Zanzibari President Dr Salmin Amour argues that the island has left past political difficulties behind and is heading for a brighter future

How do you assess current relations with the mainland?

The relationship between the two parts of the United Republic of Tanzania has always been good. Differences of opinion between the two parties are always a healthy sign; the understanding that arises from such differences always improve matters.

There have been such differences between the two parts of the Union since it was formed in April 1964. These have concerned, among others, the articles of the union; the division of external assistance; the operations of certain Union institutions such as customs and immigration; and trade relations.

All these issues have been raised in a constructive manner and solutions have been reached for the betterment of the Union. In some areas, discussions are continuing, but our current relationship is good. President Mkapa and myself have developed a close working relationship based on frequent consultations. The atmosphere is brotherly, but it does not seek to ignore our differences.

Is there any truth in suggestions that support for secession from the mainland is growing?

Neither the government of Zanzibar nor other civil organisations has ever formally suggested or supported moves to break the Union. The suggestion that secessionist feelings are growing is a seditious statement. Tanzania in general, and Zanzibar in particular, like any democratic country, has its opposition groups. Differences of opinion about our Union do exist, both on the mainland and on Zanzibar, but these are basically questions about the structure of the Union rather than the Union itself.

Zanzibar is enjoying something of an economic renaissance. How has this come about?

Zanzibar has been a one-crop-economy country for more than a century; we depended upon exports of cloves to sustain our livelihood. Between the mid-1960s and the mid-1970s we enjoyed an economic boom, with foreign exchange balances in surplus. However, Zanzibar's economy was in the doldrums between the late 1970s and the mid-1980s; per capita GDP halved, industrial production fell and clove prices tumbled. Given such a bleak economic situation, the government had to re-examine its options and adopt new policies. Trade was liberalised in 1984, allowing for private sector participation, the Zanzibar Investment Act two years later enhanced private sector involvement in the economy. The government re-evaluated its public sector policies, determining which institutions should be closed, which sold and which run in partnership with the private sector. We demarcated Free Economic Zones in 1992, and have implemented an aggressive foreign investment policy. Finally, we introduced a new Planning Mechanism, creating a market-friendly Rolling Plan and Forward Budget in 1994-95.

The economic trend has been highly promising in recent years. GDP grew on average 3.3 per cent between 1976 and 1983, and reached 3.7 per cent in 1995. Transport and communications, construction and capital formation have all grown. If we can maintain this rate of growth, we will surely achieve economic stability by the year 2000.

Tourism is a vital sector, with 100,000 arrivals expected this year alone. What plans are in hand to expand this sector further?

Tourism is by the far the fastest growing sector of our economy. Although our figures are incomplete, we estimate that, between 1982 and 1992, tourism grew by 18.5 per cent a year, with the rate of growth increasing each year. Total earnings from tourism grew from T.Shs 396.4 million in 1994 to a high of 1,013.6 million in 1995. The number of guest houses and hotels rose from 60 in 1994 to 112 at the end of 1995, with hotel beds expected to rise from 1,500 in 1994 to 15,000 by the year 2015. Given this growth, the figure of 100,000 arrivals by the end of the year is a modest projection.

What is more important to the government than numbers is the quality of the tourists we get - and the higher earnings they bring. The government is concentrating its efforts on promoting first-grade tourism in the formal sector. Projects aimed at improving the infrastructure, for example roads, water supplies, electricity and modern communications systems, are in hand. Through the Tourism Commission, the promotion of professional, grade-one tour operators is a priority. It is our hope that these efforts will enable our tourism industry to grow, to remain competitive and to stand on its own two feet.

What is your view of recent efforts to revive the East African Community (EAC) with Uganda and Kenya?

The EAC is already revived. The signing of a new treaty of co-operation by the three leaders at Arusha in March 1996 was the culmination of several months of painstaking negotiations between high-level representatives of our three nations. Our peoples are keen to rekindle the spirit of good neighbourliness for the betterment of their lives. The initiative to re-establish the EAC began back in May 1994 when the three Presidents signed an agreement dividing the organisation's assets and liabilities. They met again in 1991, 1992 and 1993 to consider specific areas of enhanced co-operation.

The Arusha Treaty covers a wide range of political, social and economic matters, for example, immigration, legal and judicial matters. Trade and industry, transport and communications, agriculture, education and technology are also crucial areas of co-operation.

