Zanzibar is made up of the islands of Pemba, Mafia and Unguja, which now want to join the league of the socalled Small Island Developing States (SIDS) as the 39th member, But this would have dire implications for the larger East African Community (EAC).
The call for secession and a series of recent events within the region reveal that there is more than meets the eye in East Africa's biggest--and so far considered to be its most stable--country, Tanzania. The undercurrents are not hared to decipher.
In May 2008, 12 elders from Pemba presented a memorandum to Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, the UN's head in the Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam. The key point of the memorandum was secession from Zanzibar (read Tanzania). As was expected, Dar es Salaam saw "treason" in the demands and was not pleased. It did the most predictable thing. The 12 were arrested. This came hot on the heels of the shenanigans that plagued the Comoros Islands earlier in 2008 when Colonel Mohamed Bacar sought the forceful secession of the islands of Anjouan from the Comoros. Indeed Dar es Salaam drew parallels from the Comoros' experience. After all, it had led the AU force in reclaiming Comoros by quelling the Bacar-led secession.
Pemba's secession talk was triggered by the collapse of the now famous Zanzibar Mwafaka (Zanzibar Agreement). "Their move, according to the country's laws, is treasonous. I don't believe that Pemba can be an independent country," said Mohamed Seif Khatib, Tanzania's minister o state in the Vice President's office in charge of Union Affairs. He underscored the mainland's feelings when the call was made in May.
That there is discontent within the Union of Tanzania is not doubt. One month earlier, the same elders had presented a similar petition to the US ambassador in Dar es Salaam, Mark Green, for onward transmission to the President.
In July 2008, Zanaibar's minister for natural resources, works, energy and land, Mansour Yusuf Himid, stood up in the House of Representatives and declared Zanzibar would never share with the mainland the profits of any oil extracted from its territory. In Mansour's opinion, the islands were not obliged to share the profits with the mainland, simply because the mainland ignored them when it came to natural gas profits.
"Honourable Speaker, I regret to say that since I became a member of the cabinet in 2000, I have not understood anything [about] the distribution of the natural gas that has been discovered and is accruing revenue [for] the Tanzanian mainland," Mansour said, acknowledgeing the fact that the Zanzibaris had never benefited from the natural gas produced on the mainland. In the same month, Tanzania's prime minister, Mizengo Pinda, come out boldly to assert that Zanzibar was not a country by itself. He was categorical on dissuading the Isles "secessionist demands" by noting that any move to allow Zanzibar to become sovereign would be a drawback to the union of Tanganyika and Zanzibar, which created, the United Republic of Tanzania in 1964.
"There is already a countrywide debate on that issue, despite my advice to leave it to lawyers," Pinda said. "Let me remind you that when Zanzibar and Tanganyika and Zanzibar lost their sovereignty. Giving Zanzibar sovereignty will mean ending the union and I would not like to be among the pioneers of ending the union," the prime minister added.
Since then, the Zanzibar issue has boiled over. The assistant secretary general of the UN, Dr Asha-Rose Migiro, who is coincidentally a Tanzanian, has termed the festering 40-year wound an "internal issue. …