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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Why half measures won`t resolve religious, other social conflicts in Tanzania

28th October 2012

It is now crystal clear to all of us that attributes which, since independence, have characterized Tanzania as an island of peace in the often troubled continent are disappearing fast, leaving behind warranted concerns and worry about the future of our country.

Only a self cheating, unrealistic and accomplished wishful thinker can continue to entertain the notion that our status as a peaceful nation is not currently being subjected to a big test.

Tell-tale signs of social instability in the making are unfolding every day. Recent developments referred to include the intraparty elections of the ruling party, which have been characterized not only by normal political friction among rivals, but by all sorts of dirty tricks, leaving behind bitter enemies belonging to the same political family.

The yawning income gap, and a situation where a few people wallow in wealth obtained under dubious circumstances while a big percentage of the population can’t make ends meet, has brewed discontent and frustration among those being shortchanged. Resulting regular workers strikes, land related conflicts, and youth riots here and there are a reflection of national peace under threat.

The most disturbing developments, however, are rising religious conflicts, reflected in the riotous ugly scenes which of late have taken place in Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam, leaving Tanzanians in disbelief as to what has befallen their motherland.
A 14-year-old boy desecrates the Koran in Mbagala suburb of Dar es Salaam, and hell breaks loose as churches get attacked and property is either destroyed or stolen.

In Zanzibar, a leader of the so called religious awakening NGO or movement disappears under unclear circumstances and riot erupts, with some of the rioters directing their attack on religious institutions and believers. All signs eventually show that there is method in this kind madness.

It is this kind of scenario which is tempting all those with national interests at heart to call on all of us to deliberate on the situation and figure out what has gone wrong. As we await a national dialogue on religious tension and its impact to peace in the country, some observations worth pondering are already being made by some compatriots, if what is being said by way of conversation among members of the public, and comments appearing in the media, are anything to go by.

You have observers who feel the country’s leadership has shown weakness in dealing with people hell bent to stir religious trouble in the land. For example, it is today common for religious fundamentalists belonging to a given denomination to attack other denominations in broad day light, during public preaching sessions, and get away with it. This kind of incitement is dangerous, and surely there are laws which can be used to book such characters. How come this is not done?

Religious media is also being used to openly stoke religious fire by writing incitement stories and airing equally dangerous programmes in the electronic media.

We, of course, cherish freedom of expression and are even crusaders of its protection. But, when this freedom is abused or used negatively, then we strongly suggest that wayward media communicators should be legally made accountable for their misdeeds. Indeed, this is another area where our administrators have been unnecessarily sparing the rod and spoiling the proverbial religious child.

There is this accusation that some religious actors are used as pawns in the political chess game. We can’t take this claim for granted when, for example, the religious awakening movement in Zanzibar is also openly demanding full sovereign status for this part of the United Republic of Tanzania. It is believed that some politicians and government officials may have been fronting the movement to pursue this hidden agenda, only to pay the price when the religious monster opted to be untamed.

It is observed as well that some politicians are nowadays playing a religious card during elections. This breed of new politicians is bound to tolerate the impunity displayed by religious agencies which can easily hold the former at ransom once the elections are over.

As noted somewhere in this column, there is more than meets the eye in the unfolding religious disharmony in the country. There is need to search for the truth in this matter and expose both direct and indirect players in the whole dirty game. The sooner we engage in this vital exercise the better for our present and future wellbeing as well as our country’s political stability

Henry Muhanika is a media consultant.

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