For others, Dr. Ali Mohamed Shein is an innocent leader who is being manipulated by his immediate circle. Many political destructions done during his time in office are associated to other people. The biggest destruction of all is disfunctionalizing of Maridhiano that enabled the formation of a government of national unity as a constitutional requirement from 2010 onwards.
But is Dr. Shein as innocent as he is potrayed? If you could associate him to some positive measures taken under his leadership, why keeping his hands off from other negative moves during his tenure?
Let us go a decade and half back to make this point clear.
After 2005 general elections, I was one among young Zanzibaris who came up with an ‘ignorant idea,’ which I was not suprised to see it instantly refused. I suggested that the opposition Civic United Front (CUF) should dismember itself and some of its fractions join the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM), where they would convince some basic reforms for Zanzibari politics while they are within the party.
This proposal was based on my personal analysis of what I saw as a ‘mistake’ in our politics since the re-introduction of multiparty democray in 1992. That the opposition had managed to absorb all the best cream of Zanzibari society and left CCM only with the opposite. As a result, CUF was still fighting against the very low brains which were ready to do anything just to stay in power, even if they could not move the nation forward. This did not add value to our struggle for a better Zanzibar.
As admitted, mine was such an ignorant idea. One of my seniors told me that it was both ‘strange and bad’ idea but it was good that I aired it, so that CUF members would know there were some people who think differently. Another senior politician went further to show me that there were still some very good brains in CCM with whom CUF could work together for the betterment of Zanzibar. “Calm down, young man,” he told me. “Politics is not an easy game!”
The Politics of Maridhiano
Then in 2009, just one year before President Amani Karume completed his constitutional mandate, he met with his main opponent, Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad of CUF, for what was known as Maridhiano, a Swahili word for political reconciliation (though I have to say maridhiano has much broader meaning than the word reconciliation).
Maridhiano politics had one mission – to build a strong bridge that connects two opposing sides which, otherwise, could not meet eye to eye. But it was not aimed at mixing these sides as my original ignorant idea was, for connecting and mixing are but two different terms.
The Maridhiano bridge managed to connect these two joints and one of its immediate results was constitutional ammendment that established a government of national unity. But, the building of this bridge was not completed yet. It was a process that should continue and, therefore, the contract works were to go on.
This is now the point. As a head of government and a top leader of the ruling party in Zanzibar, Mr. Karume made it his obligation to deliver a reconciled society to his nation. He made sure to hand over such government to his successor, who happened to be Dr. Shein – a politician who had no political base in the Islands, neither had he contested and won any political office though he was already a vice president of union government for almost a decade. Actually he was not even eligible to vote himself in the general elections. By the time he picked up his party nomination form, he was the most-hated candidate in Kisiwandui.
Given To Him Was a Maridhiano Spirit
Being a senior politician, though, Dr. Shein was expected to be defending the platform that brought him to power even if there were some elements in his party that were anti-Maridhiano. And for one good reason – he was a president of Maridhiano. Not of election. Not of ballots!
It was Maridhiano, if anything, that brought him to power, despite all opposition of the same people who became his immediate circle once he was sworn-in. But what he did, instead, was to work with them in killing the infant he was entrusted to nurture. He actually cut the umblicord of his own political legacy.
In a metaphorical narrative, Dr. Shein presented himself as a brother in the famous Swahili story, in which the siblings inherited a fortune and their sick mother from their late father and decided to build a three storey house. The ground part was to be taken by the elder brother, the second to be shared between his siblings and their mother and the third to be rented, so that the family could earn some money to take care of their ailing mother.
As an elder brother, he was the one who collected rental fees, but he was so stupid that he ended up throwing the money to senseless expenses and, as a result, their mother’s health began to detoriate due to lack of proper medication. When his siblings argued against his mishandling, he arrogantly told them: “If you you think you are grown enough to know better than I, then I have reached my decision. I am finding a place to move my part of the house (which is the ground floor) and you should hold your own floors!” With that, the brother destroyed his own floor and those of his siblings and their mother.
This is exactly what Dr. Shein has done. He inherited a treasure that was never given to any single leader since independence. Once Maalim Seif told me in 2011 interview at Amsterdam that he believed Dr. Shein knew he was a lucky guy who was blessed to lead the first government of national unity while being supported by both parties in Zanzibar and that he would never let this blessing go away! Mr. Karume had handed to him a united society, an ammended constitution and a Maridhiano spirit – enough tools to keep Zanzibar on the right track.
But few years later, he proved both leaders wrong. He chose to destroy each and everything that meant Maridhiano and turned his ear and eye to only those who were opposing it. He hardly listened to the voices that were encouraging him to follow the path of national unity. He, instead, listened to those that were showing him the threat the Maridhiano posed to their personal endings.
Coming to the end of his first five year mandate, it was clear that Zanzibari voters were not happy by the failure of their brother who mismanaged the fortune left by their father and who threatened the life of their mother. And he, upon knowing that, he decided to destroy their three-storey house claiming that he would move his ground floor to somewhere else. So he did.
While others look at Dr. Shein as a victim of manipulations from the like of Ambassador Seif Ali Iddi and his syndicate in Zanzibari politics, I refuse to see it that way. Zanzibar does not have a government of national unity today because the syndicate won against Dr. Shein’s wishes.
We do not have it because he is a leader who did not act on his legal and political position to assure the life of such system during his first five years.
He was a president who never believed in unity. He seems to enjoy the disunity that is now facing Zanzibar.