Is history about to be repeated with Pemba?

Monday May 26 2008


Tanzania, to the outside world, is a heavily indebted poor country with its 39 million people struggling to make ends meet so as to clothe, house and feed themselves.

However, what many people are not aware of are emotions simmering underneath the surface, and now manifested as a groundswell of public opinion that may develop into discontent of disastrous proportions.

For quite some time now, Tanzania has successfully presented the image of a united republic enjoying political stability and relative security. This was not particularly difficult in the years following the April 26, 1964 Union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar.

Adulation of the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere combined with his charisma, austere simplicity and honesty to rally the people behind him.

How the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi and its successive governments have managed to sustain this in the post-Nyerere regime is a near-mystery. However, that this is now unravelling is not surprising.


Today, the people of Pemba — the other major component of the Isles of Zanzibar together with Unguja — are clamouring for autonomy on the ground that they find no equitability within the Union — and even within the Zanzibar government as constituted especially beginning with multiparty politics in 1992.

PEMBA IS THE STRONGHOLD OF THE Civic United Front, CCM’s political nemesis on the Isles. In the past three multiparty elections beginning 1995, neither party seems to have won power outright. We guardedly say seems because all the elections have ostensibly been won by CCM — but the results have been hotly disputed.

When the ruling party’s government is the rules-maker, groundskeeper, accuser/complainant, prosecutor, judge and executioner, this is not particularly surprising. Observers have invariably expressed deep reservations about the electoral processes, from voter registration to vote counting/tallying and general security.

IN THE EVENT — AND FOLLOWING Mwalimu’s post-1995 elections call for a national unity government in Zanzibar — three attempts by the protagonists (CCM, CUF) at political accords have borne no fruit. The latest is the most controversial, with the protagonists accusing each other of bad faith, sabotage, name it.

Not only that, Pemba wants out of the Zanzibar government and, by extension the Union. Dar is not taking this lightly. In fact, it is accusing the Pembans of planning mayhem and treason.

Dozens of Pembans were taken into custody under interrogation. Where, when or how this will end is still unclear.

Members of academia, political opposition and the press see this as a storm-in-a-teacup, the kind caused by old-fashioned failed politicos scrambling to make a mark in the sunset of their public life.

But it could be worse. Historically, rulers have inadvertently fomented rebellion that devastated the people.

In a lighter vein, there apparently was a People’s Republic of Pemba before, complete with its own national flag, that lasted a few days from January 18, 1964. Details are scanty; but Franc van Diest’s website, and images posted by Barghash Barghash/Jarig Bakker on February 1, 2005 are interesting.

Pemba Island State was established before 1550, falling under Omani sovereignty circa 1750 — and Zanzibar later.

One wonders if history repeating itself always is a bad thing.

Karl Lyimo is a freelance journalist based in Dar. E-mail: [email protected]