Dar es Salaam. A foundation in honour of the life of a reformist and a man who has been described as the icon of Tanzania’s opposition politics Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad was launched in Zanzibar on Friday during an event that attracted a number of local and foreign dignitaries, including President Samia Suluhu Hassan.
Hamad, who is affectionately referred to as Maalim Seif by both his friends and foes, died on February 17, 2021, after contracting coronavirus. He was 77. Maalim Seif died when he was serving as First Vice President in the Government of National Unity in the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar. He was also serving as the national chairperson of the opposition ACT-Wazalendo party.
Named the Maalim Seif Foundation, the institution is said to be a product of cooperation between Maalim Seif’s supporters and the German foundation for liberal politics the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF), a close ally of Mr Hamad since when he was the Secretary-General of the opposition Civic United Front (CUF)
Consistent in principles
“If there is anything that clearly identifies Maalim Seif then it is his consistency in standing up for what he believes is right and his unwavering willingness to seek for reconciliation when differences and misunderstandings emerge,” President Samia, who was the guest of honour at the launching ceremony, said of her fellow Zanzibari.
Mr Hamad, who was a senior government and the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) official before launching a democratic movement in Zanzibar and then Tanzania, is credited for almost all the efforts that sought reconciliation in the isles, particularly after heated elections that placed Zanzibar on the verge of collapse.
Thanks to the political will of the sixth President of Zanzibar Amani Abeid Karume, Mr Hamad influenced the formation of the government of national unity in Zanzibar, a decision that analysts and historians have described as a key milestone in Zanzibar’s political trajectory.
Not for nothing that the theme of today’s launching of a foundation in honour of Maalim Seif’s life is entitled ‘Maalim Seif: National Unity and Reconciliation in the Construction of New Zanzibar and Tanzania.
His gap cannot be filled
Zanzibar President Hussein Mwinyi, who contested against Hamad in the 2020 presidential election and won the highly controversial polls, said during the launching ceremony that the gap Maalim Seif has left in the Mwinyi’s government “cannot be filled.”
Dr Mwinyi said of his First Vice President: “He was at the forefront in making sure that peace, solidarity and love dominate and improve in our country. He was a true reconciliation figure evidenced by his efforts to make sure that our country remains peaceful and stable after the 2020 General Election. He put the interests of Zanzibar before anything else. He was never selfish as to refuse to share his advice and wisdom to young and upcoming leaders like us.”
Mr Hamad convinced his party to join the Mwinyi’s government of national unity despite calls that doing so would sanctify the 2020 elections that both opposition parties and independent electoral observers agreed were not free and fair. ACT-Wazalendo, under Maalim Seif’s chairmanship, went to its members in both Unguja and Pemba and sought their opinions on the question of joining in the government where the majority of them reportedly agreed to the suggestion of joining.
The current Zanzibar First Vice President Othman Masoud Othman said at the launching that Maalim Seif spent almost his entire life to fight for principles that create the right leadership in Tanzania because he understood that without it people might be living in a very rich country but they and their government end up living in abject poverty.
“Without the right leadership, justice disappears and of course when that happens peace becomes a scarcity,” said Othman who served as Attorney General in the sixth Zanzibar government. “Your presence at this function [President Samia], sends a message to all Tanzanians that this is our Tanzania [and this is] how it is supposed to be built. In this way, you’ll be carrying on the inheritance left us by Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad through actions.”
An icon of political pluralism
Remembering Mr Hamad’s contribution towards the reintroduction of political pluralism in Tanzania, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, Deputy Chairperson of the FNF Executive Board described Maalim Seif as “one of the giants of African politics.”
Addressing the function via video link from Germany, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said: “[Maalim Seif] was courageous and resilient in his conviction to champion for multiparty politics in the late 1980s. Zanzibar has made significant strides in democratic governance and principles of liberty, fairness, equality and justice as the foundations of development. He was [a] respected member of world’s liberal family.”
Khalifa Said is a writer and editor for The Chanzo, covering politics and social justice. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @ThatBoyKhalifax.