Masked soldiers patrol streets ahead of Shein’s inauguration

24Mar 2016
The Guardian Reporter
The Guardian
Masked soldiers patrol streets ahead of Shein’s inauguration

SECURITY is tight in Zanzibar ahead of today's inauguration of president-elect Ali Mohamed Shein after the disputed March 20 elections, with masked soldiers patrolling the streets as security forces came out in force to keep the peace.

The unusual sight of heavily-armed masked soldiers is part of a huge security operation underway for Shein’s swearing-in ceremony expected to be held at the Amani Abeid Karume stadium.

Witnesses said the masked soldiers started patrolling the streets in the run up to the disputed re-run elections on Sunday, which were boycotted by the main opposition Civic United Front (CUF) party.

One Zanzibar resident who asked not to be named said the face-less soldiers have been nicknamed as “zombies” and were a source of both fascination and fear among locals in the sleepy archipelago.

“Why are these soldiers wearing masks? … What are they hiding?” Asked one businessman along Zanzibar’s usually bustling, but now deserted, Darajani Street.

President John Magufuli is expected to be among the dignitaries who will witness Shein’s swearing-in ceremony.

Security has been scaled up in Zanzibar after a spate of sporadic post-election bombings.

One of the explosions targeted the home of a Zanzibar police commissioner and police said they have arrested more than 70 suspects linked to acts of violence.

Home Affairs minister Charles Kitwanga said yesterday that security forces, who were deployed in Zanzibar before the election rerun, will remain there “until we are satisfied that the situation is back to normal.”

Days before the tensely-awaited polling day, large numbers of heavily-armed security force personnel – including soldiers and policemen -- were seen landing in the islands in the wake of a series of violence that had hit parts of Unguja and Pemba.

The violence included the torching of offices belonging to both the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) and the CUF parties, as well as residential properties.

Kitwanga asserted that though the election went peaceful, security forces will not move from the isles until the situation normalizes.

The home affairs minister made the remarks when briefing newsmen in Unguja Island at the police headquarters on the overall security situation in Zanzibar.

He said patrols by armed security forces will continue to be conducted and warned Zanzibar residents from provoking the police or engaging in any acts of violence, saying the government’s security personnel will not spare anyone.

“They will continue to execute their duties as normal although the election is over ...I take this opportunity to caution residents to refrain from violence and maintain the peace,” he said.

When asked when security forces would be recalled to their headquarters in mainland Tanzania, Kitwanga said he was not in a position to divulge such information for security reasons.

He warned that security forces in Zanzibar would continue to remain alert and ready to combat any acts of violence that may occur.

“The people of Zanzibar have everything to be proud of as they worked hard to see that the election exercise ended peacefully,” he said.

He said some 73 people who were arrested on allegations of taking part in violent activities before the election would soon be taken to court.

The minister said the government wound ensure security is enforced at today’s presidential swearing-in ceremony in Zanzibar.

Zanzibar’s top police officer last week confirmed that soldiers from the TPDF were reinforced in Zanzibar and would work with the police during and after the polls in the ongoing security operation.

Zanzibar Police Commissioner Omar Makame said security forces were not in the isles to intimidate people, but to ensure peace prevailed.

The move to deploy a heavy presence of security forces in the islands was roundly criticized by the CUF, which accused the government of transforming Zanzibar into a police state.