By Beatus Kagashe
The United States Government yesterday said it has no “hidden agenda” on Zanzibar, other than to see an improvement in the political situation so that all Zanzibaris can feel represented in their government. Speaking exclusively to The Citizen, the spokesperson at the US Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Dr Ilya Levin, said the recent travel advisory issued over Pemba was only meant to alert their citizens about the problems they might encounter when visiting the island.
“Unrelated to the travel caution, the United States certainly does have an agenda in Zanzibar. We have publicly stated that agenda many times. We favour transparent, free and fair elections in 2010, held in a climate of civility and security. We feel strongly that governance in Zanzibar will improve once all Zanzibaris feel represented by their government and no Zanzibaris need fear political retribution,” said Dr Levin.
“As regards our travel caution, our only agenda is to apply American law. We are legally required to warn our citizens about potential dangers. Zanzibaris are well aware that the political season in Zanzibar has long been a time of violence… After the recent disturbances in Pemba, we had a responsibility to warn our citizens.”
Asked how the US arrived at the conclusion that Zanzibar, and Pemba, in particular, was not safe, he said they had held consultations with representatives of all the political parties, the Union Government and the Government of Zanzibar. “Our discussions with Zanzibari leaders in both the main political parties in the Isles, with local government administrators, and our own direct observations of violence, led us to conclude that we had a responsibility to warn our citizens. American citizens live and do business in Zanzibar,” he said.
As the biggest donor to Tanzania, and one of the key contributors to Zanzibar?s development, Dr Levin added, US officials regularly visit Unguja and Pemba islands of Zanzibar. “We are well aware of the unfortunate tendency towards violence in Zanzibar politics,” he said, adding:”We hope that responsible political leaders from both camps will work out solutions so that this election season will be free of violence.
If that happens, and we are certain that the agreement will hold. Then, we will be happy to so inform American travellers.” Dr Levin went on: “Recent events in Pemba, related to the registration of voters over the last month or so are well known. In fact, the situation reached a point where the Zanzibar Election Commission (ZEC) had to call a ‘time-out’ to cool things down. One only has to read the public statements made by the SMZ over that time to see that security in northern Pemba has been a public issue.” He said the bomb craters around the public highway bridge in Piki Township bore witness to those grave events.
But the Zanzibar Minister of State in the Chief Minister’s Office, Mr Hamza Hassan Juma, who reiterated that the entire territory was safe and that the incidents in Pemba “are just normal quarrels”, hastily denounced the US explanation. He added:”We always have problems whenever we approach elections in Zanzibar, but not to the magnitude that the United States is claiming. That’s why we think they have a hidden agenda.” Mr Juma spoke to The Citizen by telephone from Zanzibar.
The minister also wondered why the US has never issued such an alert against South Africa, “where about 10 to 20 people die every day in violent crimes, but they rush to blacklist Zanzibar, where no one has been killed so far”. He added:”The issue of elections in Zanzibar should not spoil our country’s image or destroy our good relations with our friends by unnecessarily creating fear among the people.”
Early this week, the US Department of State issued alerts to Americans to be careful when visiting Pemba, describing the area as not safe enough due to the chaos resulting from political conflicts. For the past two months, the situation has been tense as members of the main opposition party, Civic United Front (CUF) protested over the registration of new voters, claiming that most of their supporters had been denied identification cards and locked out of the vital exercise. As the complaints, protests and other ugly incidents mounted, the ZEC was forced to call off the registration indefinitely.
In his statement, Dr Levin said the winner-take-all political system in Zanzibar was the main problem, as it did not allow the losing side to have some say in government, and thus created continued tension and alienation of a significant part of the population. The US embassy spokesman said political tension only fuelled instability and violence in Zanzibar, impeding development. “This damages the international reputation of Tanzania as a whole,” he said.
On the travel alerts, he said, it was a legal US Government obligation to inform its citizens about situations of civil unrest, demonstrations or rallies where there is the potential for violence and possible threats to their personal security anywhere in the world.
The US, Dr Levin added, was for the establishment of a peaceful, fair and mutually respectful political culture in Zanzibar. This was part of the message of the recent joint statement by diplomatic missions major donors to Tanzania. “It is an open communication between the US Government and our own citizens, we do not need to seek anyone’s approval to protect our own citizens,”he said.
Source: The Citizen