060_G17_InFocus_Tanzania

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In Focus Tanzania Acid attacks leave bitter taste A spate of acid attacks in Tanzania drew international attention when two British schoolgirls became the latest victims in the summer of 2013. President Jakaya Kikwete is busy trying to unite the country and limit the damaging headlines that risk putting off tourists, who provide a vital source of income Anver Versi Tanzania, a vast East African nation made up of the mainland (formerly Tanganyika) and the islands of Zanzibar and Pemba, has enjoyed relative political stability since its independence in 1961. Leadership succession for the union government has been smooth and mostly without rancour. However, politics in Zanzibar has always been prickly, with occasional outbreaks of violence. Internal tensions on the island acquired a disturbing new trend over the past two years and have taken on a religious dimension. There were fi ve instances of attacks on religious fi gures – one a Muslim cleric and the others Roman Catholic. The latest was in September when an elderly Catholic priest was attacked with acid in Zanzibar’s Stone Town. A month earlier, the scope of the attacks seemed to have widened when two British schoolgirls who were working as volunteers had acid thrown on their faces and bodies by attackers on a motorcycle. Fifteen people were arrested in connection with the attacks. Police commissioner Musa Ali Musa said suspects included members of terror organisation al-Shabaab who were responsible for the massive attack on a shopping mall in Kenya, also in September. Religious tensions spilled over even to the mainland. Police arrested 125 people after fi ve churches in the commercial capital, Dar es Salaam, were burnt and vandalised, allegedly because a Christian boy was seen urinating on a copy of the Quran. And last year, a bomb exploded in a church in the northern city of Arusha, killing two. This spate of religion-centred violence is a new and very unwelcome dimension in Tanzanian society which, perhaps uniquely in Sub-Saharan Africa, has been free of ethnic confl icts, with Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Jews and animists all rubbing along perfectly well. It raises the alarming possibility that al- Qaeda, which had targeted the East African coast as a recruiting ground, might be returning in force. In 1998, the terror organisation carried out two huge explosions on US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and, in 2002, two surface-to-air missiles were fi red at an Israeli chartered plane, and a hotel belonging to an Israeli in the coastal city of Mombasa was ripped apart by a bomb mounted on a vehicle. The British schoolgirls have recovered and have pledged to return to the island to carry on with their voluntary work; the President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, visited them in hospital and assured visitors that, despite the attack, Zanzibar was safe. Tourism has become an important income earner for the island and it is clear that both the union government and the island’s semi-autonomous administration are worried about the impact of the violence. Zanzibar’s President, Ali Mohammed Shein, said the assault had “brought chaos and confusion to our country from outside”. Muddying the waters further is the role of the radical Muslim group Uamsho (Awakening) which wants the Zanzibar/Tanganyika union dissolved and stricter Islamic codes to be imposed. Soon after the attack on the girls, the alleged leader of the movement, Sheikh Ponda, went into hiding facing an arrest warrant for inciting violence. He was later shot and injured by police. Uamsho was legally registered as a nongovernmental religious organisation and has been campaigning against the union since the formation of the government of national unity in 2010. Although it is not a political party it has a large following in Zanzibar, where it can tap into a growing pool of disenchantment and a feeling of being marginalised by the government. It is not clear if Uamsho was involved in the attacks or if it has been infi ltrated by either al- Qaeda itself or al-Shabaab. Many of Uamsho’s verbal diatribes have been directed at fellow Muslims for ‘not being Muslim enough’ – a modus operandi for al-Qaeda © UN Photo/Milton Grant 60 l www.global -br ief ing.org f i rst quar ter 2014 global


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