30% West African, 1% Jew. Suprises From My DNA

No single human being is today geographically settled in a place where he used to be in 500 years ago. I was told this by my respected elder man, Professor Ibrahim Noor Sharif, some two years ago. He was trying to argue against those who opt for racial politics in Zanzibar, where the question of heritage and identity has been misused even in today´s politics.

But, even far from this context, his argument does still hold water. Human origin is like a dodder, a parasitic plant that grows on big trees and in the process of developing, it looses its original stem. In my home village, it was believed that anyone who might find the roots of the dodder, he would find a treasure of gold coins beneath it!

Professor Ibrahim’s argument sparked some elements in my brain that called for a self-searching. Asking myself where I was in 16th century seemed overtly strange question. I have just been in this world for four decades, what a hell to look for me in five centuries? But, in reality, every single human being is a result of thousands of human beings who had lived before him and left their marks on his existing set-up. We, who believe in God’s creation and not in human evolution, understand His Words that He created us from one man and one woman and from them came variety of nations, races and languages. So as much as you, as a mankind, takes a journey back to your origin, you will find other people in you – thousands of them – before you reach our Father Adam and Mother Eve.

A Journey To Myself

This curiosity made me to look for online tools that could help in my search. After having seen some of them, I chose MyHeritage last year in June, due to its experience in analysing DNAs and some users’ comments. I registered.

But as soon as I was logged in, I found myself hesitant to embarking on a journey into the inner-me. “So, what!?” I asked myself. What if I knew the origins of my biological set-up? It is enough that I am a Swahili man from Zanzibar, whose parents and their parents were born in Pemba. If before them, their ancestors migrated to the Indian Ocean Islet from anywhere in the world, how and why should it matter to me? After this intra-personal conversation, I just became a dormant member. Not active one.

Then one year later, the urge to search for myself came back to me. I went again online searching for stories of DNAs, watching some films on the issue and even participated in some discussions on origins, heritage and humanity. The more I learned about it, the more interested I became and, at last, I ordered my DNA kit from MyHeritage.

In three week time, the results are now here. According to some of those who have embarked on the same journey, the results are 99.99 percent accurate. And as it happened to them, to me as well these results are full of surprises as well as normalcies. There are findings that I never expected, there are those that I was sort of guessing and those that are already known to me.

The Expected vs the Unexpected

It was not a surprise to me that I am a son of mixed ethnicities. That I knew earlier. But I did not expect at all that 10 different streams of blood are running daily into my veins. I expected my Africanness to dominate other heritages in my DNA, which happened to be 76.2 percent true. But the fact that almost 30 percent of it is West African, I still wonder how and why!

It is 100 percent known that I am an East African and, as the DNA shows, 45.4 percent of my heritage can be traced to there. A little controversy that I saw is that, my East Africanness is associated to Kenya. I had to call the hotline for some clarifications. Not that I do not want to be a Kenyan, but for two good reasons: one, the country that is known today as Kenya did not exist some two centuries ago and, two (which was confirmed in my call), MyHeritage’s mapping puts almost the whole northern part of the East African Coast into Kenya boundaries. This starts from Mogadishu to Pemba Island. All this area, was once a part of the Great Zanzibar, the place I proudly claim to be the origin of my forefathers from my both sides.

But showing me as a 23.8 percent Nigerian, 3.9 percent Sierra Leonian and 2.2 simply West African will never stop to be amusing. Of course, there was no country known as Nigeria or Sierra Leone some century ago. So this percentage might refer to one of 250 nations of current Nigeria and 16 of them in today’s Sierra Leone. But my curiosity is: from which – among those 266 small nations – did my ancestors originate? Am I from Yoruba, Fulani, Hausa, Igbo, Mende or Temne? If you take a map of Africa and measure a distance between West to East, it is almost 6,000 kilometers. Who travelled from which point to the other? East to the West and then back, or West to the East and then settle?

Yes, I can easily understand my almost 1 percent of my Central African ancentry as at least I was told by my late father that my gradfather’s grandmother was from the land of Manyema in today’s Democratic Republic of Congo.

My Asian Connections

There are also some surprises and normalcies in my connectivity to the Asian continent. I knew earlier of my Omani roots as this has been preserved into my family tree, though I did not know where exactly in Oman my forefathers came from. But at least my DNA results show that I have remained with 9.5 percent of traces from Western Asia – the place which now hosts huge area from Oman, United Arab Emirates to Syria, Iraq and Lebanon and might cover the upper side of Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia.

