It has come as a shock that suddenly, religious leaders are being intimidated, apparently because some of them are not backing the Proposed Constitution.
The religious organisations they run risk being shut down, unless they refrain from what minister for Home Affairs Mathias Chikawe terms “indulging in politics.”
The minister says he will not hesitate to cancel registration of any religious institution that doesn’t confine itself to rules and regulations as per their licensing.
The warning comes only days after President Jakaya Kikwete told religious leaders to stop using the pulpit as a political platform.
While, it isn’t our intention to dictate how the Home Affairs minister should manage his docket, we feel concerned over the sudden tough stance taken by the government against religious leaders who appear to displease the ruling party or the State.
We have a referendum as well as the General Election this year. For the referendum, there is the pro-Yes and the pro-No Tanzanians. That is democracy: some will accept something as other reject it—through the ballot box.
Now we don’t see how a spiritual leader who tells his flock not to vote Yes, will be threatening our cherished peace. Likewise, we don’t see how peace will be endangered, if for some spiritual leaders—whether Christians or Muslims—were to convince their followers to vote Yes.
What the Home Affairs minister may not be aware is that there isn’t a clear demarcation between religion and politics. Otherwise, what was the essence of appointing spiritual leaders—Muslims and Christians—in the Constituent Assembly?
We would have expected Mr Chikawe and all the Yes camp to come out strongly and campaign for the Proposed Constitution—by convincing voters that the document gives the best Mother Law for Tanzanians.
Again, what is wrong if some clerics who have the time, energy and money, travel all the way to Dodoma or elsewhere to convince an individual to run for president, MP or councillor? How would this undermine Tanzania’s peace and security?
Perhaps the problem with these clerics is that they did their lobbying openly, contrary to others who make secret night visits to certain individuals to convince them to contest in October.
We have, over the years, witnessed religious leaders doing what is being done now. Archbishop Zachariah Kakobe, of Full Gospel Bible Fellowship, openly supported and campaigned for Augustine Lyatonga Mrema, the NCCR-Mageuzi contestant who gave CCM’s Benjamin Mkapa a run for his money in the 2000 race to Ikulu.
In 2005, Bishop Methodius Kilaini declared publicly that the choice of many was God’s choice—meaning President Jakaya Kikwete who indeed enjoyed a massive electorate support.
Polycarp Cardinal Pengo was very vocal against the ruling party and the government during Mr Benjamin Mkapa’s presidency.
However, at no time did any of these senior clerics get sanctioned for expressing their political leanings.
We sincerely believe that the question on whether or not spiritual leaders should participate in the country’s democratic processes is a crucial matter that should be broadly debated.
The Home Affairs minister shouldn’t take advantage of his office to stifle such debate. As a nation, we need to soberly reason together on matters that touch on the citizenry.