Dar es Salaam. The latest row between the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM) and its junior partner in the Government of National Unity (GNU) in Zanzibar ACT-Wazalendo has had pundits musing on the sustainability of the power-sharing arrangement aimed at managing political crises in the semi-autonomous archipelago.
The fall-out follows President Hussein Mwinyi’s appointment of an official that ACT-Wazalendo disapproves of as the new director of the Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC). Mr Thabit Idarous Faina’s appointment was made during the reshuffling of Mwinyi’s team of Permanent Secretaries.
At the capacity of ZEC director, 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.
It was against this background that ACT-Wazalendo criticised his appointment, urging Dr Mwinyi to revoke it, arguing that the decision does not reflect well on his commitments to building sustainable solutions to Zanzibar’s recurring political crises.
“It just shows that President Mwinyi has no plan to implement the proposals of his own task force,” Salim Bimani, ACT-Wazalendo’s spokesperson, said in a statement. “It seems his only interest is to line up a team that will deliver his reelection in 2025.”
Mr Faina’s appointment came 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.
Following the appointment of Mr Faina, ACT-Wazalendo announced that it’ll convene an extraordinary meeting on Tuesday in Zanzibar aimed at “discussing the political situation” in the isles.
In a show of displeasure, the First Vice President of Zanzibar, who doubles as ACT-Wazalendo deputy chairperson (Zanzibar), Othman Masoud Othman also avoided the ceremony to swear in Mr Faina that took place on November 11, 2022, at the Zanzibar State House.
Othman’s shirking of the ceremony, however, irked CCM, with the deputy secretary-general of the party’s youth wing (Zanzibar) Mussa Haji Mussa calling for Othman’s resignation, saying ACT-Wazalendo has no commitments to preserve reconciliation that exists now in Zanzibar.
“[UVCCM] is telling Mr Othman that if his party cannot respect our president and our government he has no reason for being the First Vice President,” Mr Mussa said during a press conference on November 12, 2022.
“UVCCM is telling Mr Othman that if he has decided to boycott swearing-in functions of government leaders he should also boycott the vehicles, salaries and other benefits provided to him by the government,” added Mr Mussa.
A dead spirit
Dr Nicodemus Minde has been researching the reconciliation processes in Zanzibar for years and he thinks that the latest row between CCM and ACT-Wazalendo proves that the spirit of the Government of National Unity (GNU) is dead in Zanzibar.
“What remains is nothing but a constitutional requirement that is at the behest of the controlling party, that is CCM, which has since the beginning shown little regard for sustained reconciliation,” Dr Minde told The Chanzo during an interview. “ACT-Wazalendo must rethink its association within the GNU now.”
Dr Minde, who teaches international relations and politics at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, in Nairobi, Kenya, thinks that the GNU arrangement was not going to be sustainable in the long run, noting that the political settlement between the two CCM and then-CUF was on convenience.
“The original masterminds of the agreement who envisioned the GNU have gone,” the researcher tells The Chanzo. “The goodwill of consociational democracy seems to weigh heavily on one party, that is ACT-Wazalendo.”
He interprets Mwinyi’s appointment of Faina as “a demonstration of the contempt and disregard of reconciliation agenda” that President Mwinyi and CCM have allegedly had for years. “Theirs is not genuine reconciliation,” he observes.
Awadh Ali Said is a senior lawyer based in Zanzibar and a keen observer of Zanzibar’s political scene. He told The Chanzo during an interview that what is happening now means GNU’s sustainability is in question.
“It just tells you how strong factional interests are within our politics,” he said during an interview. “It is a big problem.”
Said, who once served as the president of Zanzibar Law Society (ZLS), says that ACT-Wazalendo’s reaction towards the appointment of Mr Faina is just rational as ideally, you can not expect a seating president to appoint senior officials to oversee an election he’s going to be part of.
“Without mutual trust and confidence, the GNU is always going to face big problems,” Mr Said observed. “We need to put in place systems and mechanisms, informed by our own history and experience, that would ensure these two things for the benefit of our country.”