The question whether the union between Tanzania Mainland, that is former Tanganyika, and Zanzibar will survive the test of time and continue to exist under the 1964 agreement is as old as the union itself.
But today, less than two years to its golden jubilee, suspicion on the future of this political marriage is increasing significantly, or rather alarmingly, leading to all sorts of interpretations.
The idea of redefining the Union has in the past attracted two major proposals from those convinced that the union setup and modus operandi, where you have the Union Government taking care of former Tanganyika and Zanzibar matters, while the Zanzibar Government handles governance issues in the isles, is too complex to work effectively and sustain the United Republic of Tanzania.
So, we have had a school of thought advocating for consolidation of the union by forming one government, while the second school has been calling for a three government format – namely the governments of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, working under a lean and less bureaucratic union government at the top. Of late another proposal has been floated, which shares much in common with the three- government’s model.
Proponents of the latest suggestion, dubbed the treaty-based union, advocate having two sovereign states “united” under a special treaty.
It is an open secret that all along the proposal of “strengthening” the union by forming a single government has never been, and will never be acceptable to Zanzibaris.
Most of them openly condemn this suggestion as an attempt to reintroduced disguised colonialism, where the perceived colonizer would be Tanzania Mainland. In fact the idea is so unpalatable that most of our compatriots in the isles consider it an insult, and a height of arrogance displayed by mainlanders who harbour a big brother mentality.
The three governments option, on the other hand, as had significant appeal from some quarters in both Tanzania mainland and Zanzibar, including some of the major political parties, MPs, professionals in various disciplines, academicians, and some members of the public.
It may be recalled that in the early 1990s a group of MPs, then known as the G55, took the issue of demanding the restoration of Tanganyika government by reorganising the union setup to Parliament. The young MPs were steadily getting some support, but the nonsense founder of the nation, the late Julius Kambarage Nyerere, intervened and nipped the “straying” parliamentary group in the bud.
There is not doubt that even the political fall of Zanzibar’s second President, Aboud Jumbe, is attributed to his attempt to legally bring changes in the union setup in favour of a three government structure. The Commission formed to look into the possibility of reintroducing multi-party politics in Tanzania, popularly known as the Nyalali Commission, included restructuring of the union by introducing three governments among its recommendations.
These cases provide evidence that this line of thinking is considered by some Tanzanians as a way forward in solving the union puzzle.
But as far as the ruling party top leaders are concerned, the above suggestions are tantamount to a plot to literally kill the union. You even have those who think the union issue is too sensitive to be debated.
It is for this reason that even the Constitutional Review Act, guiding the ongoing constitutional review exercise, clearly stipulates that the union structure is one of the no go areas as Tanzanians debate and propose the content of the envisaged new constitution.
Now with leaders like Zanzibar’s second Vice President, Seif Shariff Hamad, joining the bandwagon of proponents of the “treaty” based “union”, things are really getting more complicated. Addressing a huge rally in Zanzibar two weeks ago, Hamad reportedly made some statements which are not expected to be aired by the number three leader in Zanzibar’s government of national unity hierarchy.
He is quoted to have talked about an independent Zanzibar with a seat at the United Nations, its own army etc. He narrated how Zanzibar is an economic loser under the current union arrangement.
One thing which is certain is that Hamad knows his environment and the direction of the political wind in Zanzibar, where even children are today talking about the treaty based union as they play. There is now evidence that some seasoned politicians in the ruling CCM quietly support this new thinking.
Indeed, one is tempted to agree with those who suggest that time has come for Tanzanians to seriously engage in the postmortem of the union and chart a new way forward.
Henry Muhanika is a Media Consultant (firstname.lastname@example.org)