Church leaders in Tanzania have called for prompt government action following two days of rioting by Muslim extremists in Zanzibar.
The Tanzanian press reports that over one hundred members of the Islamist militant group Uamsho -- the Association for Islamic Mobilization and Propagation – took to the streets on 28-29 May 2012 in protest to the arrest their leaders. Militants have clashed with police and burned two Christian churches, shutting down Stone Town -- the central business and tourist district of Zanzibar.
Police said they had arrested 30 members of Uamsho, but the organization disclaimed responsibility. "The Uamsho association ... is not involved in any acts of breach of peace. We would like to urge all Muslims and Zanzibaris to continue to maintain peace and tranquility in the country," it said in a statement published in the media.
However in a letter printed on 2 June 2012 in the Guardian of Dar es Salaam, three Zanzibari Christian leaders, Bishop Augustino Shayo of the Catholic Church, Bishop Michael Hafidh of the Anglican Church and Pentecostal Pastor Timothy Philemon of the Pentecostal Church, said Muslim fanatics were plotting to destroy all churches and church related buildings – schools, convents, cemeteries and heath centers on the island. Members of their churches were receiving mobile text messages warning them to leave the island or face death.
The Indian Ocean archipelago of about 1 million people merged with mainland Tanganyika in 1964 to form the modern republic of Tanzania, but Zanzibar retains its own president and parliament. Tanzania is set to introduce a new constitution in 2014, and Uamsho has urged voters to push for dissolution of the union with Tanganyika.
The Guardian also reported that the leader of the Islamic Revival Forum, Sheikh Farid Hadi Ahmed, had called for the liberation of Zanzibar. The Islamic Revival Forum “demands a sovereign Zanzibar.”
After meeting with government ministers on 31 May 2012, Archbishop Valentino Mokiwa read a statement to the press on behalf of the country’s Christian leaders.
“Our followers are living in fear, because of what happened to our churches some few days,” the Anglican Archbishop of Tanzania said.
“There is also displeasure, on the part [of Christians] over government inaction and failure to take those responsible to court,” he said.
“This is not the first time” he noted, stating that “25 churches have been burned so far in different parts of Zanzibar, and the government is quiet, despite the initiatives taken to report the incidents to the police. We don’t know who should bear the blame.”
The archbishop, who is also chairman of the Tanzanian council of churches added that government inaction had created the “impression that these acts have government blessing,” said Valentine, who doubles as Chairman of President of African Churches. “And the government is duty-bound to extensively trace them and bring them to book – in order to restore public trust and confidence in the government.”
Zanzibar President Dr Ali Mohamed Shein responded on 1 June saying his government was “conducting a thorough assessment before taking necessary measures, including the possibility of compensation.”
Speaking to the press, Dr. Shein said the government had banned unauthorized religious meetings, assemblies and demonstrations as a threat to public order. “We will not allow peace and harmony created by the National Unity Government to be threatened by a few individuals who are using a religious umbrella” to shelter their political actions.