THE year begins with hopeful signs that Zanzibaris will reconcile with one another, create a new political climate based on mutual respect, come to terms with some of the difficult aspects of their history, establish confidence in their electoral institutions among the supporters of both major parties, and find a way to replace a divisive “winner-takes-all” political system with one that is inclusive of Zanzibaris’ two main political tendencies.
There appears to be a collective realization that the time has come to heal the wounds of the past and build a new Zanzibar with a strong foundation for prosperity and social progress. Achieving reconciliation, overcoming decades of bitter division, is a difficult task for the Isles’ leaders. As a friend of Zanzibar, I pray that they succeed.
Our nations are old friends. Let us, as friends, be respectful but frank with each other. Every election in Zanzibar has been marked by violence. Every time Zanzibaris have gathered to vote, some were hurt or killed. Let this year be different.
In the United States, we too have experienced periods of violent political division. What we have learned is that overcoming divisiveness leads to progress and prosperity. One means we have used to create inclusive politics is to disperse and share power. Our constitution divides power between Federal (Union) and State governments.
At both Federal and State levels, power is further divided between the executive, legislative and judicial branches. It is common in our system for one party to head the executive branch while another party heads the legislature. It is also common for the president to choose ministers from the opposition party. President Bush did this. President Clinton did this. President Obama also has done this.
Likewise, in our legislature, it is common for members of one party to join members of the other party in support of a law their own party leaders may oppose. In our political system no leader can or should ever have everything go his or her way forever. Neither of our two major parties ever wields total power. Neither of these parties is ever completely shut out of power.
Our history has shown us that today’s political opponent is often tomorrow’s political ally. It is a mistake to permit honest differences over policy to become personal feuds. In a healthy political climate, leaders and citizens can discuss policy options in a spirit of mutual respect, remembering that, after all, they share an interest in the prosperity and progress of the country. Unity does not require unanimity, but it does require civility.
Given Zanzibar’s history of elections between two parties with nearly equal numbers of supporters, a system that denies the losing side any voice in government leads to tension. Political tension impedes development. Political unrest in Zanzibar damages the international reputation of Tanzania as a whole and, by discouraging tourism and investment, damages the economy. As members of Zanzibar’s House of Representatives consider these issues, I hope they will be guided by their leaders’ recent words and gestures of compromise, bipartisanship and mutual understanding.
We urge progress – and look forward to seeing concrete steps—so that Tanzania’s national elections are not again marred by regrettable incidents like we saw in Zanzibar in 2000 and 2005. Lasting peace can come about only through direct discussions among the parties. This is what finally seems to be happening. It is also necessary that leaders publicly repudiate any supporters who participate in hate speech, violence, intimidation or other anti-democratic and anti-peace activities.
We hope that Zanzibar’s leaders will construct a new political culture that lays a strong foundation for peace and prosperity, unleashing the creativity of the Zanzibari people. Governance in Zanzibar will improve once all Zanzibaris feel secure from political reprisals and all Zanzibaris feel fully represented by their government. The government can strengthen this new foundation by reducing the great disparities in infrastructure, availability of government services and economic opportunities among Zanzibar’s regions.
Our partnership is with the people of Tanzania, not with any particular political party. On Zanzibar, we implement our assistance in cooperation with whatever government Zanzibaris choose to elect. We expect transparent, free and fair elections in 2010, held in a climate of civility and security. Our continued engagement at current levels is based on this assumption.
I am confident that Zanzibar’s leaders are capable of reaching reconciliation and a power sharing agreement for the good of all Zanzibaris. I am confident that the ongoing political dialogue will produce specific agreements leading to full participation of the Zanzibari electorate in free, peaceful and fair elections.
One of the things I have learned from my Zanzibari friends is that people from the islands love football and politics. They insist that referees run football matches in an unbiased manner. They should demand the same from their electoral institutions.
Zanzibar cannot afford another controversial election. For the sake of the people of Zanzibar and of all of Tanzania, let 2010 be the year of Zanzibar’s reconciliation. With renewed and vigorous leadership, with patience and charity from the people, let the conduct of the 2010 elections make all citizens of the United Republic of Tanzania proud.