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If you want to put Tanzania’s Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda on the spot, Chambi Chachage tells Pambazuka News, just mention ‘the Zanzibar question’ – whether or not Zanzibar should retain its own separate government. Pinda recently sparked national debate by suggesting that Zanzibar is not a country, when he said that he would like to see Tanzania ‘run by a single government instead of two’. If we don’t ‘take the bull by its horns’ and resolve the Union issue once and for all, says Chachage, it will surely ‘explode’.

It is indeed a hot seat. They say it was especially set up for someone who never sat, nay, stood, on it. Indeed little did the current prime minister know, then, that he would be its first victim.

Of course I am talking of the impromptu questions and answers parliamentary sessions with the PM on Thursdays. Many a times the premier has come out of them unscathed. But there is one particular matter that tends to put him on the spot: The Zanzibar question.

Not so long ago the PM ignited a national debate when he seemed to claim that ‘Zanzibar is not a country.’ This time around, in his usual frankness, he has expressed a controversial wish. ‘God willing’, said he, ‘I would like to see Tanzania run by a single government instead of two.’

Expectedly, this statement has sparked yet another national debate on ‘The Union question’. ‘Several Zanzibar politicians,’ noted The Citizen of 1 August 2009, ‘denounced Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda’s remark.’ One of them even insisted that the PM should withdraw his statement.

In an interview with BBC Africa, Professor Abdallah Safari observed how reluctant we have been in dealing squarely with genuine grievances particularly in regard to Zanzibar’s identity and autonomy. It is this tendency to beat around the bush that renders ‘Kero the Muungano’, that is, ‘Union grievances’, a never ending issue. It’s about time now that we take the bull by its horns.

But where do we start? With the vision(s) that informed the founding fathers of the Union, that is, Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere and Sheikh Abeid Amani Karume? Or, by way of referenda, should we go to the people of the then Tanganyika and Zanzibar, that is, Tanzanians?

If we start with the former then we have to understand what end was justified by the means in which the ‘Articles of Union between the Republic of Tanganyika and the People’s Republic of Zanzibar’ were signed in 1964. Surely the quest for African Unity or Pan-Africanism was a motivating factor. But, in an ulterior sense, it was not the primary one.

To Karume, as Professor B. P. Srivastava notes in ‘The Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania 1977 – Some Salient Features, Some Riddles’, the Union was mainly ‘motivated by the instinct of political self-preservation’ as it brought strength to Zanzibar and protected them from external enemies of the revolution.

In the case of Nyerere, who had then just survived an army mutiny, the Union was mostly motivated by the need to protect Tanganyika from an impending communist threat in its doorstep. Way back before independence, he was quoted as saying that Zanzibar is ‘very vulnerable to outside influences’ and thus confessed: ‘I fear it will be a big headache for me.’

Many years later, he admitted that the ‘Act of Union’ was ‘an emergency act.’ It is not surprising then that this is the same Nyerere who became a fiery critic of those members of parliament, famously known as G55, who came up with a resolution, demanding a government of Tanganyika. What he wrote afterwards can help us move beyond the current Union structure.

In his book ‘Our Leadership and the Destiny of Tanzania’, Nyerere affirms that we could have adopted a merger with one government or a federation with three governments. ‘But’, he insists, ‘we felt unable to do so because of the small size of Zanzibar relative to that of Tanganyika.’ The latter setup, he asserts, ‘would have been too costly for Tanganyika’. But why? Because it ‘would contribute the vast bulk of the costs for running’ it on top of its own.

Why then didn’t we opt for what the current PM wished? Nyerere’s answer is as significant today as it was then: ‘A Union with one government would give the impression that Tanganyika had swallowed up Zanzibar. We had been fighting for the independence and unity of Africa; we did not want it to be thought, even erroneously, that we were introducing a new form of imperialism.’

He thus concludes his answer: ‘For that reason I opposed a one government structure.’ Surely the PM who happened to be a protégé of Nyerere could have not missed that. Who then inspired his wish for a one government? Ironically, it must be this same mentor of his. To Nyerere, a one government setup remained an option. But a three-government setup was always a nonstarter.

Thus Nyerere’s poetic book ‘Tanzania! Tanzania!’ is primarily a passionate argument about why the Union will collapse if we form a federation with three governments. Therein he insists that if we really have to change it then let us change it to a one government Union. This might have been the ultimate goal that he had in mind all along.

It may be true that ‘the founder of the Union’, as Dr Sengondo Mvungi recalls in The Citizen cited above, ‘had said that the two government was merely a transitional stage toward a single government.’ But why then have we witnessed a lot of high level reservations over the years toward the increase of Union matters in the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania?

Indeed those matters have constitutionally doubled from the original 11 in the Articles of Union. To make matters worse, as Professor Abdul Sherrif and Ismail Jussa observes in their chapter on ‘One Step Forward, Two Steps Backwards: The State of Constitutionalism in Zanzibar-2007’, out of the 17 areas covered by the East Africa Community Treaty, only four are Union matters!

In that regard the other 13 areas fall within the jurisdiction of the revolutionary government. Yet its representation in the fast-tracking of the East African Federation is as ambiguous. No wonder, as the two authors note, ‘a question that was raised repeatedly by the people of Zanzibar during the Wangwe Commission public hearings was one related to the fact that the Union government had assumed powers that are exclusively under the jurisdiction of the Zanzibar government.’

If we don’t deal squarely with these reservations they will surely pile up and explode. Perhaps in the spirit of the Nyalali Commission there is a need to hold a referendum. What do people want?


* Chambi Chachage is an independent researcher, newspaper columnist and policy analyst, based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.