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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Zanzibaris in Tanzania

View Group Chronology

Tanzania Facts
Area:    945,087 sq. km.
Capital:    Dar es Salaam
Total Population:    30,616,000 (source: unknown, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The situation in Zanzibar is difficult to assess. In June 1999, the opposition CUF and the ruling CCM signed an agreement to end their political conflict. The agreement provides for more autonomy for the island, the inclusion of the opposition in the ruling cabinet and an overhaul of the judiciary. The opposition CUF agreed, in turn, to recognize the CCM government and return to parliament. Zanzibar was to gain greater autonomy in exchange for recognizing and cooperating with the CCM government. Despite these agreements, an adequate level of trust between the CUF and CCM does not exist, and the fact that the election of 2000 was boycotted and rigged is evidence of this. The government repression that resulted after the elections further puts Zanzibaris at risk.

Due to the geographic concentration of the group, a history of recent protests and continual government-inflicted political discrimination and repression, the potential exists for future militant activity and conventional protests. However, the situation in Zanzibar has gained international attention, and the pressure that is being put on the Tanzanian government by the Commonwealth and the European Union may be enough for a future settlement to be effectively put into place. Once again, it will depend on the level of trust that can be created between the CUF and CCM, and this trust may not develop until the current Zanzibar leader is replaced by a more willing negotiator. These problems are now affecting Tanzania as a whole, and they must become a more important issue for the government. Another concern for the Tanzanian government is growing fundamentalism on the Islands of Tanzania, because Tanzania is not willing to allow the islanders to rule themselves according to Islamic law, nor is it willing to give up the islands altogether if that demand should one day be developed by the fundamentalists.


Analytic Summary

The people of the Islands of Zanzibar (also called Unguja) and Pemba, which joined mainland Tanzania in 1964, are divided between those of Arab descent and those of African or mixed descent (Shirazi). The islands were ruled by the Sultan of Oman for centuries before gaining complete independence in 1963. Prior to independence, Arabs dominated trade and politics on the island, although they constituted less than 20 percent of the total Zanzibari population and only 2 percent of the total population. Zanzibar is 99 percent Muslim, and the entire Union speaks Swahili, but also kiungua (LANG = 1). There are tensions between Africans and Arabs on the islands, but the main locus of conflict is not always racial. Both Africans and Arabs are actively separatist (SEPX = 3), although conflict exists between those who desire to separate from Tanzania completely and those who do not. Most Arabs favor independence, while there is less support among the African community. As a result of the tensions over the separatism issue, the Zanzibaris are very fragmented as a group, with cleavages arising out of both racial and ideological differences.

Shortly after independence, Zanzibari Africans afraid of continued Arab domination carried out a revolution that resulted in the deaths of thousands, mostly Arabs. After the revolution, many Arabs fled the islands and power fell into the hands of Shirazi Sheik Abeid Karume.

Generally, Zanzibaris do not suffer from political discrimination (POLDIS06 = 0), but do experience occasional repression, particularly around election years. Following the 2000 elections, many Zanzibaris were arrested for involving themselves in protests in early 2001. The Arabs tend to support the opposition party, the CUF. International observers noted many irregularities in the 1995 elections, and some observers stated that the CUF should have been declared the winner. There were reports of harassment of CUF supporters after these elections, especially on the island of Pemba which voted overwhelmingly for the opposition, and many CUF supporters on Pemba reportedly fled the island out of fear. The CUF boycotted the 2000 elections. In 2000, there were attempts to limit the CUF's ability to organize and protest. CUF supporters have also been intimidated by the police. While there have been no recent reports of inter-group conflict, the army was sent to Zanzibar after the controversial 2000 election, and they arrested a large number of protestors. Some of those detained were beaten while in custody, and Amnesty International reported that a number of them had died. A show trial also took place in 2000 against CUF members arrested for treason in 1997. These members were eventually released. Protesters involved in demonstrations and violence surrounding the October 2005 elections were arrested. There were speculations of rigging the 2005 elections, just as there were in the previous two elections in 1995 and 2000 preserving CCM (Chama Cha Mapinduz) leadership.

