Tanzania’s picture of a stable and peaceful country in a region prone to terrorist attacks has been tainted by recurrent explosions targeting Christian leaders, churches, tourists, businesses and sometimes Muslim preachers from the mainland.
Almost all the recent attacks have occurred in the touristic Zanzibar Island and northern region of Arusha. The government has ruled out the involvement of the Somali Al-shabaab Islamists who are responsible for most explosions which rocked neighbouring Kenya and Uganda. Instead, government officials are pointing fingers at some Zanzibaris who are out to get autonomy from Tanzania by force with the ultimate end of creating an Islamic state.
Zanzibar also known as the Spice Island joined Tanganyika in 1964 to form Tanzania.
Today, Zanzibaris blame all their difficulties on mainland Tanganyika, such as poverty and unemployment. Zanzibar has a president and some autonomy. The leader of Tanganyika is also the president of the union government of Tanzania. Some 97 per cent of Zanzibar’s estimated 1.5 million people are Muslims. Before colonisation, Zanzibar was ruled by the Sultan. Africans overthrew the Sultan’s Arab-dominated government in 1964 and slaughtered thousands a year after independence from Britain.
The Zanzibar Island and Arusha are touristic destinations. While the first is known for its beautiful beaches and old buildings, Arusha attracts tourists for its famous parks like Serengeti and wonders like the Ngorongoro Crater.
Tanzania has enjoyed peace since independence even at a time when most neighbouring countries were in turbulence. It has remained relatively peaceful while Uganda and Kenya were under regular attacks from Al-shabaab Islamists. The latter accuse the two countries of contributing troops to the African force of AMISOM.
Explosions in Zanzibar, Arusha
However, the recurrent explosions in Arusha and Zanzibar have put into question the notion of a stable island in a region in turbulence. Most Tanzanians who have reacted on social networks after bombings believe the Alqaidah-linked Somali Islamists of Al-shabaab are behind the explosions. “I support an idea that let Tanzania and Tanzanians keep off the Somalia affairs because there are innumerable bitter examples like Kenya which blindly went there to fight for the interests of the US and Israel, is now paying a horribly high price“, a Tanzanian reacted on internet.
Al-Qaida was responsible for the explosions at US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998 which killed hundreds and injured more than a thousand people. Al-shabaab has claimed many bombings in Kenya the most disastrous being the terrorist attack against Westgate mall in Nairobi in which tens of innocent people were killed and others injured. However, Tanzania has until now ruled out the possibility of Al-shabaab being responsible for the Zanzibar and Arusha bombings. It has instead pointed its fingers at internal political groups which want tear apart the country by creating religious tension.
The latest bombing occurred in the northern Arusha town in July this year when an explosion in an Indian restaurant situated right in the middle of the town killed one and left seven injured. Many others took place in the last few years the most prominent of which was the bombing in 2013 of a Catholic Church in Arusha while it was being opened by the apostolic nuncio leaving five people dead. In Zanzibar, the Anglican Church which is also a touristic attraction was a terrorist target in February 2014 although there was no casualty. It had also been attacked two years earlier following the disappearance of a Muslim cleric. In 2013, a Catholic priest and two British teenagers were attacked with acid threatening the foundation of tourism, the island’s major foreign currency source. “Tourism must die for freedom to come and then we shall revive it again”, a young Zanzibari supporter of separation from Tanzania said. Terrorism attacks do not target Christians, tourists and businesses only. A Muslim preacher from Tanga on the mainland was killed in June 2014 in an attack at Darajani Mosque.
Arrests but no trials
Every time an attack occurs, Tanzanian security forces make arrest and say that the motive of the attack is unknown. But government officials say the attacks are the job of people out to cause tension between Christians and Muslims. In Arusha Christians blame Muslims after every explosion at a church.
Tanzanians also blame each other on internet, some blaming the union government for instability. “Tanganyika immigration officers have failed to protect and control immigration in Zanzibar thus why there are many criminality in Unguja”, says an internet user. “Tanganyika is a new colonialism…it will fail with its propaganda of divide and rule” says another.
However, it has become clear that the attacks aim at securing Zanzibar’s full autonomy from Tanzania and Tanganyika and creating an Islamic state which excludes people from the mainland. One of the organisation which spearheads such a campaign is the Muslim Propagation Group (UAMSHO) whose aim is to expel all Christians including those from Zanzibar and establish an Islamic state.
It is suspected of carrying out the acid attacks among others. Its leader, a certain Faridi has been arrested and detained and released several times without appearing in court. Zanzibaris say the government fears an uprising if he was taken to court. His real nationality is not well known. Some say he was a soldier in Oman before coming to Zanzibar to campaign for the separation of the island from Tanzania.