In November last year when CUF Secretary General Seif Sharif Hamad and President Abeid Amani Karume of Zanzibar emerged from a one-on-one meeting to announce a new friendship of sorts, it came as a surprise. This sudden rapprochement between CUF and CCM in Zanzibar emphasized how impotent the stalled Mwafaka Talks championed by President Jakaya Kikwete turned out to be in addressing the ‘Zanzibar problem.’ And CUF’s top-down decision to acknowledge the legitimacy of Mr. Karume’s presidency is a clear reversal of their assertion that CCM has stolen the last two elections in Zanzibar and is ruling against the law.
Mr. Hamad and President Karume have been reluctant to give details of their talk, which has served to fuel speculation and raise anxiety in at least two groups: CUF members who are not keen to get into bed politically with CCM, and those who worry about the state of the union between Zanzibar and Mainland Tanzania. For CUF members Mr. Hamad’s actions might be construed as a betrayal- a cynical abdication of CUF’s political platform at the expense of two hard-fought elections. For those who worry about threats to CCM and the Union, this new alliance between age-old adversaries is another demonstration of Zanzibar’s perpetual dissatisfaction with the Union- it subtly pits Zanzibar against the Mainland, rendering CCM’s position in the isles that much more complicated.
When a seasoned Zanzibar politician, CUF Director of Foreign Affairs Ismail Jussa, allegedly suggested earlier this week that President Karume should stand for a third term his statements were greeted with some consternation. Even allowing for the newspapers’ blatant over-statement of CUF’s intentions in this regard, Mr. Jussa’s personal remark reminds both CCM and CUF party members that their new ‘friendship’ in Zanzibar is an informal coalition between two parties brokered by their leaders without any consultation with their constituencies. This is a familiar political tactic: national security and the greater good have been used to justify top-down decisions as important as Ujamaa and the Union.
Interestingly, CCM were first to reject the idea publicly, (Swahili needed) stating that they have no intention of starting down the messy road of constitutional reform to extend term limits. A few days later, CUF Chairman Ibrahim Lipumba carefully distanced (Swahili needed) his party from Mr. Jussa’s idea:
‘That is not our position as a party. In keeping with our constitution, organ that has the power to make such a decision is the National Executive Council.*”
The third term suggestion may be a careful test of the political waters, and both CCM and CUF are treading very delicately and ambiguously around the possibilities it has raised. What Mr. Jussa did, above all, was highlight the general desire for a peaceful election in Zanzibar, a matter which hinges entirely on coming up with the right answer to one question: Who can legitimately succeed President Karume?
*Translated from Kiswahili.