Saturday, 6 February 2016


Zanzibar 1950

Prof. Abdul Sheriff

Dear Salim Msoma,

Yet again, against my better judgment, I feel compelled to engage in what I have begun to feel is beating a dead horse about the past political history of Zanzibar. I agree with you that we should have a ‘broad discussion of related issues surrounding the narrated events,’ but I am struck how these ‘related issues’ are selectively used.

I assume that you are old enough to remember, as I do, the events of the ‘zama za siasa’ as they transpired, and not repeat the post-facto old wives’ tales to explain away the past.

You allege, without providing any evidence, that the constituencies during that period were divided for those elections by the British colonialists to favour ZNP which contributed to the situation we are in. Yes, gerrymandering is a time-honoured tactic as was practiced by ZEC this time, slicing off Shangani to join with Kikwajuni at one of the Stone Town,  while joining a bit of Gulioni to it at the other end.

But if what you say is correct about the earlier period, then it should apply equally to the 1957 election when the ZNP had won 22% of the votes scattered all over the two islands but did not win a single seat.

We should also remember the context in which these elections were held. After the Suez crisis and robust support for Nasser and Egypt, it was the ZNP that was seen as the enemy by the British, while ASP was at that time asking them to stay on longer to ‘educate them’ before independence. Keeping that in mind how can one argue that the British went out of their way to help the ZNP of the ‘communist’ Babu who had reorganised it to win more seats?

In fact I think it was the Coutts Commission in 1960 that had drawn boundaries for the 21 seats which I distinctly remember the ASP accepting wholeheartedly – I used to attend ASP meetings every Sunday at Raha Leo. It was not ZNP but the Indian National Association of the likes of Rustam Sidhwa, and ‘Dakku’ whose photograph which I saw hanging in the CMM HQ in Kisiwandui in the 1990s, which had proposed that the ‘Stone Town’ deserved two seats as the capital and commercial centre. It is precisely this that led to the political deadlock when the two sides had 11 seats each, that led to the second election within six months in June, and the killing of 68 people, many of them women and children.

There is a fundamental flaw in the ‘first past the post’ elections in contrast to proportional representation. In the case of Zanzibar in the early 1960s you allege ‘gerrymandering’ when the ASP got 54% of the votes but a minority of seats in the National Assembly; but we seem to be quite happy to continue with the same system which has recently given CCM 58% of the actual votes but more than 70% of the seats in the Bunge, as in all the previous parliaments, about which we do not seem to complain.

We should indeed take into consideration the ‘related issues’, but define them honestly and not merely to score ‘goli ya mkono.’ I see at least two important lessons:

1) That the two elections within six months in 1961 inevitably led to such political tensions when the parties were in a ‘kufa kupona’ mode that led to the cold-blooded murder of so many of our innocent citizens – which is the point that Mohamed Said and Sh. Fairuz are making. The lesson for us in 2016 is that calling for a rerun of the election within five months will inevitably lead to untold violence for which the responsibility will lie with the two governments, the ZEC Chairman, and the party that has been pushing him.

2) The second lesson from the last election before independence in 1963 is that all the political leaders at that time, on the eve of national independence, should have seen as their paramount duty to unite all Zanzibaris so that we enter the new era in our country’s history in peace to concentrate on our national development. A Government of National Unity was broached by some people apparently from both sides, but the national tragedy is that it did not get enough traction. But this time, it is not a situation of ‘kufa kupona’ since, by a two-thirds majority, Zanzibaris in their wisdom had accepted Maridhiano and the GNU in 2010, which means that no party loses everything.

The problem is that some people had accepted multi-partyism in 1995 ‘shingo upande’, and before they could straighten their necks, they again had to accept the will of the people in 2010 with their necks now doubly bent. It is by pandering to these people, whose slogan is ‘tumepinduwa kwa mapanga, hatutoi kwa vikartasi’ that Zanzibar and the country as a whole is being driven along this highway to disaster.

We do not need beat the dead horse of the 1960s, but to learn the relevant lessons from our history. Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it – the first time it was tragic enough; will it be farce the second time? 
Abdul Sheriff

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