• No_Ads
World
Zanzibar's religious tensions threaten unity, economyPublish Date: Dec 15, 2013
Zanzibar's religious tensions threaten unity, economy
  • mail
  • img
Azzan Khalid Hamdan, a leader in Uamsho, walks at home in Zanzibar while out on bail from prison, where he and other members of the organization are being held on charges of disrupting national security in Zanzibar on November 18, 2013. PHOTO/AFP
newvision

ZANZIBAR - Zanzibar and its palm-fringed beaches appear idyllic, but rising religious tensions marked by brutal killings and acid attacks are threatening the tourist industry upon which the east African archipelago depends.

After years of peaceful religious coexistence on the majority Muslim island, in August two British teenage girls who had been teaching in a school were doused in acid and severely burnt.

Attackers on a motorcycle reportedly threw the acid in their faces, prompting Zanzibari officials -- who described the attack as "a shame on the people of Zanzibar" -- to offer a sizable reward for information leading to the arrest of the suspects.

But little progress has been made, and the girls' frustrated families have complained of a lack of urgency in the case.

The incident was not isolated.

In the narrow and winding ancient streets of Stone Town, the UNESCO-listed historical centre of the capital of the semi-autonomous Tanzanian archipelago, attackers have also thrown acid into the faces of religious leaders, both Christian and Muslim.

While out on a morning jog last year, Sheikh Fadhil Soraga was attacked with acid by an unidentified assailant.

A popular Muslim cleric, Soraga has been a voice of tolerance and moderation at a time when radical elements of the Muslim community are becoming an increasing concern.

"He threw acid on my face, he targeted the eyes.... The acid fell straight from the eyes and down the neck, burning the chest. It was a very, very serious attack," he told AFP.

Since that attack there have been at least four others on the island. In February a Catholic priest was also shot dead, and several churches have been torched following violent protests.

Soraga said young Muslims appeared to be taking an extremist path.

"We are all Zanzibaris, we are all Tanzanians, we have to respect each other's religion, each other's ideology," Soraga said.

"This is what Islam teaches, but most of the modern Muslim youth, they don't know about this -- they take any Christian, any non-Muslim, as an enemy."

Influence of global jihad

After the Assemblies of God church was burned last year, a flag of the hardline Islamic group Uamsho, Swahili for "The Awakening", was raised over the ruined structure.

"There is this global jihad spirit happening all over the world, so it affects some parts of Africa, like in Zanzibar," said Dickson Kaganga, a bishop in the Assemblies of God in Zanzibar.

"There are some few people who think that Islam is the only religion that has the right to exist here."

Uamsho has recently evolved from a religious charity into an Islamist political movement, and, while still a minority group, they are seen as growing in influence, especially among disaffected and jobless youth.

Though they deny involvement in any of the attacks, they have widely succeeded in funnelling cultural and political tensions into support for radical Islamism.

As Zanzibar approaches the 50th anniversary of its union with mainland Tanzania next year, some in opposition political parties also want to break ties and return to independence, a secessionist cause radical groups like Uamsho are also exploiting to win support.

"The youth here is used just as a tool for Uamsho to get their position," said Zanzibar's police commissioner Mussa Ally Mussa, who is keen to downplay the problem as a "really small group" who want to exploit wider tensions.

"Sometimes they are used by the opposition party, so for Uamsho now, their objective is to break out from the union," Mussa added.

But Azaan Khalid Hamdan, Uamsho's second in command, dismisses charges it is behind the violence and rejects accusations of ties to Islamist groups in Somalia, home to Al-Qaeda-linked Shebab insurgents.

"Uamsho is not doing the attacks on churches and Christians," he said. "We don't have any hate against Christians, we don't have any enmity against Christians.... Our religion guides us into preaching good things including tolerance and unity.

"Who is behind the attacks? I don't know. Uamsho has not such policy," Hamdan added. "We continue to help the government with their investigation into the incidents, and who is behind them."

Officially unemployment on the islands is 34 percent, but officials say the real rate is much higher, with warnings that a drop in tourism amid fears over the unrest could make the situation worse.

"As the tourists are being attacked and religion is becoming tense, this will give a bad name to Zanzibar, and lead to a poor economy," Hamdan added.

Amid economic hardship, radical Islam is likely to remain an attractive outlet for the unemployed and discontented, pointing to continued trouble ahead in Zanzibar.

AFP

The statements, comments, or opinions expressed through the use of New Vision Online are those of their respective authors, who are solely responsible for them, and do not necessarily represent the views held by the staff and management of New Vision Online.

New Vision Online reserves the right to moderate, publish or delete a post without warning or consultation with the author.Find out why we moderate comments. For any questions please contact digital@newvision.co.ug

  • mail
  • img
blog comments powered by Disqus
Also In This Section
Body of first caller from S. Korean ferry found
The body of a high school student who made the first distress call from a sinking South Korean ferry was recovered from the submerged vessel on Thursday, news reports said....
South Africa
In the bowels of Africa's largest hospital, doctors carry out emergency surgery by the light of a cell phone while, on a nearby ward, seriously ill patients are sardined three-to-a-bed....
DRC team to travel to Uganda over M23 amnesty
A delegation from DR Congo is expected in Uganda on Friday to oversee arrangements to enable former M23 fighters sign forms denouncing rebellion as a precondition to receiving amnesty....
Obama in Japan says
Barack Obama Thursday told a press conference in Japan that islands at the centre of a bitter territorial dispute with China are covered by a defence treaty that would oblige Washington to act if they were attacked....
Formula One:Ecclestone - F1
Bernie Ecclestone started out as a simple second-hand car salesman and went on to transform Formula One into one of the most profitable sports in the world....
Kiir sacks army chief after rebels seize oil hub
JUBA - South Sudan''s President Salva Kiir sacked his army chief on Wednesday after rebels seized a major oil hub, unleashing two days of ethnic slaughter in which the UN says hundreds of civilians were massacred....
WIll the national ID registration process be completed in the scheduled 4 months timeframe?
Yes
No
Can't Say
follow us
subscribe to our news letter