Muslims Steal Christians’ Land in Zanzibar Island

by | Aug 1, 2011 | Charisma Archive

Zanzibar Island
Women voters on the island of Zanzibar, Tanzania,
on Oct. 31. (
AP Images/Ali Sultan)

Authorities of predominantly Islamic Zanzibar island chain decline to act. Influential
Muslims on this East African island have begun building what appears to
be a hotel on a 100-year-old burial site owned by an Anglican church,
Christian leaders said.

Church leaders with ownership
papers for the land told Compass they are disturbed that authorities
have taken no action since they filed a police complaint in December
about the seizure of the burial site three kilometers (nearly two miles)
from Zanzibar city’s airport. Tanzania’s Zanzibar Archipelago,
including the largest island of Zanzibar (officially known as Unguja),
is 99.9 percent Muslim.

“We see that the government is
partisan and would not like to see the church grow in Zanzibar,” the
Rev. Canon Emmanuel John Masoud told Compass. “The retired Chief Justice
Augustino Ramadani, who is a member of the Anglican church, was
appointed to be a link between the church and the government to
facilitate the negotiation process, but it seems that nothing is bearing
fruits. Hence the church is not supported in any way.”

Masoud
led church members from nearby Mbueni to the site to offer prayers on
Dec. 29, 2010, two days after the daughter of former Zanzibar President
Amani Abeid Karume placed boundary markers and a metal storage container
full of belongings on the land, indicating the take-over. Karume, who
erected a fence on the property to indicate it was now included in his
residential area, is the vice chairman of the Chama Cha Mapinduzi, a
political party of which Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete is chairman.

After the prayers, the Christians removed the boundary
markers, and church leaders reported the attempted seizure to the
Mazizini police station, Masoud said. They also drew attention to the
case to Second Vice-President Seif Ali Iddi. Church leaders said they
were promised that the government would take steps to resolve the issue
and that the rights of the church were protected, but construction on
the site that began at the beginning of the year continues after seven
months, Masoud said.

“It has been even very difficult for
us to visit the site, because it is always under police guard,” he said.
“It is alleged that this upcoming building is intended to be a hotel or
a swimming pool.”

The church had planned to continue using
the two-acre site as a Christian burial ground or build a Christian
school as a memorial to those buried there, collecting the bones and
burying them in one place, he said.

“It is quite uncalled
for to see the government using force to take away the church’s
premises,” Masoud said. “Freedom of worship given in Chapter 3 of the
constitution seems not to apply here in Zanzibar.”

The church will continue to raise its voice in spite of the hostile environment, he said.

“We
are very concerned about the state of the church,” Masoud said. “It is
being subjected to various hardships. I am losing faith in our
government. There is open discrimination. They are not serious in
obeying the constitution, which safeguards people’s rights as well as
the established institutions, like churches.”

Seizure in Pemba
Near
the city of Wete in Pemba, the archipelago’s second largest island,
authorities refused to help Christians who also suffered the seizure of
their land at the hands of Muslims, church leaders said.

Wete’s
Anglican church purchased a burial site worth 1 million Tanzanian
shillings ($630) in 2007 in Finya village, about five kilometers
(nearly three miles) from Wete, but in November 2010 the Rev. Stephen
Aaron Kamwendo received word that an unnamed Muslim forestry worker had
begun planting trees on the site as a boundary marker and claim of
ownership.

The forestry worker had unofficial backing from
the island government, which supports opposition to Christian activity,
Kamwendo said. He told Compass that rumors were flying that the church—which had lost its property in Wete after local officials decided to
build on it—was planning to relocate to the two-acre property in
Finya, prompting the Muslims to plan the takeover.

Kamwendo,
who has ownership papers for the land, reported the case to the
authorities in Wete and was told that the unnamed forestry worker had
been given permission to buy the site. Officials told him that if he
would be patient, they would resolve the conflict.

The
church leader has also brought the matter to the attention of the
president of Zanzibar, he said, but to date no action has been taken.

“We
are being cheated like some children,” Kamwendo said. “Our rights are
not respected. We see no commitment from the government. We shall
continue demanding our constitutional rights, which are provided by the
1984 constitution and revised in 1995, which gives freedom of expression
and freedom to change one’s religion as a personal choice and to share
one’s faith freely.”

He added that there are many cases in
Pemba of Muslims deciding to sell their land to Christians, only to face
opposition from family members who threaten to call down curses on
them.

“It is sad that Christians are not represented as
far as their religious rights are concerned,” Kamwenda said. “Instead,
all religious issues in Zanzibar are channeled through a Muslim mufti.
We feel that our rights will not be presented, because the church is not
represented.”

His church was originally located in the
central business area of Wete near a police station, but city planners
decided to build a road through the property in 1989. By 1993, the
church was forced to relocate its worship site to the present burial
site, where the buildings erected are cracking because the ground there
is still loose and unstable, he said.

The relocation of the
church worship site resulted in the loss of a burial place for its
members, prompting the Finya purchase. Kamwenda said church leaders had
no choice but to relocate to their burial place, as it is difficult to
get government officials to grant land for church purposes, and Muslims
refuse to rent property for churches or even sell land to Christians, he
said.

Pemba has a population of about 500,000, and
Zanzibar island’s population is estimated at 700,000. There are only 60
Christian congregations on the archipelago, according to Operation World.

Zanzibar
is the informal designation for the island of Unguja in the Indian
Ocean. The Zanzibar archipelago united with Tanganyika to form the
present day Tanzania in 1964.

 Muslim traders from the
Persian Gulf had settled in the region early in the 10th century after
monsoon winds propelled them through the Gulf of Aden. The 1964 merger
left island Muslims uneasy about Christianity, seeing it as a means by
which mainland Tanzania might dominate them, and tensions have
persisted.

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