Dar es Salaam. The recently-launched reconciliation process in Zanzibar is at risk of disintegrating after President Hussein Mwinyi appointed an official that the main opposition party in the isles ACT-Wazalendo does not approve of as new director of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC).
Dr Mwinyi, who became the eighth president of Zanzibar following a controversial 2020 election, appointed Mr Thabit Idarous Faina as the director of Zanzibar’s electoral body during Thursday’s reshuffling of the former’s team of Permanent Secretaries.
Mr Faina was first appointed ZEC director by former President Ali Mohamed Shein in November 2018, a post he served until January 24, 2021, when President Mwinyi appointed him the Permanent Secretary in the Office of Second Vice President of Zanzibar.
As a director of ZEC, Mr Faina oversaw the 2020 general election that human rights organisations said was marred by “massive irregularities,” setting off a wave of violence that affected several people in Zanzibar, some died while others have remained with permanent disabilities.
Research by Human Rights Watch, for example, found out that at least 14 people died and 55 were injured, as police, soldiers, and armed men in civilian clothes teargassed and shot at crowds, between October 26 and 30, 2020, charges authorities in Zanzibar deny.
It was under Faina’s watch also that ZEC disqualified a total of 15 candidates from the candidacy for the Member of the House of Representatives, Zanzibar’s legislative body, 13 of them being from ACT-Wazalendo, now a junior partner in the governing Government of National Unity (GNU) in the isles.
Reacting to the appointment of Mr Faina as the new ZEC director, ACT-Wazalendo’s Head of Ideology and Publicity Salim Bimani said the party received the news with “huge disappointment.”
“We call on President Mwinyi to revoke [Faina’s] appointment as soon as possible if he is really committed to building political reconciliation and cohesion in Zanzibar,” Mr Bimani said in a statement.
Mr Faina’s appointment comes shortly after the Mwinyi-formed task force submitted its report on how to build reconciliation and cohesion in Zanzibar to the Zanzibari leader.
The eleven-member task force was tasked to go through the proposals raised during a three-day conference on political pluralism, which took place in Zanzibar between October 4 and October 7, 2022, on the best way to build reconciliation in Zanzibar.
Some of the proposals that the task force put before President Mwinyi concerned the need for reforms in Zanzibar’s electoral institutions.
The task force proposed that people should be allowed to apply for senior positions within the ZEC, like that of chairperson and director, doing away with the current arrangement where they are obtained through presidential appointment.
“The task force is proposing that positions of the chairperson and other members of ZEC should be announced to the public and those interested, and are qualified, should apply,” Dr Ali Uki, the task force’s chairperson, said during a function to submit its report to Dr Mwinyi during a function that took place at the Zanzibar State House on November 2, 2022.
In his Thursday statement, Mr Bimani interpreted Mwinyi’s appointment of Mr Faina as going against the spirit of the ongoing dialogue on reconciliation and cohesion in Zanzibar.
“It just shows that President Mwinyi has no plan to implement the proposals of his own task force,” Mr Bimani said in a statement. “It seems his only interest is to line up a team that will deliver his reelection in 2025.”
Ikulu keeps mum
Charles Hillary, director of presidential communications at the Zanzibar State House, told The Chanzo on Friday that he cannot “comment anything regarding the appointment of Mr Faina.”
Asked if President Mwinyi would implement the proposals by his task force, Mr Hillary also declined to comment, saying: “The President himself can answer this [question].”
Mr Bimani, however, has urged President Mwinyi to live by his own words that he has repeatedly made concerning his commitments to building sustainable political solutions in Zanzibar.
While receiving the report from his task force, for instance, Mr Mwinyi expressed his appreciation of the relationship that exists between economic prosperity and political reconciliation.
“We have to make sure that the reconciliation we seek is built on strong foundations that would make them sustainable,” President Mwinyi noted.
“This is very important,” added the Zanzibari leader. “It is very important because we cannot build a strong economy if there is no peace, unity, cohesion and reconciliation in the country.”
On Friday, ACT-Wazalendo announced that it’ll convene an extraordinary meeting in Zanzibar “to discuss the political situation” there.
In a statement, the party said the meeting, which will take place under the chairmanship of its Deputy Chairperson (Zanzibar) Othman Masoud Othman, will take place on November 15, 2022.