But what about the peoples from the Central Asia with whom I share 8.2 percent of my genes? The area which is now covering Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Krygyzstan, Afghanistan and Pakistan used to be known as Silk Road and its people were great conquerers of their time. They used to rule all over the area and even beyond. Is it possible that through their connection with the western neighbours, they ended up mixing and then the genes travelled all the way through Indian Ocean to East Africa where my immediate relatives can be traced?

Me and Europe?

Of all the surprises, I do still have my mouth open on the findings that I hold 4.3 percent of South European genes from Iberian people, who were mainly found in current Portugal and Spain as well as Malta and Italy. It seems an unlikely match and satirically that I have been living in Europe for almost a decade now, so close to my cousins.

This reminds me a scenario back in 2005, when I was in the UNESCO youth group attending a seminar in Catalonia, Spain. One of the participants, Wahib Ayoub from Lebanon, was so harsh to me for asking how should I possess Arabic names while I am a black person from Africa! That came after he learnt that all my known names are Arabic in nature. Little did I know that I was in the land that shared 3.3 of my genes!!!

During 1000 CE, Spain was under the Golden Islamic Iberian Era which is associated with many technological inventions, among them is modern surgery. If I had this DNA result in 2005 during my unfriendly conversation with Wahib, I would have had many astonishing answers to him on the very land that we both stood and were invited.

Of my European connections, there is something that is even more interesting, though I have to admit that it was not my first time to hear about it. Some twenty years ago, I was living with Sheikh Salum Msabbah Mbarouk, an Islamic scholar who once turned into politics in Zanzibar. By our family line, he is a son of my cousin, whic makes me his uncle (ami as we call it in Swahili).

He told me that during his religious studies in Medina, Saudi Arabia, he came in contact with one Jewish scholar who – after some test performances – told him (Sheikh Salim) that he has some Jewish blood. That is to say, a son of my cousin, has Jewish heritage! I have discussed this story with some relatives but we did not give it any extra look. Now, the DNA says that I have 1.0 percent of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage in me? Was Sheikh Salim told the truth almost three decades ago in Medina? Ashkenazi Jews are originated in today’s eastern Europe.

I was not surprised, however, with my 1.8 percent of Middle Eastern heritage. If you look closely into the monsoon wind connectivity between Indian Ocean, Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian Peninsula, it is easy to conclude the oneness of peoples around the nations across the area.

Some Important Missing Links

Some important information is somehow missed in MyHeritage DNA analysis so far – at least in my case. While they show me these traits, they don’t give them in detail. Even after being upgraded into premium, the 24-Hour-assistant cannot give me detailed information of, for example, where exactly does my Western Asia origin come from!

They also did not know that putting the whole coast of East Africa into Kenya does not fit the current definition of the region. When a person embraces this adventure to find themselves, they need accuracies – which means facts and details.

However, I must say that it has been amazing to see how these genes had travelled all the way from different parts of the world just to connect to each other and form another human being far away from where they started. Just as the dodder plant does, this is how our life as human beings is.

We are coming from somewhere unknown to us and we live and even die to somewhere that could be very strange to our coming generations. I imagine the surprise on the face of a granddaughter of my grandson some hundred years to come!!!


Zanzibar and Child Molestation. Shame On Us!

We, Zanzibaris, are people who take pride in our heritage and identity. Even after more than half a century of being annexed to a giant Tanganyika and as tiny as our country is, we are still identifying ourselves with Zanzibariness. And it is not about colour of our skins, nor the origins of our ancentry. No. It is beyond all that separate others. Continue reading “Zanzibar and Child Molestation. Shame On Us!”


55 Years After Independence, Zanzibar Still Divided

This day some 55 years ago, my father was exactly in my current age – in his early 40s – and had just arrived in Unguja from Tanganyika, where he spent some trouble years of his adult life. Being born in 1922, some three decades after the official intervention of British in Zanzibar, my father never knew of anything different other than a country under colonial powers. He had decided to come back to be part of the new Zanzibar after more than 70 years of British administration. He was also tired of running away from his broken-heart, a love story which started after the death of his first wife.

But that dream did not last long. Just a month after the British left, Zanzibar was invaded and the new government was overthrown. On the aftermath of the events that started on 11th January 1964, he was arrested by the militia whom he recognized as being from Bara (as what people in the coast refer to Mainland) due to their appearance and tone. His decade experience in Mainland gave him enough knowledge to tap their features. 

They crashed him at Kikwajuni Street where he was staying with his friend. The first thing to be asked was his name. “I am called Masanja!” It was his reply, but his Afro-Arab composition betrayed him, inspite of sounding a real Masanja from Mwanza. (By the way, contrary to my mother, I never heard him using our Kipemba dialect. His accent was always decorated with Kiunguja and Mainland tones).

