March 22, 2014

Back in Zanzibar

Dear readers,

I'm back in Zanzibar for the first time since 2010. I am here to complete my dissertation research by looking at Omani migration and the current Omani diplomatic engagement with Zanzibar. It sure is an interesting time to be here! The new constitutional process is all over the news, with the question of the union between Zanzibar and Tanganyika at the forefront. The Union, or Muungano, is at the center of the creation of modern Tanzania. The Union was originally the result of secret talks between former Tanganyikan president Julius Nyerere and former Zanzibar president Abeid Karume after the Zanzibar Revolution of 1964. Initially the Union was supposed to be for a period of ten years, but it has continued until now. The mainland government's control (especially in terms of security and policing, and the power grid) has been and is a sore spot for many Zanzibaris, who feel it is a new form of colonialism. Yesterday Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete gave a major speech in which he addressed the union, and rejected the idea of a tri-governmental structure (an idea proposed by CUF representatives, Zanzibar's largest opposition party.) The speech caused an uproar among the opposition, who see in Kikwete's pronouncements a violation of the democratic process and an attempt by CCM to dominate the constitutional proceedings.

The island is booming, at least in terms of tourist development; the number of luxury hotels and restaurants has skyrocketed. One particular restaurant called 6 South has just sprung up next to New Africa Hotel, complete with fountains and a giant wall of falling water in the entrance. It is all very plush, but it is hard to know (or is it?) who is really benefiting from this influx.  And aside from that, how many empty rooms do these luxury hotels have, while many Zanzibaris live on a thousand shillings a day? One Zanzibari lady of Goan origin complained to me that she was being hassled by the government because she lived in an area of high tourist traffic and no longer could afford to keep her restaurant open. It seems gentrification has come to Zanzibar to stay. Bring on the pumpernickel bagels!


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