I belong to a generation of Tanzanians who were born after the union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar on April 26, 1964 – and whose commemoration took place this week.
Born nearly three decades thereafter, I can confidently say that, no matter how it was achieved, I’m proud that it is the only union in Africa which still keeps the dream of a unified Africa alive.
I really mean this, for I consider myself as living testimony to how we sorely need to stay united as a nation-state. I do have personal experience regarding the union and its benefits.
Having successfully completed my Advanced-level (Form VI) education on the Isles, it was time to apply for higher education. I was determined to join a university on the other side of the union, Mainland Tanzania.
I did this for a very personal reason whose elaboration is a topic for another day.
Usually, a form-six student would apply for a higher-learning student’s loan. There are two boards responsible for students loans: the Zanzibar Higher Education Loans Board (ZHELB) and the Higher Education Students’ Loans Board (HESLB). The former is for Zanzibar students only, while the latter is for all Tanzanian students.
So, a Zanzibari student has the opportunity to apply to both boards, an opportunity that their Mainland Tanzania counterparts do not have. Most of us in the Spice Islands applied to both boards, although we almost all longed for the HESLB loans. We loved its structure as well as its ability to enable students to manage their college expenses more effectively.
In due course of time, I was denied the ZHELB loan, but secured a HESLB loan.
In all honesty, I must admit that the loan did much in helping to shoulder the responsibility that my parents would have carried.
This is but only one of the reasons why I think we need to preserve the union. And, this is to say nothing of the free, cordial movement of people between the two sides of the Union across the Zanzibar Channel of the vast Indian Ocean; the crucial issue of security for both parties to the union – and, most importantly: the spirit of brother-and-sisterhood that comes with the union.
But this is just one side of the coin. In the same desire to preserve the union, we are compelled to be bold enough to look at the other side, which in my opinion, threatens the very existence of the union itself.
For example, after all these years, Zanzibaris are still yearning for the freedom to independently run their own affairs without undue interference, especially in choosing the Isles’ government. There is a general feeling among Zanzibaris that there is too much meddling in the political matters of the Spice Islands.
What would easily come to mind is the controversial annulment of the 2015 general election. Up to now, this issue has not been resolved. It, arguably, is the source of the current tension and uncalled-for political divisions in the Isles.
And to make matters worse, there is a generally unhealthy fear among Zanzibaris to openly raise their voices against the contentious union issues. The Prevention of Terrorism Act has not made it any easier for them to freely express themselves.
Yet, despite these challenges, there nonetheless is great need to preserve and strengthen it.
In my opinion, if we are really determined to preserve the union, then I would say that the best way to do so is to ensure all-inclusive, people’s participation in it. That is: identifying it with the people, and firmly grounding it in them. And one way to do this is to get their thoughts on union-related issues and effectively work on their recommendations.
It so happens that, most fortunately, the groundwork to this task had been laid, and all that is left is just implementing what was recommended by the Tanzanian Constitutional Review Commission on how to make the union strong and doubly beneficial.
Operating under the chairmanship of former Prime Minister Joseph Sinde Warioba, the Commission, which was formed in April 2012, crisscrossed the country to collect public opinion on the review of the extant Constitution as promulgated in 1977 and amended from time to time.
In the course of the constitution review exercise by the Warioba Commission, one of the issues that fueled heated debate was the union. Tanzanians from both Zanzibar and Mainland offered their honest critiques on the union, and what should be done to improve it.
Khalifa Said is an investigative journalist and political reporter with The Citizen and Mwananchi Newspapers.