However, his ‘brother-in-laws’ did not beat him deadly. Just gave him some kicks and punches before they sent him to Raha Leo makeshift detention, where once again his childhood friendship with Salim Ghafir betrayed him. Having seen his old friend escorted into the camp, Salim rushed to my father crying: “O, my brother Khelef, they have taken you too!”

Soon after the shockwaves ended, my father collected what was remained of him and headed to his home village in Pemba. There he re-established his life and earned the trust of his folks who made him their  de facto leader.

I took me long to figure out how his mother, my gradma Fatma, was wearing Afro-Shiraz Party’s (ASP) khangas and his son became one of 10-Section CCM leaders in 1980s as I do well remember to see CCM flag on our palm-leaves roof. He even adjusted my date of birth to resemble that of CCM, which has remained so forever. My father was not among those who invaded or helped the invasion of 1964. He never belonged to ASP nor to Umma Party. In fact, he and all his immediate relatives were supporters of the Zanzibar Nationalist Party (ZNP). Was it about adjustement? Was it about fear? Was it about self-reconcilliation? Was it a betrayal to his own principles? I still search for answers, some two decades after his departure.

But it is worthy sharing here that my father was far from hatred against an individual whom they had different political opinions. I still remember when he yelled at me after I spoke ill against my brother-in-law, Nassor Issa Al Mazrui, who joined CCM and abandoned CUF at the public meeting attended by the then-deputy chief minister who doubled as education minister, Omar Ramadhan Mapuri, during early years of 1990s.

My father, as many others of his generation, was brought up during colonial times and had seen some bitter events during ‘Zama za Siasa‘ (times of politics), but was taught political tolerance. He wanted the same thing to us. During his last days in the mid-90s, he was admitted at Chake Chake Hospital where coincidentally one of CCM cadre, Yussuf Alawi (alias Yussuf Panzi) was also admitted, but many of Yussuf’s relatives were not visiting him due to his tendency of insulting CUF leaders at his party’s public gatherings, commonly organized by the then-chief minister, the late Omar Ali Juma.

Inspite of knowing all that and also being a staunch supporter of CUF, my father was always asking me to help Yussuf for his needs, especially during night. That was a reason why, even after my father was allowed to go home where he died after some few weeks, Yussuf came to be my  friend and a brother.

During 70s, my father had his best friend, Mr. Mohammed Fakih (Ami Mohammed of Kangani) whose whole family in Mkoani belonged to ASP. In every clove harvest season, my father and his family would camp at Ami Mohammed’s family where he would bake and sell Ajemi breads, which was our family trade. A week before their arrival, Ami Mohammed would gather his family members and instruct them not to display any political slogans or rhetorics during their guests’ stay. The same would be done by my father when Ami Mohammed and his family visited our home. I did not meet Ami Mohammed in person as when I was born, he was already too old to take troubles of traveling from Kangani to Pandani, but I grew up knowing his children who are still my brothers and sisters to date.

 Now, Zanzibar has reached 55 years since her flag was raised for an independent nation but she has not been able to make her children live together in harmony and understanding ever since. The flag of independent Zanzibar stayed high just for one month before the invasion which was followed by annexation in just 100 days. As the independence of 10 December 1963 was not welcomed by ASP and Umma Party supporters, so was the overthrow of the government on 12 January 1964. Those who supported the ZNP/ZPPP coalition did not come in terms with it. 

However, my father, who belonged to the overthrown coalition, and Ami Mohammed, who belonged to ASP, managed to maintain their friendship and taught their children to grow as brothers and sisters forever. May be, my father believed that Ami Mohammed was politically wrong to support the party and the government that have thrown away the independence of their nation. Perhaps, Ami Mohammed thought my father was wrong to support the coalition that was maintaining the ‘Arab’ sultanate. 

But, I think, they both saw more and stronger reasons of being good friends to themselves and examplary to their children. Can this generation find more and stronger reasons to reconcile our divided Zanzibar? Happy Independence Day!


The Big Brother Factor and the Death of GNU in Zanzibar

My last two articles on the government of national unity in Zanzibar have helped me – more than anyone else – to get more insights on the subject-matter. Readers have been both supportive and argumentative.

My first article was about the deadlock experienced now in Zanzibar and the call for some concessions from both sides of the political divide. On this, Tundu Lissu argued that there will never be any tangible political development in Zanzibar as long as the Dodoma’s invisible hand continues to dominate.

