it for sure (this is what a I call managing expectations down).

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Fri Nov 25th, 2005 at 08:27:21 AM EST
...the diary is....

Amen my friend

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Fri Nov 25th, 2005 at 08:35:24 AM EST
Sharing (as Fran said) is the appropriate word. Thanks for sharing, jandsm.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Nov 25th, 2005 at 09:06:38 AM EST
Thank you. What more can I say?

Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
Czeslaw Milosz
by Chris Kulczycki on Fri Nov 25th, 2005 at 10:27:49 AM EST
Grerat diary - sad story.

I fully agree on your last paragraph - and I am rather disgusted by all the 'teen adventure' travelo-'documentaries' on the various channels, and by blind rich tourists who think they are in Disneyland.

(Someone I know once traveled with friends to Peru. Being cheap Eastern Europeans, the plane ticket ate up most of their budget, and they travelled, ate and [when not in tents] slept like the locals. Two things he told: one, when they were in the capital, there have been Indio protests and clashes with the police; two, both rural and city people hated American tourists to the core - openly behind their backs, expressed in the form of surcharges when they sold to them something.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Fri Nov 25th, 2005 at 11:37:51 AM EST
(I should add that this anti-American-touristicism, maybe focused on Americans because of their dominance in numbers among Western tourists in Peru and association with US government policies, was entirely the locals', not that of the source of the story. The latter is/was kind of an USA-lover, and his longest global-tourism-on-the-cheap visit was to the USA, earning his money working at some summer camp.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Nov 25th, 2005 at 01:52:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think most Americans realize the true horror of, among other things, our drug prohibition policies and what they've done to Latin America -- particularly the Andes nations.  Our spraying of herbicides alone has wreaked havoc on people's health and agriculture.  In Peru, it's widely believed by the locals that we've tested mycoherbicides there which has spread a fungus that's still keeping some areas from growing anything.

Maybe we can eventually make language a complete impediment to understanding. -Hobbes
by Izzy (izzy at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Nov 26th, 2005 at 02:05:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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