It is my view that the EAC has begun on the right foot. Having learnt from our past mistakes, we have taken extra care in reaching current agreements. Political differences between the three countries have disappeared, our economies are run on more or less similar lines and, above all, we have a long history of working together. Just recently the three countries reached agreements to co-operate in police work, to use a common East African passport within the region, to allow for the use of the three currencies interchangeably and to co-ordinate rail transport. Zanzibar, with its liberal economic policies, will surely gain from this co-operation.

Relations with international donors have deteriorated since 1994. How hopeful are you that the country can re-establish the good relations of the past?

Frankly, there is not much I can say on this subject. Allow me, however, to clarify some facts. Donors' relationships with my country began to deteriorate soon after the results of the 1995 general elections were announced (the first multiparty polls since 1964). Some donor countries, for their own reasons, backed the CUF to win; some countries even declared openly that the elections would only be judged free and fair if the CUF won. On the other hand the CUF, knowing its favoured position among donor countries, immediately cried foul in the elections, disregarding all the electoral procedures with which it had agreed before voting began.

To cut a long story short, donors, without thorough scientific research, accepted the CUF's stand. Several unthinkable demands and ultimatums were put forward by donors, ranging from holding fresh elections to my own resignation. When we did not meet these demands donors called on the Union President to interfere in Zanzibar's affairs. As if this was not enough, we began hearing accusations that we had breached human rights for legal actions the judiciary took against people who committed serious crimes.

The result of all this has been the withdrawal of help from Western donors. What are we to do in response to this Big Brother behaviour? Basically nothing, apart from sticking to our guns. We believe that time will vindicate us by showing that the CUF has cried wolf and that the donor countries will come to realise their mistakes and re-establish relations with our country. We invite any donor to come and verify the CUF allegations for themselves.

When all is said and done, donor assistance is voluntary; we cannot dictate terms. In the current situation there is little we can do.

There have been tax collection problems in the past. Are these difficulties now rectified?

Tax revenues are an important part of any government's operations. The efficiency of a government is sometimes judged by its ability to force tax payments by those who are liable. Governments differ in their tax collection abilities. I am told that the government of Zimbabwe covers about 30 per cent of its expenditure from tax revenues.

Our situation is not much better. The good thing, however, is that the government is aware of the severity of the problem. We have already identified many of the sources of leakage, and measures are being implemented to plug the holes. Uncontrolled offers of tax exemptions to importers and exporters have been taken care of. Only one central authority can now offer these exemptions, and only in exceptional circumstances. Business licences are no longer renewed until thorough checking that the business has paid its taxes has taken place. Income tax regulations are now much stricter, and we have established a revenue authority.

We still have a few loose ends, but efforts are continuing and we are determined in this.

Finally, do you see any risk that ethnic tensions, suppressed under President Nyerere, may re-emerge?

The problem of ethnic differences in our country stems from the separate racial development forced upon us by our colonial masters. The colonial divide-and-rule policy created a three-class structure in Tanzania: the white rulers, the Asian merchants and the African peasants and workers.

The process of decolonisation left this racial structure intact. The Africanisation policy followed in mainland Tanzania rubbed salt into the wound by separating a few African bureaucrats from their ethnic kin. The economic structure inherited from colonialism remained racial in that it provided unequal access to the wealth creating process.

The situation in Zanzibar was no different. The racial basis of the economy laid down by the Arab Sultanate and the British colonials was left intact after independence in 1963. Attempts were made on both sides of the Union to defuse the racial tensions which engulfed the young nation.

Through the Arusha declaration, Tanzania attempted to stifle the growth of a wealthy African class, while by creating the state sector, she hoped to nip in the bud the growth of an Asian commercial bourgeoisie. The emergence of political and economic liberalisation brought back the racial economic division of our country. The IMF/World Bank recipe for economic restructuring has led to a reduction in budget allocations for social welfare; everyone is now expected to pay for these services themselves.

While the living conditions of the majority of Tanzanians (Africans) is worsening day by day, those of their fellow countrymen of different racial origin is improving immeasurably. The conspicuousness of their 'Manhattan' lifestyles is a Molotov cocktail next to an open fire. Political opportunists are always ready to exploit these differences.

What is to be done? Rather than derogatively refer to Nyerere's noble efforts to defuse this bomb, we should look for ways to continue the struggle from where he left off. All political parties, with the exception of a few unregistered ones, denounce racism in their constitutions. All major religions in our society are multiracial and all civil organisations are based on racial equality.

Let us exploit this unity of purpose to explore together, using our own experience and what we can learn from other nations, to formulate packages that will save our country from the racial philosophies of neo-Nazism, ethnic cleansing and Idi Aminism. While scouting for these packages, we must take concrete steps to alleviate the hardships of life for the majority of our people.

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©Kensington Publications 1996