“For the government of national unity to truly exist in Zanzibar, the Union Question must first be resolved. That’s to say, as long as Zanzibar continues to exist in its neo-colonial status vis-a-vis Tanganyika, any talk of a government of national unity will remain a dangerous fantasy. The focus of political struggle must shift. Dar es Salaam is the locus of power in Zanzibari politics. That’s where the focus must shift,” wrote Lissu.

The second article was going back and poiting finger of blame to Dr. Ali Mohamed Shein alone for the failure of the GNU. There were readers who sent me some academic writings resulted from deep researches on the topic before, during and after the collapse of the GNU.

Others shared their comments which raised my curiosity even more, for example the one that blames CUF leaders for failing to pursue their time in the short-lived government to demand more changes that would insure the life of GNU after 2015. Political insurance? 

Thanks to all of them, however, that I can now elaborate some missing points in the explanation of how and why there is no GNU today in Zanzibar, and here will start with what I call as a Big Brother factor.

Public campaign for the referendum on July 2010 in Zanzibar.

The Big Brother Factor

In many articles I wrote before, I walked on the actual footprints that my learned brother Tundu has also been standing all along (visit under the column Kalamu ya Ghassani).

Yes, Tanganyika rulers – who present themselves as the only rulers of the United Republic of Tanzania – do have a major role when it comes to the  failure of Zanzibari politics. They are actually the ones who pull the strings! 

But at the same time, the making of Maridhiano by the end of 2009 speaks of another side of the story. That of Zanzibaris’ role in their own political audacity. Many a time, Dodoma was heard complaining to be sidelined by their counterpart in Zanzibar during the negotiations that resulted into the GNU. 

Therefore, when sitting down and talking as themselves, Zanzibaris are capable of going against the will of their de facto master in Mainland. They can challenge the status quo and emerge winners. That is how President Amani Karume and Maalim Seif Sharif Hamad were able to confront all odds and initiated the Maridhiano process.

They decided to be Zanzibaris who believed in Zanzibar. 

Controversies and Conspiracies

What happened afterwards? This would be a question. Of course, there are controversies and conspiracies, but it is agreed that the Big Brother did not just sit down after having seen Zanzibaris are committed to turn the page of their history without his help. He played his cards too. How?

Campaigns like this where the need for a sovereign Zanzibar entertained were not in line with Dodoma’s policy towards the islands.

First, by pretending that he was for it. That he wanted to walk his talk of December 2005 in the Parliament when the newly elected Union president, Jakaya Kikwete, promised to do all he could to end the political deadlock in Zanzibar. He called it ‘mpasuko wa kisiasa‘ which he lamented to have affected the image of his country for far too long. I did not trust him and I wrote why there would be no way I could believe the president who uses racist rhetoric in healing national wounds.

Whereas Kikwete failed to do anything even after the long talks in Bagamoyo and  Butiama – which was not any suprise at all – he rose on his toes to gather all the credits from the international community after  Mr. Karume and Maalim Seif met. He even went further to appoint one of CUF’s members of Maridhiano Committee, Mr. Ismail Jussa, to parliament. 

But, secondly and contrary to the first, when the government of national unity was about to happen, the anti-Maridhiano elements in Zanzibar were activated by Dodoma and rounded up the whole formation – from the debate in the House of Representatives to the in-door meetings at Kisiwandui.

As a result, these elements were enabled to have the upper hand on the whole process with just some few exceptions, where President Karume himself appeared to show the muscles, for example, by firing those who were openly opposed to Maridhiano or water down their strong opposition publicly. He is to be credited for displaying the no-nonsense mode when it came to the focal point.

This is why some of us are faulting Mr. Karume for not agreeing to stay a little longer to nurture the newly baby-born – the GNU – and instead letting in a person who is so weak to defend the Zanzibari spirit – a politician who does not believe in Zanzibar.

Had Mr. Karume accepted the challenge and he, himself, stayed to guide the path towards a strong institutionalized GNU, the anti-Maridhiano elements would have found it difficult even with the invisible hands of Dodoma. 

The point here is: Yes, Dodoma strategists have their own formula when it comes to Zanzibar political set-up. They always want someone who will defend the status quo, i.e. the current structure of the Union which is – to be honest – a type of neocolonialism. The GNU, for them, was a tool against their domination. 

But, when confronted with the actual Zanzibari forces that defy all odds, Dodoma holds back and calculates its next move. It is, therefore, up to those in power in Zanzibar to decide whether they really believe in Zanzibar. 

For the time being, they don’t!