Election parody breeds a Zanzibar at bay

03Apr 2016
Ali Nassor
Guardian On Sunday
Election parody breeds a Zanzibar at bay

WHEN Dr Ali Mohammed Shein was sworn in to his second five-year Zanzibar presidential term on March 24 following a 91.4 per cent victory over his presidential rivals in the controversial election rerun in the previous four days, the public was awash with curiosity.

Maalim Seif Shariff Hamad...elections was in 2015.

As to the fate of Zanzibar under the new government that appeared to share nothing in common with the previous one, but the president and the party that imposed him.

It signalled reinstatement of a one-party state run by presidential decrees disguised as parliamentary laws passed by an entirely ruling party Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) law-making body.

But as the perplexed public was pondering to answer the paradoxical question about the government of the same party under the same president being expected to lead the hitherto undefined country, signs were rife over the expected state of affairs, not only in the Isles, but also in the the Mailand.

They had emerged right from day one when chairman of the Zanzibar Electoral Commissions (ZEC) Jecha Salim Jecha unilaterally, or rather, at the behest of the supreme masterminds in CCM hierarchies, declared the October 25 election null and void, citing the obviously cooked-up motives.

It was clear that the calm and stable Zanzibar would be no more as Jecha’s pronouncement re-split the Isle’s population into two bitterly antagonistic factions.

He had spit on the face of an equally populous faction of electorates who had protested against the old government through a ballot box. But a government ruling over such rebellious people will have to resort to endless measures of defending itself from the enemy subjects who believe they have nothing to lose, come what may.

It is a point of no return, according to the leader of Russia’s October 17 Bolshevik Revolution, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, who said that when the ruled resist the old ways of being governed, and when the rulers are no longer able to rule as in the past, it is the sign of a revolution.

Under such circumstances he led and won the popular revolution over the absolute feudal monarchy that had already resorted to Machiavellian way of defending itself, that is, eradicating political opponents by all means in order to stay in power.

No doubt Dr Shein is aware of this, especially because he studied in a Soviet university when Leninism was part and a compulsory parcel of the academic curriculum. But as a Zanzibari, Dr Shein may also discover a mirror image of dynamics that surrounded the 1964 Zanzibar revolution in the prevailing circumstances.

But he is also no stranger to the Machiavellian approach as at least 70 opposition stalwarts found themselves behind bars days prior to the election rerun.

Citizens who were suspected of harboring wrong thoughts were either confronted with physical assaults and institutionalized harassment or intimated with the scenes of soldiers armed to the teeth and licensed to maim and kill anything that would attempt to move at the politically non-sanctioned direction.

The horrified folk had to stay calm to give way for a landslide democratic victory to a president of the ‘non-entity’ part of the union. They seemed to have been waiting for the army to go back to barracks, before they start a fight in a clandestine manner reminiscent of ethno-regional zealots, likely to be branded terrorists.

This was mostly the situation in Pemba Island, the Zanzibar opposition stronghold whose growing influence was proved by the annulled October election when the Civic United Front (CUF) captured the traditional strongholds of CCM in Unguja.

Given the monopolistic stance of the people of Pemba on clove plantations, the backbone of the Isles’ economy, they are more likely to engage in a war on Shein’s government through a sabotage on the industry in the form of either poor production or smuggling.

Shein’s government will have to strengthen its anti-smuggling marine force, known as KMKM, to prevent massive clove smuggling, something that will require extra funding from the government whose financial resources are strained.

But the people who would be constantly showing their discontent to the government in power will also drive Zanzibar into social instability, a major deterrence to the tourism industry, the Isles’ second foreign currency earner.

Therefore, with the crumbling clove and tourist economies exacerbated by sanctions from foreign donors who contribute 40 per cent of the Isles’ annual budget, economic downfall in Shein’s Zanzibar is neither a question of if nor of when but of a rule devoid of exception.

But prior to reaching such inevitable heights, Shein’s government will have to allocate a handsome slice of its severely starving budget for security and defence from the enemy citizens to consolidate his power.

However, it will be fighting the neo-opposition who will have adopted new strategies typical of the despaired people in an overwhelming Muslim archipelago.

While it is still a guess as to where they will have to borrow ways to fight the new system is everyone’s guess, the opposition chief, Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad, has given a hint.

Having foreseen the direction of the wind following Jecha’s cancellation of the October 25 election results, he washed his hands through constantly telling the troubled public to stay calm while he was engaged in negotiation with a team of the very masterminds of the election parody, knowing for sure it was going to fail.

But he emerged a winner as he won the hearts and minds of international players that he was indeed a man seeking peace in the islands that were in the verge of a civil war.

Given Zanzibar’s status as an overwhelming Muslim archipelago, his target were the superpowers who are fond of branding “terrorists” any Muslims fighting the Western political brands. He made a shield for himself against the awaited social in the Isles.

He also wrote Pope Francis a letter asking for his intervention in Zanzibar impasse in what appeared strange to the local public who were quick to dismiss his move as senseless.

In fact it was about sending the Pope, as a religious personality with an influence over the Catholic oriented Union government, a message that “no bad name should be given to a dog” to be born of the Isles’ election impasse.

It was like telling both the West and the Pope, “you either support the will of the majority in Zanzibar to avoid the kind of troubles typical of Muslim countries in such a quagmire, or leave the ball in their court, and face the consequences.”

Now the West was in a dilemma whether to support the opposition in the autonomous part of the United Republic that does not have the status of a nation and that would not be given power anyway and lose the confidence of the hosting country that has more to offer, or support the later to safeguard the longstanding interests with a country under whose control is the situation in Zanzibar.

The West, in disguise of the international community, opted for a middle preference, supporting the Zanzibar opposition solely from the moral democratic point of view, indirectly backing the CCM government in Zanzibar through applauding the new Union government for everything, but its stance in the Isles conflict, with crackdown on corruption and austerity measures overshadowing Zanzibar issue.

For the Western friends economic interests speak louder than democratic rhetoric. They fight terrorists not because terror mongers kill innocent people, but because they kill their interests.

So if at all they support opposition in Zanzibar is mainly because the anticipated wave of terror in the isles will also threaten their interests in the Mainland.

As Zanzibar will be systematically locked up in socio-economic and political crises, the equally quaked Union government will have to emerge fully-fledged to the aide of its man to share the costs of keeping the government it had installed.

Zanzibar dependency on the Union government will be fully consolidated, reawakening the anti-Union sentiments in the Mainland, following complaints that the former would be surviving at the expense of the equally donor-forsaken brethren.

Bitter history in both parts of the Union will have to repeat, only with more vigor in the Isles than on the Mainland.