Reports from Pemba Island , a stronghold of the Zanzibar opposition, have said the islanders have been waiting for a whistle from their iconic leader, the Civic United Front (CUF) general secretary and presidential contender in the annulled October 25 election, Maalim Seif Shariff Hamad, to “take appropriate action” as an answer to the Zanzibar Election Commission’s (ZEC) decision to impose election repeat on March 20.
It was also rife in the sister island of Unguja that the “appropriate action” would be taken by opponents of the unilateral decision taken by ZEC’s chairman Jecha Salum Jecha to declare the October elections, namely presidential, house of representatives and councilors null and void following the results that indicated contenders from Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) ruling party were losing the helms.
Speculations about the mysterious “appropriate action,” came as what political analysts describe as a reaction out of the desperate public who feel betrayed by the CCM government in power by trampling on their votes.
They have ruled out election as the way to get hold of political leadership in Zanzibar in a situation where CCM stalwarts have been repeatedly going public in telling their CUF archrivals they would never give out the government they secured in machetes and clubs through a piece of paper, come what may.
The sense of desperation also comes out of a series of negotiations between Maalim Seif who stuck to his gun against nullification of the election and its rerun, but to declare him the winner, and five other CCM members including the incumbent president Ali Mohammed Shein in the negotiation team, but yielded nothing short of disappointment in the opposition camp.
Disappointment also comes out of the realization that involvement of international community in the election saga is a useless card on which to rely as it appears unlikely that the world community would support the opposition in the semi-autonomous archipelago at the expense of losing the United Republic of Tanzania, a country under whose mandate is the Isles government.
Political analysts would suggest that no country in good ties with the official Tanzania would be ready to go public in risking the relationship with Tanzania and its ruling party for the sake of the opposition in Zanzibar.
The best it can do is to express discontent over covert involvement of the union government in Zanzibar impasse and give a token pressure on the government to show that it (foreign country) cares about violation of human rights and democracy.
Otherwise resorting to no-speak language typical of diplomacy. Remarks like “we hope that a peaceful solution to Zanzibar crisis would be reached” or “we expect the two sides will come to the negotiating table to settle the problems” that are just too vague to show any commitment would as they still are rampant among the international community.
There are those countries and organizations that would take a low profile in the problem, shrug it off or simply turn a blind under the pretext of “let’s wait and see.”
The shop talks about appropriate action however, comes at a time when the CCM government is equally determined to counter as scenes of army tanks and the increasing number of military troops in Zanzibar have been notably conspicuous during and after the election campaign.
However, the opposition Zanzibar that seemed to be on the mark to start the race to an “appropriate action,” pending green light from CUF Supreme Council on Thursday, had to retain their position as they were told “the hour” was yet to come.
In fact they were waiting for a “go ahead” command not from the council as it was made to appear, but from a man they revere, Maalim Seif, judging from cultural peculiarities of the people of the Isles, who would rather dedicate their commitment to an individual than a party.
It is Maalim Seif who has won hearts and minds of the mainstream opposition in Zanzibar that they are determined to go with him regardless of whether it is within the party or outside its folds.
It is a common knowledge even among the decision makers in the ruling party in Zanzibar, that it is not CUF as a political party which is a thorn on their flesh, but Maalim Seif as an individual politician.
They believe that his days on the political stage are numbered given his age and the exhaustive political turbulent he had been enduring over the past 30 years.
He was a gadfly on Mwalimu Julius Nyerere’s face since late 1980’s when he dared to cross swords with the feared Father of the Nation on the supreme party lines when the later was marking his last tenure as captain of the power monopoly vessel.
He and other opposition members were later accused of treason, namely of conspiring to overthrow the government of Dr Salmin Amour in 1990s, but later acquitted. He has been contesting in vain for Zanzibar presidential seat ever since until the fifth time in October 25 general election.
Therefore, eradicating such a personality from the political tug-of-war in Zanzibar is tantamount to doing away with opposition per se, apparently, giving rise to an everlasting uninterrupted CCM monopoly over the Isles.
But on the contrary, relinquishing power to him would also mark the end of CCM in Zanzibar. So the October 25, election in Zanzibar was a matter of life and death for CCM, who also believe that a defeat over Maalim Seif would get him rid of the political scene for good.
The “now or never” stance from both sides of the conflict is what makes them stick to their guns giving no room for a compromise.
Therefore, the “appropriate action” in waiting is about both sides going to extremes. While the opposition would be ready to resort to streets in “come what may” spirit where elections means to get into powers have proved exhaustive, with the army and the police at their disposal, CCM will be likely to counter in “by hook and crook” spirit.
However, the awaited green light for appropriate action from the opposition chief came in style, when he announced the boycott of March 20 election rerun, saying it was illegal, unfounded and that it had no cause to be branded an election.
The awaited “go ahead” command also manifested itself when the chief said it had been proved beyond reasonable doubt that, “ my negotiating partners are not the kind of people to be trusted… Dr Shein has been cheating me,” dismissing both elections and negotiation as failed means to get into power.
It was the other way of telling the public “I’ve surrendered all the powers to you where official means have proved futile; the ball is in your court,” a euphemism for going clandestine in retrieving what was deprived in an uncivilized manner.
This is what an official and political Maalim Seif was supposed to go public with to avoid internal and international condemnation for inciting violence, thus marking the end of his career as a reputed politician, for the ultimate brand of a terrorist, and his party “an Al-Qaida offshoot or Al-Shabaab aligned group” in an overwhelming Muslim archipelago.
He has been evasive of the trap long kept by his CCM archrivals, who had been systematically but in vain associating his party with Muslim Arab world and provoking violence from the party’s followers especially during and post- election periods.
But because he had foreseen the situation when the unofficial side of him would be equally necessary if “things fall apart,” he maneuvered a shield to protect himself from condemnation from the international community, reputedly fond of branding “terrorists” the people in his situation.
Now that the European Union, United States and global human rights activists are on his side, it would be a little difficult for CCM to brand him terrorist, once his followers resort to clandestine moves that would include violence.
Maalim’s letter to Pope Francis appealing for his involvement in settling Zanzibar impasse was also meant at serving a shield for blames in the impending social unrest as they would be manipulated into looking more religious than socio-political oriented.
It was a symbolic document that had dual purposes including (if it reaches the Pope in person) to exert pressure on Catholic Magufuli and the powerful Cardinal Pengo to influence the situation in Zanzibar.
But the other option was to let the world know that he has done his best, even as a Muslim in an overwhelming Muslim country, to go to as far as appealing to the Church leader, for peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Therefore, the election rerun promises nothing more than a new Zanzibar led by the government of unpopular CCM, by the president who knows he’s not the people’s favourite and whose unilateral government monitored by a ghost parliament.
Such a government will have to dedicate all its resources to defending itself from the people who would be always rebellious.
Zanzibar will never be the same, but remain a thorn on the flesh of the Union Government.
NB: This article was written by Ali Nassor and published for the first time The Guardian on Sunday on 31 January 2016