April 17, 2002

New act offers hope on Zanzibari reconciliation

A Constitutional Amendment Act was passed by the Zanzibari parliament on Pemba island on Tuesday, April 16, in what is seen as an important step towards the implementation of a reconciliation agreement signed by the ruling Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) and opposition Civic United Front (CUF) parties in October 2001.

That accord, known in Tanzania by the Kiswahili word Muafaka ("agreement"), was reached in an effort to bring an end to a long-standing political impasse on the semi-autonomous island chain of Zanzibar.

The Zanzibari parliament was sitting in Wete, on Pemba, the smaller of the two islands that make up the Zanzibar archipelago, when the bill was discussed and passed.

The passing of the 8th Constitutional Amendment Act will mean a review of the judiciary and Zanzibar Electoral Commission (ZEC), as well as the introduction of a Director of Public Prosecution. The duties normally associated with such a position have, until now, been fulfilled by the Attorney-General.

These changes were recommended as fundamental elements of the agreement that brought the two parties together on 10 October 2001, after years of political and social tensions on the islands - initially arising from the CCM's widely-disputed 1995 general election victory in Zanzibar and exacerbated by its winning the subsequent elections in October 2000 in controversial circumstances. Talks between the two main parties followed bloody political clashes in which over 20 CUF supporters were killed on Zanzibar by security forces in January 2001, after a protest march declared illegal by the government. CUF and CCM sources on Zanzibar said on April 16, that the bill had been passed without substantive amendments to a draft proposed in the Muafaka. When the bill was originally put to parliament in January, amendments had been made without the consent of either party, resulting in further delays in the reconciliation programme.

Mohammed Aboud, a CCM negotiator for the Muafaka and Zanzibar's Minister for Tourism and Trade, was more than happy with the passing of the bill: "I think the issue is now to have free and fair elections," he said. "There have been problems in our country but, through this bill, we will rectify them. This is a new chapter that will create peace in our country." October's reconciliation agreement provided for the ZEC to be reformed in order to be "independent and impartial", and said it should guarantee that "all future elections are transparent, credible and free of controversy". The elections of 1995 and 2000 were marred by allegations of vote rigging, intimidation and corruption. Ultimately, it was the failure to resolve these issues that resulted in the political violence last year, according to observers.

Analysts on the island believe the reform of the electoral commission will be crucial to the successful implementation of the Muafaka and Tuesday's passing of the constitutional amendment is being seen as an important step in the reconciliation process.

Other details of the implementation of the Muafaka are vague, however, as members of the Joint Presidential Supervisory Commission charged with overseeing it say such information cannot yet be made public. However, those involved say the Commission - headed by Zanzibari President Amini Karume and comprising 10 representatives each from the CCM and CUF - seems to be working well, with party divisions sublimated in the search for a coordinated response.

"So far we are moving very well, having good cooperation and working well between the CCM and CUF," commissioner Asha Juma (CCM) told IRIN over the weekend. "The spirit of goodwill is getting us on the move," she added. While other parties are due to be invited into the agreement, Asha believes that the most important aspect is the CCM-CUF relationship. "We [these two parties] are the source of these problems so we should take the role of clarifying things," she said.

These feelings were echoed by Abubakar Bakary (CUF), one of the co-chairmen of the Commission. "I think it is wrong to say that there are CCM and CUF people on the Commission because, actually, we are working there as a commission to the president and we forget our parties. That is the spirit and our motto," he told IRIN.

Linked to the implementation of the Muafaka was a recent conference to sensitise the media on their responsibilities in reporting, and the ways in which they could encourage good governance and transparency to help Zanzibar through the reconciliation.

According to Salim Salim, a veteran journalist on Zanzibar and conference participant, this was a positive development. "Unlike previous seminars, people who belonged to different political parties - even in the media themselves - were a little more positive and there was some sort of tolerance in the exchange of ideas. People were arguing rather than shouting," he said.

The seminar raised several issues to be examined if the implementation of the Muafaka was to be thorough, including the question of relations between the police and the media, according to Salim.

"Some of the participants pointed out that is the police that should hold a large proportion of the blame for the deteriorating political situation in Zanzibar, and the press has been asked to look at the police force and help them," he said.

"But at the same time, [they should] expose any human rights abuses so that the police force can realise that they are supposed to be there as a defence of the peace rather than suppressing, oppressing and beating the people," Salim told IRIN.

The general feeling among those involved in the reconciliation process seems more positive than before but much remains to be done to reestablish trust and mend relations, he added. (IRIN)

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