There are no economic disadvantages in Zanzibar (ECDIS06 = 0), however religious discrimination and violence increased in the period 2004-2006. Religious leaders were the targets of violent acts, and there were increased anti- Muslim and anti-Christian sentiments expressed by members of the opposing group.

As mentioned, the Arab community on Zanzibar Island tends to support the CUF, and this appears to be the only organization that possesses predominant support from the group. The European Union, the Commonwealth and other international organizations have attempted to influence the government of Tanzania to improve its electoral policies and to try to negotiate between the CCM and CUF. Finland also stopped sending aid to Tanzania until negotiations take place. However, in the period 2004-2006 numerous international organizations and governments sent aid to Zanzibar to help with development as well as electoral procedures. The CUF's main demand is the removal of the current president, who has rigged the elections to keep himself in power. As mentioned, there are also demands for greater autonomy for the island and greater control over local politics. There were CUF complaints of government attempts to arrest its leaders and barring its party members from registering to vote. Before and after the October 2005 elections at least 100 CUF supporters fled the islands in fear of violence and arrest. Most were women and children and some fled to neighboring Kenya, while others merely left for nearby towns within the country (EMIG05 = 1; DISPLACE05 = 1). Most Zanzibaris also oppose a recent government plan to build a toxic waste dump on the island. Grievances also appear in the domain of religion. In 2001, 20 Muslim leaders were arrested after they conducted Eid el Fitr prayers one day after the government's officially declared day for Eid el Fitr prayers. The government also cancelled Ramadan activities in what they claimed to be an attempt to stop the spread of cholera after the 2001 outbreak, but it was met with opposition by Zanzibaris. There were also reports in 2001 that celebrators of the Muslim holiday, Hajj, were dispersed using rubber bullets. In 2004-2006 there were some Muslim complaints of the government treating them unfairly (CULGR04-06 = 1). In March 2004, the Jumuia ya Uamsho na Mihadhara (Revival and Propagation Organization) held a demonstration in response to police banning the group's rallies because of security reasons. There were no economic grievances expressed (ECGR04 = 0).

Beginning in the 1960s, there have been periods of protest and militant activity on the island. For instance, there were large protests during the 1961 election. Protests resumed in the 1980s, when a coup plot was uncovered. In 1999, there was a campaign by the CUF to protest the changing of the constitution to allow the CCM president to run for a third term. As mentioned, there were also small protests against the election of the CCM in 2000 and 2001. The protests continued into 2001 with the main one occurring on January 26 and 27. This was the protest which resulted in the death of about 33 people and the migration of hundreds more. There was some suspicion that the government had fired upon refugees with helicopters after the mysterious capsizing of a boat and the arrival of some refugees with gunshot wounds. There was significant violence on the islands leading up to the October 2005 elections, with riots and demonstrations, poll violence and political arrests. The elections themselves were also marked by violence. Incumbent Zanzibar President Amani Abeid Karume won the election, with 53.2 percent of the votes. However, the CUF opposition announced earlier that it won the election, and accused the government of rigging the election.

In 2005 there were protests commemorating the 2001 deaths and protesting the government's preventing residents from registering in the permanent voter database. In 2006 the CUF held a demonstration in protest of the government's statements about the political situation on the island (PROT05-06 = 3). Rebellious activity resurfaced in 2000 with a series of bomb blasts attributed to militant members of the CUF. In 2002, there was some sporadic banditry, which resulted in the in the bombing of a government office and the arrest of 5 Zanzibaris. Violent confrontations continued in 2004 and 2005 at voter registration and polling sites. There were also a few incidents of targeted political attacks, as well as confrontations between voters and police following the October elections (REB04 = 1; REB05 = 1).



Amnesty International. 5/23/2003. "Amnesty International Report 2003 Tanzania.", accessed 7/16/ 2009.

Glickman, Harvey. 1997. "Tanzania: From Disillusionment to Guarded Optimism." Current History. 96:610. 217-221.

Irving, Kaplan. 1978. Tanzania: A Country Study. 1978. Washington, D.C.: The American University.

Lexis/Nexis. Various news reports. 1980-2006

Tanzania National Website. 2003. "Census Results in Brief 2002.", accessed 11/25/2008.

U.S. Department of State. 2008. "Zanzibar: Background Note.", accessed 1/19/2008.

U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Tanzania. 1999-2006.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006