Zanzibar. People living in this semi-autonomous archipelago have had varying assessments of the ruling Government of National Unity (GNU) as the coalition government between Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM), and ACT-Wazalendo will mark a fourth anniversary later this year.
A random survey that The Chanzo carried out recently in various areas of Unguja, the largest island forming the archipelago, found that Zanzibaris are sharply split across party lines when it comes to their analysis of the changes brought about by the GNU.
It comes almost three years since opposition ACT-Wazalendo decided to become a partner in the coalition government after initially threatening to boycott as they were protesting the results of the 2020 Zanzibar presidential election that gave CCM’s Hussein Ali Mwinyi the victory.
A product of a 2010 referendum, the GNU was a negotiated political settlement between two parties – the incumbent CCM and the Civic United Front (CUF), a once powerful opposition party whose internal conflicts led to its split and predominance of ACT-Wazalendo.
One of the advantages that many Zanzibaris expected the GNU would offer was equality of opportunities where nobody would be discriminated against based on their political affiliations. Many of those we spoke to from ACT-Wazalendo feel this is not happening.
Ussi Ali Hija holds a diploma in civil engineering from Ardhi University and comes from a family that supports opposition ACT-Wazalendo, something he associates with his inability to secure government employment after two years of struggling to find one.
A resident of Fuoni, Hija thinks there’s no political will on the part of the ruling elites in Zanzibar to allow inclusive, discrimination-free politics to take root in the archipelago.
“I’ve applied for a job in the government for times that I can’t remember, and every time, I’m dropped because I don’t qualify,” the 29-year-old Hija tells The Chanzo. “Why I don’t qualify? Because I don’t have a CCM membership card to show off when asked to.”
Zanzibar Minister of State, President’s Office, Labour, Economy and Investment Mudrik Ramadhan Soraga was not immediately available to confirm whether he was aware of these complaints.
Hija is not alone in holding these views, though.
Maryam Hamad, 45, is a faithful ACT-Wazalendo cadre from Darajabovu who feels that her daughter’s failure to secure employment in the government as a medical doctor is connected to their decision to support the opposition.
Another ACT-Wazalendo member from Kinuni, 53-year-old Mtumwa Mohammed Juma, told The Chanzo about the discrimination she feels exists in loans to support female entrepreneurs in Zanzibar.
“They ask you to prove your membership to CCM as a condition to qualify for a loan,” Juma complained. “We never expected this to happen when we voted for the GNU. It is completely an unfair treatment.”
Beyond these complaints on the alleged inequality in the distribution of opportunities are concerns that question the structure of the GNU itself.
Many citizens criticised how the GNU is reflected at the national level only while at the local level, it is as if a single political party rules.
As it currently stands, the only evidence that the current government of Zanzibar is unitary is the presence of three members of the opposition ACT-Wazalendo: First Vice President Othman Masoud Othman, Minister of Health Nassor Ahmed Mazrui, and Minister for Trade and Industrial Development Omar Said Shaaban.
The unitary nature of the GNU is not reflected at the regional, district, and shehia levels, something that many Zanzibaris, particularly those who support the opposition, disapprove of as they think the arrangement directly associates with challenges they face.
A localised GNU?
Hamis Abdallah Madogo, a fruit seller and resident of Makunduchi, thinks, going forward, there is an urgent need for the GNU to be brought at local levels, a step he thinks is critical if a common Zanzibari is to benefit from the arrangement.
“The reconciliation stopped at the national level,” says 38-year-old Madogo during an interview with The Chanzo. “But, as citizens, our lives are local, and as far as I’m concerned, I don’t see any form of GNU here [at the local level].”
However, this concern has also been voiced by senior ACT-Wazalendo leaders, including the party’s Central Committee member Ismail Jussa who told The Chanzo recently that thanks to the arrangement, people see less value in the GNU.
According to Jussa, when the first GNU was formed between CCM and CUF in 2010, it was expected that as the arrangement remains in place, it’d go beyond the national level to be reflected at the regional, district, and shehia levels.
“Unfortunately, that has not happened,” Jussa, who has once served as a lawmaker, said during the interview on February 27, 2023, in Zanzibar. “But this has to happen, and part of our continued engagements with the government is to ensure this happens.”
On March 15, 2023, The Chanzo asked CCM’s Ideology and Publicity Secretary – Zanzibar Khamisi Mbeto, what he thinks about this proposal. He said everything is possible if there is a conversation about it.
“If we think the proposal is fundamental, we will say this is important, and we will find a way to make it happens,” Mbeto said when he toured The Chanzo. “If [ACT-Wazalendo] think that’s a good arrangement, they should come and talk to us about it.”
These views on the GNU and the improvements (or lack thereof) that come with it expressed by members of ACT-Wazalendo differ sharply from those expressed by their CCM counterparts.
Many of the CCM members interviewed by The Chanzo explained that the GNU had brought forward fundamental improvements, particularly in how people of different political inclinations relate to each other in the isles.
No more hate
One of these people is Salma Sadik, a Jang’ombe resident who is grateful that thanks to the GNU, she can visit her ACT-Wazalendo’s neighbours without fear of being attacked or rejected.
“Hate among us [Zanzibaris] was running high in the past,” the 57-year-old Sadik says of the time without the GNU in place. “I couldn’t visit my CUF neighbours because I felt unsafe. Now things are different.”
Haji Amour Ali, another CCM member and resident of Saateni, agrees that challenges may still be there but thinks that GNU is a good step in building a united nation to address common challenges.
“[GNU] has made us humans; it has made us see that life is not about politics always,” Ali opined. “It has made us value each other while appreciating our differences. That’s what matters to me.”
These differing views on the GNU notwithstanding, there is a consensus among party leaders and experts that for a politically divided country like Zanzibar, the arrangement is the only feasible solution to maintain stability in the archipelago.
At least, this was the rationale ACT-Wazalendo gave when joining the GNU after initially declining to do so. And luckily, Zanzibar President Hussein Mwinyi see value in the arrangement, especially in maintaining peace, stability, and harmony.
“Once we intensify reconciliation and harmony in our societies, we will see better than bad things for our people,” Mwinyi said in one of his numerous speeches on the essence of GNU.
“We cannot allow our country to forever go through turbulence every time we have general elections.”
Najjat Omar is The Chanzo’s journalist based in Zanzibar. She is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.