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Muungano: A Much-Needed Renewal of Vows

As imperfect and flawed as the Union may be, we are stronger together!

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The Union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar has always been a thorny issue, especially on the part of Zanzibaris. However, following the recent controversy surrounding the potential contract between the Tanzania Ports Authority (TPA) and an Emirati multinational logistics company DP World, the subject has evoked feelings even among Mainlanders.

I must declare my bias; I am a unionist vehemently opposed to any actions that may lead to its breakup. As imperfect and flawed as it may be, if I can borrow the phrase used by The Remainers during the referendum for Scottish independence in 2014, we are stronger together!

The grievances surrounding Muungano stem from each side feeling that it is being shortchanged. Zanzibaris complain that Muungano infringes on their sovereignty and right to self-rule. Mainlanders feel like they are carrying the majority of the union’s weight.

The structure of Muungano is at the core of every other grievance. The current structure provides for the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar and the United Republic of Tanzania. Tanganyika’s government ceased to exist after Muungano.

READ MORE: The Meaning and Usage of Union Day Celebrations

Ideally, we could have had one government, and the plan was to gradually integrate the Zanzibar government into the union government to form one entity. The two government structure was modelled after the UK government, whereby Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have their governments, but England does not.

The idea behind this was noble and practical: to protect the interests of Zanzibar, which had a much smaller economy, land size and population than Tanganyika. Had we had a three-government system, there would have been legitimate complaints about Tanganyika contributing more to the union.

A Tanganyikan government would have also weakened the union government, greatly influencing national matters.

Therefore, the accusation that the union government is the Tanganyikan government in disguise is simply not true. Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s founding father, sacrificed Tanganyika’s identity to make the union work.

READ MORE: Samia: No One Owns the Title Deed of Tanzania

There have been calls from both sides of the union to revive the Tanganyikan government. Those calling for this should be upfront and direct and say they no longer wish for the union to exist because that would be the pending result.

The same applies to those advocating for the Zanzibari government to have complete autonomy – or mamlaka kamili – which will serve to weaken the union government. For Muungano to survive, we must maintain at all costs the superiority of the union government over any other entities.

Union Matters

There is also contention regarding what constitutes Union Matters and Zanzibar matters. The Articles of Union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar listed the following as Union Matters: external affairs, defence, police, emergency powers, citizenship, immigration, external trade and borrowing, the public service of the United Republic of Tanzania, tax, and harbour, civil aviation, posts and telegraphs.

Any matters outside of those were to be handled by the government of Zanzibar within its territory. Any addition or omissions moving forward were to be agreed upon by the Union government and the Zanzibar government.

The Articles of the Union were written in 1964, and as time goes on, changes will be needed. The best approach is to have a formal body or process for discussing possible additions and omissions to the articles.

Another complaint, originating from the Mainland side, is that Zanzibaris supposedly has extra privileges that those from the Mainland do not have. The privileges frequently include Zanzibari’s right to own land on the Mainland, while vice versa is not the case.

READ MORE: ‘Katiba Mpya’ Process in Tanzania: Past, Present and Future

Tanzania has a population of about 61.7 million, with 1.8 million from Zanzibar. The country has a land size of 945,087 square kilometres, of which only 2,462 square kilometres are Zanzibari territory.

The land size of Tanzania’s Mainland can accommodate Zanzibaris, but Zanzibar’s land size cannot accommodate all Tanzanians. With this in mind, it makes sense for the Zanzibar government to practice a high degree of protectionism over land ownership.

Trade restrictions

Mainlanders have also been complaining about restrictions imposed by the government of Zanzibar on trade and commerce in the archipelago. Authorities there have taken several steps to address these complaints, including not requiring companies already registered in the Mainland to register in Zanzibar if they want to do business there.

Business conditions can always be improved through dialogue and policy initiatives. Again, just like with land, Zanzibar will always practice protectionism. Even with this, however, there are many Mainlanders doing business in Zanzibar.

READ MORE: Samia in China: Will China-Tanzania Relations Return to 2013’s Heights?

One area that could be improved is the synchronisation of tax laws when goods come from Zanzibar into the Mainland.

During the debate over the port’s contract with Dubai, some questioned the motive of President Samia Suluhu Hassan and Minister for Works and Transport Prof Makame Mbarawa to sign the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) between Tanzania and Dubai. This agreement does not cover Zanzibari ports.

Because Samia and Mbarawa are both from Zanzibar, some interpreted the deal as a ploy by the two Zanzibaris to “sell off” Tanganyika’s properties to benefit Zanzibar. Others even questioned how a Zanzibari could be a president or a minister in the union government.

Divisive rhetorics

As good as their intentions may be, I urge those selling this narrative to realise that such rhetoric does not serve to build but rather to destroy. We have debated government contracts several times without discussing people’s identities.

Let us not open Pandora’s box, leading to further division and mistrust. Zanzibaris have the right as those from the Mainland to hold any position within the union government.

READ MORE: Here Is Why Zanzibar Is Going Solo on Its Oil, Gas Projects

My challenge to the powers that be is to recognise all signs of cracks within our union. The government should be a calming presence when it comes to matters of the union. People’s perception is their reality, and it is up to the government and all those who wish this union well to influence the positive perception of Muungano.

However, my challenge to the citizenry is to learn about our history and the events that have led us to this point rather than simply echoing the talking points of politicians and activists. The knowledge is there; we just have to take the time to seek it, absorb it then come to a well-informed conclusion.

We should not allow discussions regarding our Muungano to be dictated by politicians, who seek to create new avenues of power and activists who seek to create chaos by upending the status quo through any means possible.

Thomas Joel Kibwana is an international relations and business development expert with ten years of experience. He is available at or on Twitter as @tkibwana. These are the writer’s own opinions and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoints of The Chanzo. Do you want to publish in this space? Contact our editors at for further inquiries.

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